By Dennis Gorecho
A seafarer is entitled to compensation even if he finished his contract as long as he already had medical conditions while onboard during his employment.
The issue of repatriation due to contract termination and not on medical grounds was one of the defenses raised by the company in the case of Philippine Transmarine Carriers Inc. v. Clarito Manzano (GR 210329 March 18 2021).
While the seafarer was working aboard the vessel, he slipped and fell from an elevated height and initially landed on his right knee. Consequently, he suffered from severe pain on his right knee, the right side of his body, and his lumbar region, which prompted him to request to consult a doctor.
He was brought to a hospital in New Jersey, USA where he was found to be suffering from “soft tissue injury, arthralgia, effusion.”
Upon follow-up check-up, he was found to be suffering from a sprained knee.
Before he was repatriated for end of contract, he also consulted a company-designated physician in Oman and was found suffering from “costochondritis and myalgia in his right shoulder.”
Upon his arrival in Manila, the company-designated physician ordered for an MRl on his right upper extremity.
He was found to be suffering from “supraspinatus and infraspinatustendinosis; increased signal intensity in the labrum indicative of tear; moderate acromioclavicular joint hypertrophy; and had minimalfluid in his subacromial-subdeltoid bursa.”
Another MRl on lumbosacral spine showed that he was suffering from “degenerative disk disease at L3-L4 and L5-Sl; mild posterior disk bulge with encroachment into the right neural canal at L3-L4.”
His condition did not improve despite undergoing treatments for several months.
He then opted to consult another doctor who found him suffering from “a swollen right knee with inability to squat; atrophy of quadriceps and calf muscles; limited movement of right shoulder because of pain; limited shoulder abduction, which only reached 90 degrees; tensed and spastic paraspinal muscles; and limited trunk movement.”
The employer denied liability for disability benefits on the grounds that the seafarer finished his contract and was not medically repatriated.
Since one of the requirements for an illness or death to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectivity of the POEA contract, it is imperative that his condition or symptoms must be documented while he is on board the vessel.
Otherwise, his claim for benefits might be denied due to failure to prove that said illness occurred while his contract is still in force.
The benefits are coterminous with the existence of the contract they sign every time they are rehired and is terminated when the contract expires.
The contract commences from the time when the seafarer actually departs from the Philippines, either at an airport or seaport, for employment. It shall cease when he completes his period of contractual service aboard the ship, signs-off from the ship and arrives at the point of hire.
The Supreme Court downplayed the employer’s argument noting that while it is true that the seafarer was repatriated because his contract had already ended, the injuries he complained of initially manifested while on board the vessel.
The Court cited the ruling in the case of Ventis Maritime Corp., et al. v. Salenga (GR 238578, June 8, 2020) where it was ruled that the seafarer may still claim disability benefits even if his illnesses manifested or were discovered after the term of the contract.
“In instances where the illness manifests itself or is discovered after the term of the seafarer’s contract, the illness may either be (1) an occupational illness listed under Section 32-A of the POEA-SEC, in which case, it is categorized as a work-related illness if it complies with the conditions stated in Section 32-A, or (2) an illness not listed as an occupational illness under Section 32-A but is reasonably linked to the work of the seafarer,” the Court said.
A seafarer who was repatriated for end of contract and had no medical condition during his employment but later suffers from an illness which manifested only after the end of his employment can still be entitled to disability benefits, provided he can prove that the illness suffered is reasonably linked to the work performed on board.
The Court stressed in the instant Manzano case that it is absurd to say that the seafarer, who was repatriated for end of contract but already had medical conditions while onboard during his employment, is not entitled to disability benefits while a seafarer, who was likewise repatriated for end of contract but suffered from an illness which manifested only after repatriation, is entitled to the same benefits.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786./WDJ