It was the 4th year anniversary last month of the passage of the law aiming at protecting seafarers from ambulance chasing lawyers; unfortunately, it remains largely unimplemented to this day.
As a result, Republic Act No. 10706 or the Seafarers Protection Act is rendered practically ineffective in curbing the nefarious practice of ambulance chasing that victimizes hapless seafarers, according to some industry leaders.
“Talamak pa rin iyan(It’s still rampant),” was the curt comment of Capt. Reynaldo Casareo, president of crewing company Cargo Safeway Inc., in a recent interview.
Capt. Casareo has been championing the fight against ambulance chasing in the industry since there was a surge in the number of claims filed by seafarers against their employers.
One could recall that the law, authored by then Angkla Rep. Jesulito Manalo, seeks to protect seafarers from opportunistic lawyers, who charge exorbitant lawyers’ fees.
Enacted on September 30, 2019, R.A. 10706 limits lawyers’ fees to only 10% of the compensation or monetary benefit awarded to seafarers or their heirs.
Moreover, it criminalizes ambulance chasing, or when “a person or his agent solicits from a seafarer or his heirs the pursuit of any claim against the employer of the seafarer.” It is punishable by a fine of P50,000 up to P100,000 or by imprisonment of 1 year up to 2 years, or both.
It further qualifies the term “soliciting” as referring to “instigating, inducing, encouraging, advising or requesting a seafarer or his heirs to pursue a claim against his employer for purposes of recovery of monetary claim or benefit.”
Enterprising lawyers, however, found ways to circumvent the law. One way of getting around the law is by lending money to seafarers.
“Wala kasi doon ‘yung (Because it is not in the law the) money-making ventures nila sa mga(of lawyers)to seaman,” Atty. Bantuas Lucman, who was present during the interview, informed Seaway.
“Pinapautang nila ang mga seaman kaya beholden namga seaman sakanilatapos may interest, mga loan sharks ang mga iyon. Iyon ang wala sa batas. (The lawyers extend loans to seafarers, making the latter beholden to them, then with interest; they have become loan sharks too. That’s not in the law),” Atty. Lucman added.
Hence, he said, after getting the decision on the seafarer’s claims, they would get, in addition to lawyers’ fees, the payment to the loans they lent to seafarers plus interest. “They have a separate agreement for that,” the Cargo Safeway lawyer pointed out.
Another way of circumventing the 10% limit set by R.A. 10706 for lawyer’s fees is by flagrantly violating a provision of the law. What’s worse, the perpetrators of this violation are labor arbiters themselves including those in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), National Conciliation Mediation Board (NCMB), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and other quasi-judicial bodies handling labor disputes.
Atty. Lucman revealed that the law’s provision under Section 3 that specifically says: “To ensure and monitor compliance, the NLRC or any labor arbiter …. shall clearly indicate in the decisions, orders, judgments or awards that the total compensation of the person or appears for or represents the seafarer or his heirs shall not exceed 10% of the compensation or benefit awarded to the seafarer or his heirs.”
He nevertheless emphasized that this provision is not being observed.
“I never seen a decision na na kalagay sa (that says the) arbiter of the 10% limit,” he noted.
The 10% share of the lawyer should be explicitly included in the decision. Nakalagay iyan sa IRR (That is stated in the implementing rules and regulations of the law) pero wala pa akong nakitang nag-comply diyan (but I have not yet seen anybody comply with it).”
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