Post-employment medical examination is required under the 1996 POEA SEC. The seafarer must submit himself to a post-employment medical examination within three days from his arrival in the Philippines (mandatory reporting requirement) so that his claim for disability and sickness allowance can prosper.
The only exception to this rule is when the seafarer is physically incapacitated to do so, but there must be a written notice to the agency within the same period of three days for the seaman to be considered to have complied with the requirement.
Otherwise, he forfeits his right to claim his disability benefits and sickness allowance.
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The Heirs of the Late Delfin Dela Cruz, represented by his Spouses Carmelita Dela Cruz vs. Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc. represented by Mr Carlos C. Salinas, et al.
G.R. No. 196357, April 20, 2015
Delfin Dela Cruz was contracted for the position of Oiler by Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc., a local manning agent for and in behalf of the latter’s principal, Tecto Belgium N.V.
As required by law and by the employment contract, Delfin underwent a Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) and was declared Fit for Sea Service. His work includes observing routine watch, taking records of pressure of temperature of all working apparatus, obeying all orders and commands of the engineers, and maintaining cleanliness of machinery and engine room.
Delfin embarked the vessel “Lady Hilde” on 17 August 2000. While on board, he felt gradual chest pains and pain in his upper abdominal region. While performing his regular duties, he was hit by a metal board on his back. He, thereafter, requested medical attention and was given medications and advised to be given light duties for the rest of the week.
Upon the vessel’s arrival at a convenient port on 16 August 2001, his contract expired and he was signed off from the vessel. He reported to Philippine Transmarine, et al. as required. He also sought medical assistance but was not extended.
On 13 November 2003, Delfin went to De Los Santos Medical Center for proper medical attention. He underwent X-Ray and MRI of the Thoracic Spine. Afterwards, he was not employed by Philippine Transmarine, et al. because he was already incapacitated to engage in his customary work.
He filed his claim for sickness allowance from the same manning agency but the same was not granted. His condition deteriorated. Thereafter, he was admitted at St. Luke’s Medical Center, where he was diagnosed to be suffering from [malignant] peripheral nerve sheath tumor [MPNST]. He shouldered his medical expenses.
Delfin filed a complaint before the NLRC to claim payment for sickness allowance and disability compensation.
Philippine Transmarine, et al. filed a Motion to Dismiss on the ground of prescription, the claim having been filed beyond one year from the date of the termination of the contract. Delfin countered that the applicable prescription period is 3 years, according to the POEA Standard Employment Contract.
The parties, thereafter, submitted their position papers. Delfin claimed for medical reimbursement and sickness allowance, permanent disability compensation, and damages and attorney’s fees.
Delfin passed away during the pendency of the case and substituted by his heirs.
The LA rendered a Decision in favor of Delfin. The LA opined that Delfin contracted his illness during the period of his employment with Philippine Transmarine, et al. and that such illness is a compensable occupational disease. Hence, Delfin is entitled to his claims.
On appeal, the NLRC reversed the Decision of the LA. It found Delfin’s claims to be barred by prescription for having been filed beyond the reglementary period of one year from the termination of the employment contract.
The NLRC also found no evidence that would establish a causal connection between Delfin’s ailment and his working conditions.
Heirs of Delfin moved for reconsideration but the same was denied. Aggrieved yet undeterred, Heirs of Delfin filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA.
The CA held that Delfin’s Complaint was filed well within the reglementary period of three years from the date the cause of action arose, as provided for in Section 30 of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers On-Board Ocean-Going Vessels (POEA SEC).
Nonetheless, the CA sustained the NLRC’s pronouncement that Heirs of Delfin are not entitled to disability compensation as they failed to establish that Delfin’s illness was work-related. According to the CA, Delfin’s illness, which is known as Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (MPNST), is a type of soft tissue sarcoma that develops in cells that form a protective sheath (covering) around peripheral nerves.
Peripheral nerves are those that radiate from the brain and spinal cord and stimulate the muscles. However, aside from the June 26, 2001 incident where Delfin was hit by a metal board on his back, there was no other reported incident that would reasonably connect Delfin’s ailment to his working condition.
Heirs of Delfin could only offer their allegations that Delfin experienced chest pains without, however, presenting proofs in support thereof. The CA also found notable that it was only on November 13, 2003 or two years after the termination of his contract and repatriation when Delfin went to Delos Santos Medical Center for medical check-up and underwent chest x-ray and MRI of the thoracic spine. The findings of said hospital conformed to the diagnosis of St. Luke’s Medical Center that Delfin has MPNST.
With regard to Heirs of Delfin’ claim for sickness allowance, the CA denied the same considering that Delfin’s contract with Philippine Transmarine, et al. had long expired. It likewise denied Heirs of Delfin’ claim for attorney’s fees, moral damages and exemplary damages as there is no proof that Philippine Transmarine, et al. committed bad faith in denying Delfin’s claims.
Heirs of Delfin filed a Motion for Reconsideration. This was denied by the CA. Hence, the petition for review on certiorari.
Whether or not failure to undergo mandatory post employment examination within 3 days from repatriation results in forfeiture of seafarer’s claim
Whether or not the seafarer had substantially established his benefits claims for illness that occurred after the expiration of his contract
Whether or not the PEME is conclusive proof of good health of seafarer prior to embarkation
The SC did not find merit in the petition.
The SC held cited the rule on the liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers injury or illness during the term of his contract. The seafarer only has to prove that his injury or illness was acquired during the term of employment to support his claim for disability benefits and sickness allowance. Verily, his injury or illness need not be shown to be work-related to be compensable under said employment contract.
However, the SC also reiterates the rule that “whoever claims entitlement to the benefits provided by law should establish his right to the benefits by substantial evidence” or “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other equally reasonable minds might conceivably opine otherwise.” Absent a showing thereof, any decision set forth will only be based on unsubstantiated allegations.
Accordingly, the SC cannot grant a claim for disability benefits without adequate substantiation for to do so will offend due process. The foregoing jurisprudential principle effectively shows that the burden of proving entitlement to disability benefits lies on Heirs of Delfin. Thus, they must establish that Delfin suffered or contracted his injury or illness which resulted in his disability during the term of the employment contract. An examination of the records, however, shows that Heirs of Delfin failed to discharge such burden.
The 1996 POEA SEC clearly provides that a seafarer must submit himself to a post-employment medical examination within three days from his arrival in the Philippines (mandatory reporting requirement) so that his claim for disability and sickness allowance can prosper. The only exception to this rule is when the seafarer is physically incapacitated to do so, but there must be a written notice to the agency within the same period of three days for the seaman to be considered to have complied with the requirement. Otherwise, he forfeits his right to claim his disability benefits and sickness allowance.
Here, Heirs of Delfin claim that Delfin went to Philippine Transmarine, et al. to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement and to seek medical assistance but his request for medical evaluation was unheeded. Heirs of Delfin, however, failed to support this.
To the SC’s mind, this lapse on Heirs of Delfin’ part only demonstrates that Delfin did not comply with what was incumbent upon him. The reasonable conclusion, therefore, is that at the time of his repatriation, Delfin was not suffering from any physical disability requiring immediate medical attendance. Otherwise, and even if his request for medical assistance went unheeded, he would have submitted himself for check-up with his personal physician.
After all, the injury complained of by Delfin was a serious one and it would seem illogical for him to just suffer in silence and bear the pain for a considerable length of time. Moreover, while the rule on mandatory reporting requirement is not absolute as a seafarer may show that he was physically incapable to comply with the same by submitting a written notice to the agency within the same three-day period, nowhere in the records does it show that Delfin submitted any such notice.
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Clearly, Heirs of Delfin failed to show that Delfin complied with the mandatory reporting requirement. Thus, he is deemed to have forfeited his right to claim disability benefits and sickness allowance.
On the relevance of the seafarer’s passing his PEME vis-a-vis the probability of his having acquired his injury or illness during the period of employment he PEME merely determines whether one is “fit to work” at sea or “fit for sea service,” it does not state the real state of health of an applicant. In short, the “fit to work” declaration in the respondent’s PEME cannot be a conclusive proof to show that he was free from any ailment prior to his deployment.
While a PEME may reveal enough for the employer to decide whether a seafarer is fit for overseas employment, it may not be relied upon to inform the company of a seafarer’s true state of health. The PEME could not have divulged seafarer’s illness considering that the examinations were not exploratory.