Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) and pre-existing illnesses

2:29 am Friday, June 2, 2017

By: Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO),  the aim of the  Pre -Employment Medical Examination (PEME)  is to ensure that the seafarer being examined is medically fit to perform his or her routine and emergency duties at sea and is not suffering from any medical condition likely to be aggravated by service at sea, to render him or her unfit for service or to endanger the health of other persons on board. The medical certificate is neither a certificate of general health nor a certification of the absence of illness. It is a confirmation that the seafarer is expected to be able to meet the minimum requirements for performing the routine and emergency duties specific to their post at sea safely and effectively during the period of validity of the medical certificate.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) contract states that a seafarer who knowingly conceals a pre-existing illness or condition in the PEME shall be liable for misrepresentation and shall be disqualified from any compensation and benefits. This is likewise a just cause for termination of employment and imposition of appropriate administrative sanctions.

At the bottom portion of the PEME, one can find the following sentence ” I hereby certify that the personal declaration above is true to the best of my knowledge and I fully understand the above results of my medical examination as explained to me by the examining/authorized physician.”

The Supreme Court pointed out that the PEME is not exploratory and does not allow the employer to discover any and all pre-existing medical condition with which the seafarer is suffering and for which he may be presently taking medication. The PEME is nothing more than a summary examination of the seafarer’s physiological condition (DOHLE-PHILMAN Manning Agency, Inc. v. Cabanban, 702 SCRA 467). It merely determines whether one is “fit to work” at sea or “fit for sea service” and it does not state the real state of health of an applicant. The “fit to work” declaration in the PEME cannot be a conclusive proof to show that he was free from any ailment prior to his deployment. (Magsaysay Maritime Corporation v. NLRC, 616 SCRA 362, 378-379.S

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court noted that neither is it necessary, in order to recover compensation, that the seafarer must have been in perfect condition or health at the time he contracted the disease. Every workingman brings with him to his employment certain infirmities and while the employer is not the insurer of health of the seafarers, he takes them as he finds them and assumes the risk of liability. If the disease is the proximate cause of the seafarer’s death for which compensation is sought, the previous physical condition of the seafarer is unimportant and recovery may be had therefore independent of any pre-existing disease But even assuming that the ailment was contracted prior to his employment on board the vessel this is not a drawback to the compensability of the disease. It is not required that the employment be the sole factor in the growth, development or acceleration of the illness to entitle the claimant to the benefits provided therefore. It is enough that the employment had contributed, even in a small degree, to the development of the disease and in bringing about his death. (Wallem Maritime Services Inc vs. NLRC, 318 SCRA 623)

Even so, a seafarer’s illnesses could have been easily detected by standard/routine tests included in the PEME, i.e., blood pressure test, electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, and/or blood chemistry. (C.F. SHARP CREW MANAGEMENT, INC vs. HEIRS OF THE LATE GODOFREDO REPISO, G.R. No. 190534, February 10, 2016)

Seafarers are not required to pay for the PEME expenses since these are considered as processing fees required for deployment.chargeable to principal/employer.  However, in case of seafarer’s failure or unjustified refusal to join ship after all processing fees have been incurred by the principal/employer, the said fees shall be refunded by the seafarer within thirty (30) days from demand.

Under pertinent  rules and laws,  some of the recruitment offenses include (a)  charging or accepting directly or indirectly any amount of money, goods or services, or any fee or bond for any purpose from an applicant seafarer (b) Collecting any amount as payment for processing, or documentation costs not prescribed by the rules, or an amount greater than the actual documentation costs, as covered by official receipts issued by entities where payments were made; (c) Failure to reimburse expenses incurred by the seafarer in connection with his documentation and processing for purposes of deployment, where deployment does not take place without the seafarer’s fault and (d) withholding or denying travel or other pertinent documents from an applicant seafarer for monetary or financial considerations, or for any other reasons, other than those authorized.

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