REPUBLIC Act (RA) 10706, otherwise known as the Seafarers Protection Act, is now in full effect following the recent issuance by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs).
Under RA 10706, it shall be unlawful for any person to engage in ambulance chasing or 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 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.
DOLE Department Order 153-16, Series of 2016, specifically enumerates the elements of the offense of ambulance chasing, collusion in the commission of ambulance chasing, and imposition of excessive fees to protect seafarers from unscrupulous individuals who charge exorbitant fees and push seafarers to file labor cases against employers for the purpose of claiming monetary benefits arising from accident, illness, or death.
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 10 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.
The IRR also state 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 implementing rules and regulations also specify 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 reports of incidence of ambulance chasing and imposition of excessive fees.
Under the IRR, fees are considered excessive when the contract or arrangement stipulates 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.
Individuals or groups found to have charged farers excessively will be fined not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000, or by imprisonment of one year to a maximum of two years, or both.
DOLE said that “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.”