Illegal withholding of seafarer’s travel documents

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Manning agencies and foreign principals and employers can be held criminally liable for illegally withholding seafarers’ travel documents.

In many instances of non-deployment, many seafarers complain of withholding of travel documents like the passport and the Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book (SIRB) on the condition that they reimburse the manning agencies of the expenses such as the Pre-Employment Medical Examinations (PEME).

Legally speaking, the unauthorized withholding of these travel documents is a form of coercion that is penalized as one of the prohibited acts under Republic Act. No. 8042, as amended by R.A. 10022, otherwise known as “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.”

The law specifically states is unlawful “to withhold or deny travel documents from applicant workers before departure for monetary or financial considerations, or for any other reasons, other than those authorized under the Labor Code and its implementing rules and regulations.”

The State is mandated to protect seafarers from all threats and coercion done through the confiscation, retention, or withholding of their travel documents such passports and SIRB, which are considered the property of the State.

Under Republic Act No. 8239, otherwise known as the “Philippine Passport Act of 1996,” a passport is a document issued by the Philippine government to its citizens, the issuance of which is equivalent to a request to other governments to allow Philippine citizens to pass safely and freely, and in case of need, to give them lawful aid and protection. More importantly, a passport is a proclamation of the citizenship of a Filipino, hence, it is a document superior to all other official documents such that the unauthorized withholding or retention of a passport brings untold hardships to its holder whose mobility and capacity to transact are greatly impaired.

On the other hand, SIRB refers to a document issued by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to all Filipino seafarers and others including cadets who render services on board ships; The SIRB is a seafarer’s identity document issued for the purpose of providing the holder with identity papers for travel to or from an assigned vessel. It also provides the holder with a continuous record of his/her sea service and specify the particular category or rating which the holder is qualified to serve.

Agencies and foreign principals found violating POEA rules will be blacklisted or penalized in accordance with Republic Act. No. 8042, as amended, and R.A. 10022. POEA rules likewise provide that disciplinary actions will be meted against foreign principals and employers of OFWS found violating Philippine laws, rules, and regulations on overseas employment.

The persons criminally liable for the said  offense are the principals, accomplices and accessories. In case of juridical persons, the officers having ownership, control, management or direction of their business and the responsible for the commission of the offense and the responsible employees/agents thereof shall be liable.

Any person found guilty of illegal recruitment shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than 12 years and one day but not more than 20 years and a fine of not less than one million pesos  nor more than two million pesos.

The penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than two million pesos nor more than five million pesos shall be imposed if illegal recruitment constitutes economic sabotage as defined therein. The maximum penalty shall be imposed if the person illegally recruited is less than eighteen 18 years of age or committed by a non-licensee or non-holder of authority.

If the offender is an alien, he or she shall, in addition to the penalties herein prescribed, be deported without further proceedings.

In every case, conviction shall cause and carry the automatic revocation of the license or registration of the recruitment/manning agency, lending institutions, training school or medical clinic.

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Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email info@sapalovelez.com or call 09175025808 or 09088665786./PN

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