Enabling disabled seamen

By Herbert Vego

DISABLED seamen on overseas vessels are entitled to disability benefits. They know that. More often than not, however, they have to fight the right disability benefits.  Otherwise, once rendered unfit to board another ship, they would be living the rest of their lives in penury.

Even a slight eye defect discovered during pre-employment medical examination could disqualify a seaman seeking renewal of contract.

Overseas Filipino seamen circling the globe are supposedly protected by the law mandating the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to require all maritime manning agencies to utilize the POEA-drafted “standard employment contract,” as well as their collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Unfortunately, maritime law sounds Greek to most lawyers because of the scarcity of cases pitting seamen against their employers. The cases that don’t find their way in the proper courts are settled after haggling over the right compensation for disability or death.

Here is where claimants often make the mistake of hiring the wrong lawyers. These as inexperienced lawyers or their representatives who frequent offices of maritime agencies in Metro Manila to offer their services to beleaguered complainants and ask for advance fees while promising to “deliver,” only to disappear, if not collude with the respondents.

To protect litigants from them, lawyers who specialize in maritime law have banded together behind an advocacy known as the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers and Heirs (FLASH), headed by Atty. Gerry Linsangan.

One of its functions is to familiarize active overseas seafarers with the provisions of their POEA-standard contract in case of sickness, accident or death, any of which requires the employer/s to award a minimum amount for “total and permanent disability” to seafarers who become “unfit to work” during their term of employment, or to beneficiaries of those who die.

Another FLASH function is to render free legal assistance to such seamen, in the process freeing them of financial burden while fighting for what they deserve before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). FLASH lawyers charge no fees for services rendered, except a small percentage of claims, and only after they have been collected as a result of litigation.

FLASH has a weekly radio program on Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo, “Tribuna sang Banwa,” aired every Sunday at 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., which imparts valuable pieces of information on “life after seamanship”.  It has Tigbauan, Iloilo Sangguniang Bayan member Neri Camiña as host, and his daughter Nermie Camiña as co-host.

A seaman disabled within the period of his contract due to a disease or accident has to be repatriated and hospitalized, or treated as an out-patient, for 120 days at the expense of the employer.

For total and permanent disability, the seafarer is entitled to a final compensation of at least US $60,000 or P3,300,000, its prevailing equivalent in pesos.

For death, the widow or closest living relative is entitled to receive at least $50,000. Moreover, a maximum of four of their minor children are also eligible to claim an additional $7,000 each for a total of $78,000, plus $1,000 for burial assistance.

Failure of the shipping company to settle any of the cited claims is a ground for the disabled seaman or his relatives to file a case before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). I

The better alternative for these claimants is to apply for much bigger benefits before a maritime court of the country where the employer’s ship is registered. Certain maritime lawyers from Panama, the United States, Greece, Italy, Japan and Norway are FLASH-affiliated.



BACOLODNONS are happy because Mayor Alfredo Abelardo Benitez supports their clamor for the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) to enter into a joint venture agreement with Ignite Power – an affiliate of MORE Power of Iloilo City — as the way to save the cooperative from bankruptcy due heavy losses and indebtedness.

As this column has repeatedly revealed, Ceneco could no longer adequately serve its more than 214,000 member-consumers in Bacolod City, Bago City, Talisay City, Silay City and the municipalities of Murcia and Salvador Benedicto.

Simply put, it is losing ₱15 to ₱20 million a month due to the system’s loss – electricity wasted or lost to pilferage — that exceeds more than 10% or higher than the 8.25% cap allowed by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

Ceneco is deep in debt, with more than ₱600 million owed to the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and the banks.

If I heard it right, however, Mayor Benitez wants three conditions met as prerequisites to the proposed joint venture. They are “lower electricity rates, no power outages and renewable energy.”

However, assuming that Ignite Power-Ceneco joint venture agreement pushes through, as a distribution utility (DU) it could only impose “lowest cost” for its own role. I am sure the Bacolod City mayor knows that a DU does not decide on the prices of fuel and the rates charged by the power plants. On renewable energy, it is already widely sourced from geothermal plants but, so far, not enough of it is available to fill the needs of households and business establishments.

I am sure that Ignite Power, being a subsidiary of the popular, Iloilo-based MORE Power, would also wish for the “lowest cost” for its role as distribution utility (DU) in order to make it accessible to the poor. MORE Power has done so in Iloilo City.

Let us be reminded, however, that the electric bill does not mirror the DU’s collectible income. This is because the lion’s share is divided among the fuel sources, the power plants and the National Grid and Power Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).