THE employer cannot escape liability on the mere fact that the seafarer finished his contract if it should have been essentially a case of medical repatriation.
There are instances when the officers on board will convince a seafarer to wait for the termination of his contract if symptoms of his medical condition are near the date of his repatriation based on terms of the contract.
Unknowingly, this becomes a legal defense of the employers to the prejudice of the seafarer.
Since one of the requirements for an illness or death to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectiveness of the POEA contract. It is imperative that his condition, injury or symptoms must be documented while he is on board the vessel.
The contract commences from the time when the seafarer actually departs from the Philippines, either 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 liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract include medical treatment apart from disability benefits and sickness allowance.
A work-related Illness is any sickness as a result of the listed occupational disease under the POEA standard employment contract.
A work-related injury is an injury arising out of and in the course of employment.
These benefits are co-terminous with the existence of the contract they sign every time they are rehired and is terminated when the contract expires.
There are three basic medical documentations that will play vital roles in availing the benefits, specifically (a) pre -employment medical examination (PEME), (b) accident or illness report while on board the vessel and (c) post-medical reporting within three (3) working days upon arrival in the Philippines.
The documents will be the basis of the company or insurance authorities for evaluating whether the medical condition in question can be recognized as an occupational injury or disease.
Otherwise, his claim for benefits might be denied due to failure to prove that said illness occurred while his contract is still in force.
If a seafarer is not feeling well while at sea, he must consult a medical person before disembarkation.
It is a rampant practice that the seafarer will be told to just wait for the next port since his contract will soon be terminated, leaving the illness undocumented.
A seafarer in this situation must still document his medical condition, such as sending email messages to his principal, manning agency and his relatives that will serve as evidence that his illness occurred while he was still on board the vessel.
In the event that despite said complaint the officials fail to make a positive action, the seafarer must communicate directly to the principal or the manning agency for documentation purposes.
He may also immediately ask for post-medical examination after reporting to the office of the manning agency within three (3) working days upon arrival in the Philippines.
The Supreme Court disregarded the defense of contract termination in the case of Teekay Shipping Philippines vs . Exequiel Jarin (G.R. No. 195598, June 25, 2014).
The Court noted that this is a case of medical repatriation coinciding with contract termination since when the seafarer arrived in the Philippines, he was still suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, moon facies and bipedal edema and upper respiratory tract infection, as confirmed by the company physician.
While the general rule is that the seafarer’s death should occur during the term of his employment, the Court ruled in Canuel v. Magsaysay Maritime Corporation (745 Phil. 252) the seafarer’s death occurring after the termination of his employment due to his medical repatriation on account of a work-related injury or illness constitutes an exception thereto.
This is based on a liberal construction of the POEA contract as impelled by the plight of the bereaved heirs who stand to be deprived of a just and reasonable compensation for the seafarer’s death, notwithstanding its evident work-connection.
In Deauna vs. Fil-Star Maritime Corp. (G.R. No. 191563 June 20, 2012), the Supreme Court also said that 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 occurred during the term of his employment.
(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)