To enhance the protection of the seafarers from “ambulance chasers,” Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz issued Department Order No. 153, Series of 2016, or the “Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10706.
“Department Order 153-16 is a significant milestone for the maritime industry. It is aimed at protecting the seafarers from unscrupulous individuals who charge exorbitant fees and push seafarer/s to file labor cases against their employers for the purpose of claiming monetary benefits arising from accident, illness, or death,” said Baldoz.
“D.O. No. 153, Series of 106, or the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Seafarers Protection Act, specifically enumerates the elements of the offense of ambulance chasing, collusion in the commission of ambulance chasing, and imposition of excessive fees,” she added.
Baldoz said that the department order mandates the National Labor Relation Commission (NLRC) , or any labor arbiter, National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), DOLE Regional Offices, or other quasi-judicial bodies handling labor disputes to clearly indicate in their decisions, orders, judgments, or awards that the total compensation for the person who appears for or represents seafarer or his/her heirs shall not exceed ten percent of the compensation or benefit awarded to the seafarers or his/her heirs.
The other salient feature of the implementing rules and regulations include provisions on criminal, civil, and administrative actions that may be filed arising out of ambulance chasing and imposition of excessive fees, as well as criminal, civil and administrative liabilities.
“Criminal, civil, or administrative actions arising out of ambulance chasing shall be filed and decided pursuant to Revised Rules of Criminal Procedures, Rules of Civil Procedure, and Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service and other relates laws, rules, and regulations,” said Baldoz.
The IRR also defined the elements of ambulance chasing which include soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers, or their heirs, any claim against the employer of the seafarer; such claim is for the purpose of recovery of monetary award or benefits arising from accident, illness, or death, including legal interest; and the pursuit of the claim is in exchange of an amount or fee which shall be retained or deducted from the monetary claim or benefit granted to or awarded to the seafarers or their heirs.
It also stated that a collusion in the commission of ambulance chasing shall exist when the following elements concur: two or more persons come to an agreement, either oral or written; agreement concerns commission of ambulance chasing; the persons decide to commit ambulance chasing; and positive or overt acts are taken by the persons to carry out the agreement.
The IRR also specified the establishment of an oversight committee to monitor, verify, and review the implementation and industry compliance, as well as the establishment of action desks at the NLRC, NCMB, POEA, DOLE, its Regional Offices, or other quasi-judicial bodies handling labor disputes to receive report of incidence of ambulance chasing and imposition of excessive fees.
Under the IRR, fees are considered excessive when there is a contract or arrangement between a seafarer or his/her heir, and a person who appears for or presents them in any case of recovery of monetary claim or benefit, including legal interest; such claim for the purpose of recovery of monetary award or benefits arising from accident; illness, or death; the claim is filed before the NLRC, or any labor arbiter, NCMB, POEA, DOLE or its Regional Offices, or other quasi-judicial bodies handling labor disputes; and the contract or arrangement stipulated that the person who appears for or represents the seafarer, or his/her heirs shall be entitled to fees which exceeds 10 percent of the compensation or benefit awarded to the seafarer or his/her heirs.
Baldoz said that a series of tripartite consultations were conducted to draft the IRR. The draft IRR was presented to the Maritime Industry Tripartite Council (MITC), a tripartite advisory and consultative body on labor and employment policy-making in the maritime industry, and was adopted in principle by the MITC members on 8 March 2016. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also contributed inputs in the finalization of the IRR.
Department Order No. 153-16 takes effect 15 days after publication in at least two (2) newspapers of general circulation.