Shipowners shun Pinoy seamen due to ambulance-chasing racket

As published by The Philippine Star on May 19, 2023

Ambulance-chasing lawyers swindle seafarers. They hang out in hospitals, airports and offices where seamen gather, there to offer crooked deals. They even advertise online in breach of ethics.

Their modus starts with fooling the seafarer to sue the shipowner for recompense. That’s for injury or illness sustained at work or even while vacationing at home.

They offer to file claims with the National Labor Relations Commission or National Conciliation and Mediation Board. No need for the seafarer to attend hearings. When money is awarded, they take more than half.

The racket thrives on the ambulance chasers’ handout of some cash and promise of sure victory. NLRC and NCMB require immediate payment to the claimant despite ongoing appeal by the shipowner or manning agency.

The seafarer doesn’t know he has 30-percent chance of losing at the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. In which case he must return the entire payment, including what the ambulance chasers took.

If he fails to reimburse, his assets can be garnished. He loses all his cash, house, lot, car, furniture, appliances, personal business.

For 15 years the International Mariners Employers Council and International Chamber of Shipping have been asking the government for an escrow mechanism. The losing defendant shall immediately pay the claimant, but in case of appeal the money shall be deposited in escrow until final judgement. That will prevent ambulance chasers from taking money and running away.

IMEC consists of 250 shipping firms, and ICS of 40 national shipowners’ associations. The Department of Labor and Employment, to which NLRC and NCMB are attached, has been ignoring them.

One-third of NCMB rulings were overturned in 2022. Yet shipowners are unable to recover P2.576 billion in initial judgements.

In the mid-1990s Filipinos were 45 percent of international cargo ship crew. Today they’re only 14 percent, due mainly to the ambulance-chasing racket and partly to deteriorated training.

In 2021 the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies began campaigning against ambulance-chasing and for an escrow system. Five congressmen included such system in the draft Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers. Advocating seamen’s rights and welfare are House overseas workers committee head Ron Salo (Kabayan Party), Sandro Gonzalez (Marino), Marissa Del Mar Magsino (OFW), Zaldy Co (Ako Bicol) and Rachel Arenas (Pangasinan).

The largest seafarers’ group, Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines, also denounced ambulance chasing and did not object to the escrow provision. Same with Engr. Nelson Ramirez of United Filipino Seafarers.

ALMA, AMOSUP and UFS sought Senate approval and presidential ratification.

ALMA consists of presidents and general managers of manning agencies. Officers are Iris Baguilat, chairman; Cristina Garcia, president and trustees Capt. Antonio Ladera III, Capt. Jose Librodo, Chief Engr. Jessie Martin, Capt. Gregory Sevilla, Chief Officer Jay Babera, Capt. Leopoldo Tenorio and Chief Engr. Jean Vincent Abobo.