Claiming death benefits of seaman who had disembarked from ship not easy

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My father was a seaman. He disembarked from his vessel and was repatriated three months ago because of severe headache. He died recently of heart attack secondary to hypertension. Will we be able to claim death benefits due him from his maritime agency, since we believe that his hypertension intensified during his employment with the company and deployment to its vessel?
Queenie

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Dear Queenie,
Considering that your father had already disembarked from his employment three (3) months before his death and that his disease and his cause of death may not be necessarily work-related, you may not be able to claim the death benefits pertaining to his employment as a seaman, unless you can prove the contrary.

Fairly recent is the case of Alma Covita et al. v. SSM Maritime Services (G.R. No. 206600, December 7, 2016; ponente: Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta) that stated the definition of what work-related illness means (as provided in standard employment contracts):

A work-related illness is defined under the POEA (Philippine Overseaqs Employment Administration) Standard Employment Contract as any sickness resulting to disability or death as a result of an occupational disease listed under Section 32-A of this contract with the conditions set therein satisfied, to wit:

The seafarer’s work must involve the risks described herein;

The disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer’s exposure to the described risks;

The disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it; and,

There was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer.

It is also provided under Section 20B (4) of the same contract that illnesses not listed in Section 32-A are disputably presumed work-related. Section 20, however, should be read together with the conditions specified by Section 32-A for an illness to be compensable.

Simply put, your father’s hypertensive condition is not outrightly denied to be a compensable disease. Proof, however, that the same developed during his employment with the company must be shown so that you can claim the pertinent death benefits appurtenant his employment contract. The Supreme Court, in the same case, added:

While it is true that the pre-existence of an illness does not irrevocably bar compensability because disability laws still grant the same provided the seafarer’s working conditions bear causal connection with his illness, these rules, however, cannot be asserted perfunctorily by the claimant as it is incumbent upon him to prove, by substantial evidence, as to how and why the nature of his work and working conditions contributed to and/or aggravated his illness.

Moreover, in this case, it was deemed that the death of the petitioner that happened many days after he disembarked from the vessel may no longer be compensable as their contract further provides that:

Section 1SB(1) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract that the employment of the seafarer is terminated when he arrives at the point of hire.

Hence, since contracts are considered laws binding the parties to it, the same may be used for and against anyone in the claim of any right. Thus, revisiting your father’s contract and understanding the details regarding the claim of death benefits is particularly crucial to fully answer your query.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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