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Atty Dennis Gorecho: Three-day reportorial rule for seafarers’ claims

Three-day reportorial rule for seafarers’ claims
Dennis Gorecho - April 17, 2018

THE FAILURE of the Filipino seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement within three days upon arrival must be for a justifiable reason or due to inadvertence / deliberate refusal of the employer to refer the seafarer to a company-designated physician. Otherwise, such failure shall result in the forfeiture of his right to claim benefits under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC).

In the recent case of Veronico Tagud vs BSM Crew Service Center (G.R. No. 219370, Dec. 6, 2017), the Supreme Court reiterated that payment of disability benefits to seafarers who failed to comply with the mandatory three working-day reporting and examination requirement will be denied. Settled is the rule that the entitlement of seafarers to disability benefits is a matter governed, not only by medical findings but by law and by contract.

In the said case, the seafarer disembarked in Singapore and was repatriated to Manila on Nov. 8, 2008. He alleged that he reported to his manning agency but was not given any assistance or referred to a company-designated physician.

However, the court noted that the seafarer did not present any evidence to prove that he tried to submit himself to a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return.

The seafarer did not also present any letter that he was physically incapacitated to see the company-designated physician to be exempted from the rule. It took him about four months from repatriation or on March 9 and 10, 2009 to seek medical attention for pain in his upper right extremities, not from the company-designated physician but at a private clinic in Caloocan City. No other documents were submitted to prove that he asserted his rights against the company or that he immediately took action to seek medical assistance from the company within three days from his repatriation.

The Supreme Court held that the three-day mandatory reporting requirement, whether to undergo a post-employment medical examination or report the seafarer’s physical incapacity, must be strictly observed since within three days from repatriation, it would be fairly manageable for the company-designated physician to 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. (Heirs of the Late Delfin Dela Cruz vs PTC, 758 Phil. 382,394-395)

It is the company-designated physician who is initially entrusted with the task of assessing the seafarer’s disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of the latter’s employment. Nevertheless, such assessment is not viewed final, binding or conclusive on the claimant, the labor tribunal or the courts. The seafarer has the prerogative to request a second opinion and consult a physician of his choice regarding his ailment or injury, in which case the medical report issued by the latter shall be evaluated by the labor tribunal and the court, based on its inherent merit. (Andres L. Dizon vs NAESS Shipping Ltd., G.R. No. 201834, June 1, 2016)

Ascertaining the real cause of the illness or injury beyond the three-day period may prove difficult. To ignore the rule might set a precedent with negative repercussions, like opening floodgates 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. (Interorient vs Creer, 735 SCRA 267)

However, such requirement is not absolute and admits of some exceptions, i.e., when the seafarer is physically incapacitated from complying with the requirement. Indeed, for a man who was terminally ill and in need of urgent medical attention one could not reasonably expect that he would immediately resort to and avail himself of the required medical examination, assuming that he was still capable of submitting himself to such examination at that time. (Wallem, Inc. vs Inductivo, 376 Phil. 738)

The other exception to the three-day rule is when failure to do so was not due to the seafarer’s fault but due to the inadvertence or deliberate refusal of the employer to refer the seafarer to a company-designated physician. (Interorient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. vs Leonora S. Remo, 622 SCRA 237)