On October 16 2001 a seafarer disembarked from a vessel due to the expiry of his contract. He was re-examined for his next deployment and was found to be physically fit. On February 2 2002, while awaiting re-employment, he felt pain and numbness in his left leg. He consulted an independent physician, who diagnosed him to be suffering from critical limb ischemia. The seafarer underwent a series of medical procedures, but his condition did not improve. He finally underwent a below-knee amputation of his left leg. He then demanded payment for permanent disability benefits, alleging that he had complained of throbbing pain in his left leg while on board the vessel, but that his complaints had been ignored. He also alleged that he had requested a medical check-up after his repatriation, but this request was also ignored. He filed a complaint with the National Labour Relations Commission (NLRC) on June 10 2004.
The labour arbiter rendered a decision in favour of the seafarer and ruled that the seafarer's illness was work-related. The NLRC reversed the decision of the labour arbiter after finding that the seafarer's claims were not supported by substantial evidence to prove that his illness was work-related.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the NLRC, ruling that the seafarer's claim must fail as he was unable to present evidence that he had notified the ship captain or the respondent of his alleged medical complaint while on board the vessel or after disembarkation.
The vessel interests presented an affidavit of the vessel's manning agent which attested to the fact that the vessel interests received no complaint from the seafarer while on board the vessel or after disembarkation. This affidavit was never refuted by the seafarer.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the court ruled that the seafarer's allegation was a bare allegation and mere conjecture, as no evidence had been presented. Moreover, the court held that there was no compelling reason to deviate from the factual findings of the NLRC which stated that the petitioner had failed to establish that his illness was work-related. Hence, the seafarer was not entitled to claim permanent disability benefits. The court held that the factual findings of quasi-judicial agencies such as the NLRC, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are conclusive upon the parties and binding on the Supreme Court
In the same case the court also ruled on the time barring of seafarers' claims. The court ruled that the seafarer's claim was not time barred, since under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Standard Employment Contract, the prescriptive period on a claim expires three years from seafarer's disembarkation from the vessel. However, the claim was denied regardless of whether it was time barred.
For further information on this topic please contact Ruben T Del Rosario at Del Rosario & Del Rosario law Offices by telephone (+63 2 810 1791), fax (+63 2 817 1740) or email ([email protected]).
(1) Arnaldo Gabunas v Scanmar Maritime Services Inc, GR 188637, December 15 2010.