My uncle, a seafarer, was found dead inside his cabin last week. Authorities said he was found with a rope around his neck and was on his knees by his bed. The hospital in the place where he died reported that he committed suicide. No suicide note, however, was mentioned in the report. Since he was away too long from his family and died without them, may his family claim compensation or claim benefits incidental to his untimely death?
The case of Maritime Factors Inc. et al. vs. Bienvenido R. Hindang (G.R. No.151993, October 19, 2011) penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta can enlighten you in your situation. It clearly stated:
“Under Part II, Section C, Nos. 1 and 6 of the POEA [Philippine Overseas Employment Administration] ‘Standard Employment Contract Governing the Employment of All Filipino Seamen on Board Ocean-Going Vessels,’ it is provided that:
1. In case of death of the seaman during the term of this contract, the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the Philippine currency equivalent to the amount of US$50,000.00 and an additional amount of US$7,000.00 to each child under the age of twenty-one (21) but not exceeding four children at the exchange rate prevailing during the time of payment.
x x x x
6. No compensation shall be payable in respect of any injury, incapacity, disability or death resulting from a willful act on his own life by the seaman, provided, however, that the employer can prove that such injury, incapacity, disability or death is directly attributable to him.”
xxx xxx xxx
Thus the Supreme Court ruled:
In order to avail of death benefits, the death of the employee should occur during the effectivity of the employment contract. The death of a seaman during the term of employment makes the employer liable to his heirs for death compensation benefits. This rule, however, is not absolute. The employer may be exempt from liability if it can successfully prove that the seaman’s death was caused by an injury directly attributable to his deliberate or willful act. Clearly, respondent’s entitlement to any death benefit depends on whether petitioner’s evidence suffices to prove that Danilo committed suicide, and the burden of proof rests on petitioner.
We find that petitioner was able to prove that Danilo’s death was attributable to his deliberate act of killing himself by committing suicide.” (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Clearly, while it is a general rule that when death occurs during the effectivity of a seaman’s employment, it shall be compensable, the same is not absolute. It can actually be reversed, if the employer is able to prove that the death was caused by an injury deliberately inflicted by the employee.
Hence, if your uncle’s employer is able to prove that indeed your uncle committed suicide, his family may not be able to claim any benefit relative to his death under their contract.
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 email@example.com