Decades-old court, labor judgments remain uncollected

»Philippine government tries to pursue at least $2.8M
For 20 years, Rene Reyes, a long-term Filipino worker on Saipan, has yet to see a single penny of the more than $3,000 in labor judgment that was awarded him for unpaid wages and other damages from a previous employer.

“That judgment was entered in 1992. The unpaid wages were around 1989. That’s a long time ago and that manpower agency is long gone; they’re no longer in business,” Reyes, the founding president of Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd., told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Reyes is just one of hundreds of Filipino workers in the CNMI with uncollected awards from labor administrative orders and court judgments years or decades since their cases were supposedly closed.

“What use is a court order or a judgment if workers can’t collect, right? But in the CNMI, that’s too common,” he said.

However, Reyes cautioned other workers in the same situation to “move on” and not to rely on uncollected judgments to justify their presence in the CNMI if they do not have a legal immigration status.

Segundo “Jun” Lapeceros, a former security guard, has yet to collect from a 1997 U.S. District Court judgment for unpaid wages. He said his former employer, the long-defunct Commonwealth Security, was not paying his and other employees’ salaries.

“The court awarded me some $36,000 around that time, and that included unpaid wages, penalties and interest. There were 11 of us claimants. I think the total uncollected for all of us would be a really huge amount,” he said.

Lapeceros said the owner of the defunct Commonwealth Security has only managed to pay $100 per quarter to the claimants.

“With that amount and you deduct lawyer’s fees, we’re ending up getting $16 or less per quarter. There was a time the owner said he could only afford $75 per quarter. I wonder why the court allows that. Of course we don’t look forward to it or rely on that for any of our expenses. But at least that gives us a sense of justice,” Lapaceros said in a phone interview.

Saipan Consul General Medardo Macaraig, in a separate interview yesterday, said the Consulate General has gathered information from the Filipino community in the CNMI on judgment awards still owed Filipino workers, and that amount is at least $2.8 million.

“We are still pursuing this,” he said.

Macaraig said the Consulate General provided this information to the Philippine ambassador to Washington, D.C. for assistance.

The list has some 111 names of Filipino workers. Macaraig said workers who believe they also ought to be included on the list could still contact the Consulate General.

Carlito Marquez, secretary of the Marianas Association of Filipino Engineers and Architects, said that by having a consolidated list of those who have yet to collect from judgments, there would be a better chance of still collecting from former employers.

“The consul general has been reporting this every time he meets with leaders of Filipino organizations, and we are thankful for the Consulate General for still pursuing this,” he said.

Back in 2008, the U.S. Federal Labor Ombudsman’s Office collected Labor administrative orders and judgments that awarded a total of $6.1 million in unpaid wages and other damages to alien workers but remain uncollected. These include those owed to Filipino workers. Macaraig said they are not aware of an updated list.

Reyes, one of those who hasn’t collected anything from a judgment entered 20 years ago, said the lengthy process of collecting if at all should not stop anyone from pursuing their goals and ensuring they have legal status to continue to work in the CNMI.

“Life goes on, move on,” he added.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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