Two-pronged approach vs ‘ambulance chasing’

For some time now, the manning sector is feeling the brunt of the rampant illegal practice of “ambulance chasing” in the country.

Ambulant chasing refers to the practice of lawyers running after seafarers onboard an ambulance from the airport to the hospital. At the hospital, the lawyers persuade the seafarers to avail of their legal services in claiming sick benefits from their employers.

Unscrupulous lawyers also persuade seafarers to file fraudulent claims over medical repatriation but demand a lion’s share of the financial claims.

These lawyers engaged in the illegal trade are ruining the image of our seafarers in the eyes of foreign employers, many of them have left the country, after replacing their Filipino crew with seafarers from other countries where ambulance chasing is none existent.

During a recent meeting on “ambulance chasing,” where yours truly as Filipino Association for Mariners’ Employment president was invited, there were laudable proposals to help mitigate, if not eliminate, the illegal practice.

Among them is to educate our seafarers on its adverse effect on our sector as well as the nefarious schemes of lawyers engaged in the practice. Another possible action is to put the disputed amount in escrow while the undisputed portion is to be paid immediately to seafarers so they can use it to sustain themselves.

Also, a proposal worth pursuing is to make two settlement checks, one issued to seafarers with the full amount of benefit, and the other check to their lawyer with the 10 percent legal fee as provided by law. The other action, which requires strong political will, is to get rid of the alleged corrupt system in labor arbitration, but this is easier said than done as everyone knows.

During the meeting, we had a chance to share FAME’s two-pronged approach to addressing ambulance chasing. FAME has institutionalized this approach to guide our seafarers on their rights as well as obligations before, during and after their seafaring career. And these are through proper education and an effective reintegration program.

In the area of education, all FAME members conduct a Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar that incorporates the “do’s and don’ts” for seafarers with emphasis on “ambulance chasing.” We are informing them of the modus operandi of ambulance chasers, alerting them not to fall prey to their false promises of higher money claims since, in practice, seafarers end up with claims way below the amount of what is due them.

Another, we are now in the process of publishing the English version of the “Gabay ng Marino” handbook, published by the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines in 2016. It includes seafarers’ career development along with relevant incentives for seafarers and their families provided by government institutions. This handbook, which discusses ambulance chasing matters on why and how it must be avoided, will be launched in December 2022.

On the second approach, seafarers often fall victim to “ambulance chasers” especially if they suffered a serious medical condition. They tend to try to take as much as possible from the employers that they hope to use in their retirement in case they could no longer sail. This is where the effective reintegration program comes in.

We, in FAME, have an existing crew welfare program that includes a regular financial literacy seminar for the retiring seafarers and their families through ISP, and also member companies have their own crew welfare program.

Likewise, we have collaborated with the Philippine Association of Coastal and Inland Water Ferries, Inc. and the IMP Shipyard and Port Services in Albuera, Leyte for possible employment and business opportunities for seafarers in the coastal and inland waterways transport system and, in the case of IMP Shipyard, as ship repair outsourcing, surveying and other technical services.

We have also a collaboration with the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc. for possible business opportunities in the agri-fisheries, especially for our seafarers coming from coastal communities whose families and relatives are most likely fisherfolks.

These are excellent business opportunities for our returning seafarers and their families in the coastal communities where their sea experience comes in handy and, at the same time, they can contribute to the economic progress of their communities and the food security of our country.

If our seafarers are certain that they would get all the benefits due them and, at the same time, they are assured that they could be easily reintegrated by having a second career during seafaring or even after their retirement, there is little incentive for them to resort to “ambulance chasing.”

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