Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry
By: Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., October 3, 2013 (Issue 2013/16)
Supreme Court denies claim as seafarer failed to observe 3 day rule requiring seafarer to submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by the company doctor; this despite seafarer not being medically repatriated but finished his contract; further, seafarer did not lodge a medical complaint while on board the vessel
The seafarer was repatriated on 2 December 1996 due to completion of employment contract. On 6 January 1997, he had himself medically examined where he was diagnosed with pneumonia/tuberculosis foci. He had another examination on 18 May 1997 which showed that he had elevated blood sugar. On 4 November 1999, seaman went to the Seamen’s Hospital where he was found to be suffering from Diabetes Mellitus II, PTB cavitary class 3, and movement disorder (Ataxia) affecting the left side upper and lower extremities. On 18 November 1999, seaman also consulted a private doctor for the assessment of his disability and for which the latter issued a medical certificate on the same day confirming the former’s disability as rated Grade 1. He then filed a complaint for disability benefits, illness allowance, reimbursement of medical expenses, damages and attorney’s fees.
The Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of the seafarer and awarded Grade 1 disability benefits amounting to USD50,000. It was reasoned that seafarer’s illness was contracted during the term of his employment contract. The Labor Arbiter also observed that the seafarer before hiring, underwent a medical examination and was declared fit to work, but after 7 months of work with the respondents, he was found suffering from pneumonia/tuberculosis foci, thus, it concluded that the seafarer contracted the disease during the term of his employment.
On appeal, the NLRC set aside the decision of the Labor Arbiter and dismissed the complaint for lack of merit. The NLRC found that the seafarer failed to adduce any evidence which established that he contracted or suffered from pneumonia/tuberculosis foci while in the employ of the respondents, as there was no medical certificate issued on him while he was still on board the vessel. The earliest date of his medical certificate was issued on January 6, 1997, more than one month after repatriation, thus, he was not repatriated due to medical reasons but upon completion of his seven-month contract.
The NLRC also found that under the POEA Contract, a seafarer who is medically repatriated should submit himself to a post-medical examination within three days upon his return or to notify the agency within the same period of his physical incapacity to do so, and the failure to comply would result in the forfeiture of the right to sickness allowance and disability benefits.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the NLRC.
The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the claim.
Seaman finished his contract and was not repatriated due to medical reasons
Under the POEA Contract, for entitlement to benefits, it must be shown that the injury or illness was contracted during the term of the employment contract. The unqualified phrase “during the term” covered all injuries or illnesses occurring during the lifetime of the contract.
The seaman failed to prove by substantial evidence that he suffered an illness during the term of his employment. There was no record of medical complaint lodged by the seafarer during his employment on board the vessel and even after his arrival in the Philippines on December 2, 1996. As correctly observed, the medical certificates submitted were issued long after the seafarer had disembarked from the vessel. Except for bare allegations, no evidence was presented that would indeed establish that seafarer contracted his illness during his employment. In fact, the company was not even aware or apprised of seafarer's illness which was allegedly contracted during the term of his employment contract until the latter claimed for disability benefits almost 3 years later. Thus, credence was given to the company’s claim that the seafarer was repatriated to the Philippines due to the completion of his employment contract and not on account of medical reason.
The Court said that assuming the seafarer suffered the illness during employment and was repatriated due to medical reasons as he claimed, it is mandatory that he submit himself to a post-employment medical examination within three (3) working days from his arrival in the Philippines before his right to a claim for disability or death benefits can prosper. The 3-day mandatory reporting requirement must be strictly observed since within 3 days from repatriation, it would be fairly manageable for the physician to identify whether the disease for which the seaman died was contracted during the term of his employment or that his working conditions increased the risk of contracting the ailment.
In this case, the seafarer admitted that he had his physical examination at the hospital on 6 January 1997, which was more than a month from his arrival in the Philippines. Clearly, the seafarer failed to comply with the required post-employment medical examination within 3 days from his arrival and there was no showing that he was physically incapacitated to do so to justify his non-compliance.
The claimants try to justify that such requirement applies only if the seafarer is fully aware that he already has the illness upon his disembarkation but not when he is not aware of its existence as the symptoms have not yet manifested. This too was debunked by the Court.
The post-employment medical examination within 3 days from seafarer's arrival is required in order to ascertain his physical condition, since to ignore the rule would set a precedent with negative repercussions because it would open the floodgates to a limitless number of seafarers claiming disability benefits. It would certainly be unfair to the employer who would have difficulty determining the cause of a claimant’s illness considering the passage of time. In such a case, the employers would have no protection against unrelated disability claims.
In the words of the Court:
“Petitioners' admission that no symptoms of Enrique’s illness had manifested at the time of his arrival in the Philippines revealed that he indeed was not suffering of any ailment then, and was even in good health upon his arrival which even bolstered our earlier findings that he was repatriated due to the completion of his employment contract and not due to any medical reason. Moreover, the post-employment medical examination within 3 days from Enrique's arrival is required in order to ascertain his physical condition, since to ignore the rule would set a precedent with negative repercussions because it would open the floodgates to a limitless number of seafarers claiming disability benefits. It would certainly be unfair to the employer who would have difficulty determining the cause of a claimant’s illness considering the passage of time. In such a case, the employers would have no protection against unrelated disability claims.”
Author’s Note: While this case is based on the old POEA Standard Employment Contract, the principles enunciated in the case stand as the same provisions are incorporated in the 2010 POEA contract.
Cirila Manota, for herself and in behalf on her children, Claire, Catherine, Charles, Philip Christopher, Carmi Joy, Carlo John and Cedric James vs. Avantgarde Shipping Corporation and/or Sembawang Johnson Management Pte., Ltd.; G.R. No.179607; Third Division; August 8,2013; Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, Ponente (Attys. Pamela Portia Coseip-Abarico and Herbert Tria of Del Rosario & Del Rosario handled for vessel interests).
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