Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Disability benefits of seamen; unless contrary evidence is presented by the employers, the "work-relatedness of the disease" must be sustained (disputable presumption).

The Principle of Work-relation

The 2000 POEA-SEC contract governs the claims for disability benefits by respondent as he was employed by the petitioners in September of 2006.

Pursuant to the said contract, the injury or illness must be workrelated and must have existed during the term of the seafarer's employment in order for compensability to arise. 14 Work-relation must, therefore, be established.

As a general rule, the principle of work-relation requires that the disease in question must be one of those listed as an occupational disease under Sec. 32-A of the PO EA-SEC. Nevertheless, should it be not classified as occupational in nature, Section 20 (B) paragraph 4 of the POEA-SEC15 provides that such diseases are disputably presumed as work-related.

In this case, it is undisputed that NPC afflicted respondent while on board the petitioners' vessel. As a non-occupational disease, it has the disputable presumption of being work-related. This presumption obviously works in the seafarer's favor. 16 Hence, unless contrary evidence is presented by the employers, the work-relatedness of the disease must be sustained. 17

In this wise, the petitioners, as employers, failed to disprove the presumption of NPC's work-relatedness. They primarily relied on the medical report issued by Dr. Co Pefia. The report, however, failed to make a categorical statement confirming the total absence of work relation. Thus:

Dear Dr. Lim,

This is with regards [sic] to Mr. Elena Babol, 45 y/o male, diagnosed case of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma; S/P Incisional Biopsy of Left Neck Mass on April 2, 2007. Risk factors include:

Diet - salt cured fish
Viral agents - Epstein Barr Virus (EBV)
Genetic Susceptibility - H2 locus antigens, Singapore
Antigen BW46 and B17 Antigen
His condition is likely not work-related.
(Underscoring supplied)

Black's Law Dictionary defines likely as "probable"18 and likelihood as "probability." 19 The use of the word likely indicates a hesitant and an uncertain tone in the stated medical opinion and does not foreclose the possibility that respondent's NPC could be work-related. In other words, as the doctor opined only a probability, there was no certainty that his condition was not work related.

There being no certainty, the Court will lean in favor of the seafarer consistent with the mandate of POEA-SEC to secure the best terms and conditions of employment for Filipino workers. 20 Hence, the presumption of NPC's work-relatedness stays.”

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