Seafarers’ claims to be delayed by placing awards in Escrow

MANNING agencies are pushing for the inclusion of an escrow provision in a proposed magna carta for seafarers which is a mere dilatory tactic in the execution of the seafarers’ monetary awards.

The provision, in essence, aims to amend the Labor Code that will have significant impact on labor claims governing the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions issued by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).

Manning agencies resurrected what ANGKLA party-list earlier filed as House Bill No. 5430 on February 2015 during the 16th Congress wherein the proceeds of execution shall be deposited in an escrow account with an escrow agent designated by the NLRC or the NCMB.

The seafarer will wait for longer years before they receive the NLRC/NCMB  award , mostly for cases involving monetary claims for disability and death benefits, illegal dismissal as well as unpaid or underpayment of salaries and wages.

The manning agencies echoed ANGKLA’s rationale for the earlier bill to ensure the restitution of monetary awards in case the appropriate appellate court annuls or partially or totally reverses the monetary judgment award.

The proceeds shall remain in escrow until such time the finality of the decision issued by the appropriate appellate court is obtained.

The proceeds shall only be released after the issuance of an entry of judgment by the appropriate appellate court and upon issuance by the NLRC or the NCMB, after motion of the proper party, of an order authorizing the release of proceeds of execution.

ANGKLA pointed out that the amendment is proper as the problem of the immediately “final and executory” nature of decisions gains greater relevance considering the following factors:

(a) the complainant will insist on the execution of the NLRC or NCMB decision despite the appeal

(b) even if the appellate courts overturn or modify the NLRC or NCMB decision, there is little hope of recovering anything through restitution

(c) more legal costs and expenses will be incurred in pursuing the case through the appellate courts and in applying for restitution of the judgment award

Every labor dispute is a David and Goliath situation as it involves two opposing parties: the worker on one side and the management on the other.

Constantly exposed to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant harsh weather conditions, the risks of the seafarer getting killed, injured or ill are high.

When he sustains injury, illness or loses his life, seldom does he receive full compensation provided under the law because his employer does not hesitate to harness its immense resources to limit its liability.

Labor litigation takes years before it reaches the Supreme Court.

In cases of seafarers with medical conditions, some incur huge debts to sustain their medication while others die before the decision by the Supreme Court is released.

Due to the longer years they have to wait, without any leverage in prosecuting his monetary claims, chances are, the seafarer bows to the demand of his employer to either drop his claim or accept a small settlement.

The scenario under said provision will be analogous to situations described by the Supreme Court where “the judgment becomes illusory.” (Corona vs CA, 343 SCRA 512)

The Supreme Court lamented that the claimant “has grown old with the case. He fears he may no longer be in this world when the case is finally decided.” (Borja vs CA, 196 SCRA 847)

The prevailing party might be unable to enjoy the judgment award after the lapse of time, considering the tactics of the adverse party who may have no recourse but to delay. (Intramuros Tennis Club, Inc. vs PTA, 341 SCRA 90)

In cases of execution pending appeal, the Supreme Court underscored that “the law itself has laid down a compassionate policy which, once more, vivifies and enhances the provisions of the 1987 Constitution on labor and the working man.  These duties and responsibilities of the State are imposed not so much to express sympathy for the workingman as to forcefully and meaningfully underscore labor as a primary social and economic force, which the Constitution also expressly affirms with equal intensity. Labor is an indispensable partner for the nation’s progress and stability.” Aris Inc. vs NLRC, 200 SCRA 246)

If the provision that aims to delay in execution will be included, the proposed magna carta becomes a tool of oppression and inequity to the prejudice of  the seafarer.

In the end, such legislative act runs in contradiction to the constitutional provision that says “the State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare.” (Art. II, Sec. 18, Constitution, 1987.)

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(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)/PN

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