THE maritime industry said the government is failing to protect seafarers from “ambulance-chasing” lawyers pursuing claims against shipping companies, who tend to keep the bulk of any settlements won.
They added that the litigious atmosphere is holding back the employment of Filipino seamen.
“In terms of the total manning industry, the demand [for Filipino seafarers] is still there but it’s not really increasing. It’s declining a bit… We don’t know why. However, we feel that this is probably litigious in nature because the ambulance-chasing law has not been effective,” Eduardo Ma. R. Santos, executive vice president of the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) and president of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the Maritime Forum 2019 at Sofitel Hotel in Manila Wednesday.
“There are still ambulance-chasers. We have an anti-ambulance chasing law that says lawyers can only get 10%. It’s not being followed,” he added.
Former president Benigno S. C. Aquino III signed in 2015 Republic Act (RA) 10706 or the Seafarers Protection Act, which hopes to regulate “the act of soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers or their heirs, the pursuit of any claim against their employers for the purpose of recovery of monetary claim or benefit, including legal interest, arising from accident, illness or death, in exchange for a fee which shall be retained or deducted from the monetary claim or benefit granted to or awarded to the seafarers or their heirs.”
Mr. Santos said ambulance-chasing lawyers typically take most of the settlements and leave clients with 30%.
He said AMOSUP has been warning its members against such individuals, and it has even offered to assist them with their claims or issues with their companies.
“If you have a problem, come to the Union, we have a grievance procedure, and let’s talk about it with your shipping company. We can arrange it outside of court, outside of lawyers,” he said.
In a separate interview, Norwegian Maritime Authority Senior Surveyor Per-Arne Waloen said: “I think, in general, the Filipino seafarer deployment has declined a little bit in the last couple of years. This can be related to the salaries and other issues. There are other nationalities that can compete on salaries and, also, in the Philippines there has been some ambulance-chasing. This has also caused some shipowners to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Asked what the government should do on the matter, he said: “How can you solve ambulance-chasers? It is their livelihood. I think the authorities need to crack down on them. There are already regulations against them but how they can be implemented remains a question. They have to try.”
RA 10706 calls for fines of P50,000 to P100,000 and/or imprisonment of one to two years for violators. — Arjay L. Balinbin