Chief Justice warns ‘ambulance chasers’

As published by The Manila Times on November 09, 2022

Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo encouraged overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to file appropriate and verified complaints against lawyers who exploit them.

In a recent meeting with Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Maria Susan Ople and other DMW officials on Monday, November 7, at the Supreme Court, Gesmundo warned erring members of the Bar who take advantage of OFWs and said that they have no place in the justice system.

“If you’ve seen that some of our OFWs and workers are being exploited by these ambulance-chasing lawyers, you are not stopped from filing a complaint with the Court or with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). And then we can take action. But we want to make sure that the complainants are ready to provide evidence,” Gesmundo reassured the DMW.

DMW Assistant Secretary Jerome Pampolina pointed out how ambulance chasing is a real and urgent problem, especially for the maritime sector.

In response, Gesmundo shared that the court has imposed stricter disciplinary measures by suspending or disbarring lawyers who violate the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In line with this, the chief justice highlighted the ongoing revision to the Proposed Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability, emphasizing how the court wants lawyers to be more accountable to all their stakeholders. He acknowledged the concern of the DMW against lawyers who take advantage of migrant workers, and strongly encouraged the filing of complaints with the Supreme Court or the IBP against members of the Bar guilty of ambulance chasing.

Meanwhile, in her May 25, 2022 article in The Manila Times, lawyer Iris Baguilat explained that “global shipping stakeholders identify ambulance chasing and the Philippines’ mishandling of crew claims as the biggest threats to Philippine seafaring — an industry that remits $6 billion annually into the Philippines.”

She added that “foreign shipowners and the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) have fearlessly forecasted that Filipino seafarers can disappear from the market in the next 10 years despite previously enjoying the privilege of being the seafarer of choice.”

This is attributed to Filipino seafarers “displaying relentless litigiousness over the past 10 years as fueled by ambulance chasers who prowl post-medical clinics, airports, and streets to find potential seafarer claimants.”

Perhaps one of the strongest voices in raising awareness about ambulance chasing is IMEC Chief Executive Officer Francesco Gargiulo who labeled it as a “plague.”

In an interview with The Manila Times earlier, Gargiulo said ambulance chasing ” is by far the biggest issue maritime employers face when employing Filipinos and also the number one reason why so many are looking for alternative sources of manpower.”

He added, “I had expressed serious concerns even before the pandemic as more and more of my members had decided to look elsewhere given that it was practically impossible to win a case on merit… No matter how strong the evidence, corrupt arbitrators often didn’t even hear the case and simply awarded in favor of claimants based on their lawyers’ submissions without even considering the employers’ response.”

The country’s biggest seafarer union, the Associated Marine Officers, and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines also launched a massive information campaign about the danger of Ambulance chasing early this year in partnership with the government and other maritime stakeholders.