Can a seafarer be entitled to compensation for disability benefits if he finishes his employment contract?

This is one of the questions included in the 2022 Bar Examinations for Labor Law and Social Legislations.

Marino, a seafarer, was engaged as an oiler on board Searena Corp.’s oil tanker vessel. After ten consecutive contracts, with each having a duration of eight months and the last one ending in December 2021, Marino decided it was time to enjoy his hard-earned money, and disembarked from the vessel upon the expiration of his employment contract.

In April 2022, he felt excruciating pain in his groin. He went to a doctor and was diagnosed with an acute hernia. The doctor also determined that the hernia was caused by repeated heavy lifting because of his work as an oiler.

Marino then took Searena Corp. to court, saying that he was totally and permanently disabled under the POEA contract.

Searena Corp. argues in its position paper that Marino is barred from filing the case as he did not raise any complaints during the term of his employment, and within three days of his arrival in the country after his last employment.

Entitlement of seafarers to disability benefits is a matter governed, not only by medical findings but by law and by contract.

The claim for disability benefits is coterminous with the existence of the contract seafarers 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 by 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.

As a general rule, the seafarer’s condition or symptoms must be documented while he is on board the vessel since one of the requirements for an illness to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectivity of the POEA contract.

Otherwise, his claim for benefits might be denied due to his failure to prove that the illness occurred while his contract was still in force.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in Ventis Maritime Corp. v. Salenga (GR. No. 238578, June 8, 2020) that the seafarer may still claim disability benefits even if his illnesses manifested or were discovered after the term of the contract.

The Court noted that in instances where the illness manifests itself or is discovered after the term of the seafarer’s contract, the illness may either be (I) an occupational illness listed under Section 32-A of the POEA contract, 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.

A seafarer who was repatriated for the end of the contract and had no medical condition during his employment but later suffers from an illness that 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.

On the other hand, failure to comply with the mandatory three working-day reporting requirement will cause the denial of claims with some exceptions, i.e., when the seafarer is physically incapacitated from complying with the requirement (Wallem, Inc. vs. Inductivo, 376 Phil. 738) or due to the inadvertence / deliberate refusal of the employer to refer the seafarer to a company-designated physician (Interorient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. vs Remo, 622 SCRA 237).

This requirement, whether to undergo a post-employment medical examination or report the seafarer’s physical incapacity, must be strictly observed so that the company-designated physician can identify whether the illness or injury was contracted during the term of the seafarer’s employment or that his working conditions increased the risk of contracting the ailment. ( Dela Cruz vs PTC, 758 Phil. 382,394-395)

Just like the 2020-2021 Bar Exams which is not dependent on penmanship, this year’s exams were done digitally, where 9,183 of the 10,006 total examinees were able to complete the examinations held on two Wednesdays ( November 9 and 16), and two Sundays (November 13 and 20).

Headed by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, the simultaneous digital and regionalized bar exams were administered at fourteen (14) local testing centers nationwide with 8 in Luzon , 3 in Visayas. 3 in Mindanao.

A total of 8,241 examinees out of the 11,402 takers passed the 2020/2021 bar exams with a passing rate of 72.28% with my UP Law professor SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen as chairman.

(Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.)