• When disability is not compensable

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My father disembarked from the vessel of his employment last Christmas Day in December 2016. He was not medically repatriated for any ailment or reasons. Come January, after the holidays, he felt excruciating pain in his left leg and he had a very hard time walking straight since then. This February, he had himself checked so that he can apply for work again. The agency physician noticed his imbalance. He was not certified “fit-to-work.” Considering that it was merely a very short period after his disembarkation that he experienced the unusual pain in his leg, will my father be able to claim for disability benefits due him as a seafarer under the circumstances?

    Sincerely yours,
    Zeny

    Dear Zeny,
    Fairly recent, is the case of Scanmar Maritime Services, et. al. v. Wilfredo de Leon (G.R. No. 199977, 18 January 2017) penned by the Honorable Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, who fairly discussed about the obligation of the seafarer after disembarkation and the burden of proving that the disability was inevitably caused by his employment, viz.:

    “In lnterOrient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. v. Creer the seafarer’s repatriation was not due to any medical reasons but because his employment contract had already expired. On that occasion, the Court applied the doctrine in Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. Tanawan, and held that:

    The rationale for the rule [on mandatory post-employment medical examination within three days from repatriation by a company-designated physician]is that reporting the illness or injury within three days from repatriation fairly makes it easier for a physician to determine the cause of the illness or injury. Ascertaining the real cause of the illness or injury beyond the period may prove difficult. To ignore the rule might set a precedent with negative repercussions, like opening to a limitless number of seafarers claiming disability benefits, or causing unfairness to the employer who would have difficulty determining the cause of a claimant’s illness because of the passage of time. The employer would then have no protection against unrelated disability claims.

    xx xx

    Claimants for disability benefits must first discharge the burden of proving, with substantial evidence, that their ailment was acquired during the term of their contract. They must show that they experienced health problems while at sea, the circumstances under which they developed the illness, as well as the symptoms associated with it.

    In this case, respondent adduced insufficient proof that he experienced his injury or its symptoms during the term of his contract.” [Emphasis supplied]

    In the case at bar, if your father was unable to submit for post-employment examination after three (3) days from disembarkation and he is unable to prove that the ailment he now has is directly connected with his employment, he may not be able to claim the disability benefits due him.

    It is fair to note that the fact that he merely disembarked from the vessel, and that he was not medically repatriated by his employer, is not sufficient reason to excuse him in abiding with the requirement of undergoing the post-employment examination within three (3) days. Moreover, as the Honorable Chief Justice Sereno puts it, “[t]he proximity of the development of the injury to the time of disembarkation does not automatically prove work causation.” The basis of the award of benefits due an employee cannot just rest on mere speculation, albeit, there must be an apparent proof, that your father has the burden to present, that the injury he sustained is a direct and probable consequence of his employment.

    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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