Tuesday, January 29, 2019, 3:55 p.m.
By Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho
A seafarer ’s illness which caused his post-repatriation death must be properly documented during the term of his contract in relation to death compensation benefits.
As a general rule, the death of the seafarer should occur during the effectivity of the employment contract in order for the employer to be liable to his heirs for death compensation benefits.
Under the POEA approved employment contract, the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the Philippine Currency equivalent to the amount of Fifty Thousand US dollars (US$50,000) and an additional amount of Seven Thousand US dollars (US$7,000) to each child under the age of twenty-one (21) but not exceeding four (4) children, at the exchange rate prevailing during the time of payment. The amount usually is higher if the death is covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
In Medline Management, Inc. vs. Gliceria Roslinda (September 15, 2010, G.R. No. 168715), the Supreme Court dismissed the claims for death benefits because there is no evidence to show that the seafarer ’s illness was acquired during the term of his employment with the company.
The seafarer’s contract of employment ceased when he was discharged on January 20, 2000, after having completed his contract. He died on August 27, 2001, or one year, seven months and seven days after the expiration of his contract.
The seafarer did not die while he was under the employ of his employers. The heirs admitted that the seafarer was discharged not because of any illness but due to the expiration of his employment contract, Although they stated that was hospitalized on August 28, 1999, or five months before his contract expired, they presented no proof to support this allegation. Instead, what the heirs presented were the Medical Certificates attesting to the fact that the seafarer consulted a doctor complaining of abdominal distention three months after his repatriation.
The Court noted that this is not substantial evidence to prove that the seafarer ’s illness which caused his death was contracted during the term of his contract. There should be proper documentation of the seafarer’s medical condition while he is on board the vessel.
The Court stressed that the death of a seafarer several months after his repatriation for illness does not necessarily mean that: a) the seafarer died of the same illness; b) his working conditions increased the risk of contracting the illness which caused his death; and c) the death is compensable, unless there is some reasonable basis to support otherwise.
The Court noted that the seafarer was repatriated not because of any illness but because his contract of employment expired. There is likewise no proof that he contracted his illness during the term of his employment or that his working conditions increased the risk of contracting the illness which caused his death.
The Supreme Court ruled in later case that while it is true that medical repatriation has the effect of terminating the seafarer’s contract of employment, it is, however, enough that the work-related illness, which eventually becomes the proximate cause of death, occurred while the contract was effective for recovery to be had. (Heirs of the late Edwin Deauna vs. FilStar Maritime Corp., G.R. No. 191563 June 20, 2012)
At the time of the seafarer’ s death on April 13, 2006, due to Glioblastoma, he was still in the employment of the company. While it is true that the contract considers a seafarer as terminated when he signs off from the vessel due to sickness, a seafarer remains under the company’s employ as long as the former is still entitled to medical assistance and sick pay, and provided that the death which eventually occurs is directly attributable to the sickness which caused the seafarer’s employment to be terminated.
Employing the spirit of liberality, the Court recognized that a medical repatriation case constitutes an exception to the second requirement under Section 20 (A) (1) of the POEA contract, i.e., that the seafarer’s death had occurred during the term of his employment, in view of the terminative consequences of a medical repatriation.
In essence, the Court held that under such circumstance, the work-related death need not precisely occur during the term of his employment as it is enough that the seafarer’s work-related injury or illness which eventually causes his death had occurred during the term of his employment.
This article appeared in Cebu Daily News: