THE LEGAL FRONT
By J. ART D. BRION (RET.)
While I was Secretary of Labor, an absorbing project I worked on was the establishment of a voluntary labor arbitration system in the maritime industry.
I found the project compelling because of the records I then saw: from 82,373 seafarers (officers and seamen) we deployed in 1977, the numbers rose almost three fold to 226,900 in 2007. More than these numbers, our seafarers very significantly contributed to our economy: they remitted a total of US$2.393 billion in 2008 to the country.
These glowing records, however, hid some causes for concern. The maritime profession is not risk-free; it could pose dangers to life, limb and the health of seafarers. The least we can do to return the favor they bestow the country is to expedite the handling of compensation claims – arising from the perils of the sea or from their work – for those who die, and of those who are injured or who become ill.
Unfortunately at that time, some adjudicatory uncertainties also existed in making compensation claims. Compulsory arbitration through the regular channels often entailed delay and consequent hardships for the victims or their families.
These concerns slowly gave rise to the consensus among maritime industry stakeholders to encourage the use of voluntary arbitration as a mode of settling labor disputes in the industry, and to develop expertise in the handling of the arbitration clauses in their collective bargaining agreements.
My initial efforts paved the way for my successor, Sec. Marianito Roque, to enter into an agreement with industry stakeholders (led by the late Capt. Gregorio Oca) to constitute a tripartite body, the Maritime Industry Labor Arbitration council or MILA (consisting of the Executive Director of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board as Ex-officio Chair and one member each from the manning and seafarer sectors) tasked to formally establish and operationalize a voluntary arbitration system.
The council members would have a term of three years and the NCMB was to serve as the council’s secretariat until the MILA could put up its own along the lines of the Construction Industry Arbitration Council. MILA was expected to formulate policies, programs, standards, qualifications, and manuals of procedures on voluntary arbitration, and to screen, accredit, admit, and train voluntary arbitrators (VAs).
The MILA agreement, however, was never implemented. Instead, the NCMB strengthened its voluntary arbitration (VA) unit and developed the fully working VA system we have today, including the present system of recognizing and accrediting VAs.
I applied for accreditation as a VA soon after my retirement from the judiciary and have since been active in undertaking VA activities under the NCMB. I will not hesitate to say that the NCMB is running the system well. Some of my fellow VAs are retired colleagues from the judiciary (among them, Justice Hector Hofilena and Judge Rosario Cruz), while others come from the ranks of senior DOLE retirees trained in mediation and arbitration during their active service.
Following established NCMB standards, mediation at the VA proceedings are earnest and serious, and have accordingly received good faith responses from the disputants and their counsels. It is always a happy result for everyone when the disputing parties amicably settle.
The NCMB is prompt and consistent in its follow up of the handling of disputes so that VA rulings are seldom delayed. These rulings are appealable to the Court of Appeals (CA) under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court. The CA’s rulings, in turn, can be questioned before the Supreme Court through a Rule 45 petition on questions of law.
While I do not have exact figures on the rates of reversals of VA rulings, I can say, based on the cases I personally handled while with the Court, that reversals have not been many. The VAs’ adjudicatory tasks in fact are not very complicated. They weigh and rule on the presented evidence, and thereafter apply the law as found and as interpreted by existing SC rulings. The parties’ counsels invariably cite and extensively argue both the law and the applicable jurisprudence.
I am not aware as of this writing if VAs are formally assessed on the quality of their rulings and on their efficiency in handling their assignments. The disputing parties, however, choose their VAs and I am sure that this process filters out the incompetents and the inefficient.
I do hope that in the future, the concerned parties – the NCMB, the unions and the manning agencies – would get together to provide running reports or periodicals on the latest relevant rulings. These can be valuable resources that VAs can use as reference and that the Philippine Association of Voluntary Arbitrators can take up and discuss in their periodical meetings.
Industry seminars and conferences would likewise help keep VAs current on industry and VA developments, while clearing the air of existing problems and concerns. These timely reports, periodicals, seminars and conferences will go a long way in bringing fairness and harmony within the maritime industry.
Racing to the tipping point of defeating corruption
The two-week period November 23 to December 7, 2018 saw a very rich yield of corruption convictions from the Sandiganbayan.
Among the ranking public officers found guilty of various acts of corruption were: Mayor Yasser Samporna of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte; Governor Jesus O. Typoco of Camarines Norte; Mayor Jose T. Villarosa of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro; SP Member Consuelo T. Palma Gil-Roflo of Davao Oriental; Mayor Gemma Florante Adana of Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay; Governor Loreto Leo S. Ocampos of Misamis Occidental; Provincial Treasurer Edilberto M. Pancho of Nueva Ecija; Mayor Jerry P. Pasigian of Alfonso, Nueva Vizcaya; Mayor Paul Kho Alvarez of Ilog, Negros Occidental; MTC Judge Baguinda-Ahli Ahmad Pacalna of Marawi City; Dept. Head Raquel Austria Naciongayo of Pasig City; and Chief of Staff Richard A. Cambe of the Office of Senator Ramon Revilla.
These results, I am sure, cannot but bring us closer to the tipping point we aspire for.