CONCHITA J. RACELIS vs. UNITED PHILIPPINE LINES, INC. and/or HOLLAND AMERICA LINES, INC.,*and FERNANDO T. LISING, G.R. No. 198408, November 12, 2014
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II. The Seafarer’s Death Occurred During the Term of Employment.
Moving to the second requirement, respondents assert that Rodolfo’s death on March 2, 2008 had occurred beyond the term of his employment, considering his prior medical repatriation on February 20, 2008 which had the effect of contract termination. The argument is founded on Section 18 (B) (1) of the 2000 POEA-SEC, which reads:
SECTION 18. TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT
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B. The employment of the seafarer is also terminated when the seafarer arrives at the point of hire for any of the following reasons:
1. when the seafarer signs-off and is disembarked for medical reasons pursuant to Section 20(B)63 of this Contract.
While it is true that a medical repatriation has the effect of terminating the seafarer’s contract of employment, it is, however, enough that the work-related illness, which eventually becomes the proximate cause of death, occurred while the contract was effective for recovery to be had. A further exposition is apropos.
Consistent with the State’s avowed policy to afford full protection to labor as enshrined in Article XIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution,64 the POEA-SEC was designed primarily for the protection and benefit of Filipino seafarers in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels. As such, it is a standing principle that its provisions are to be construed and applied fairly, reasonably, and liberally in their favor.65
Guided by this principle, the Court, in the recent case of Canuel, recognized that a medical repatriation case constitutes an exception to the second requirement under Section 20 (A) (1) of the 2000 POEA-SEC, i.e., that the seafarer’s death had occurred during the term of his employment, in view of the terminative consequences of a medical repatriation under Section 18 (B) of the same. In essence, the Court held that under such circumstance, the work-related death need not precisely occur during the term of his employment as it is enough that the seafarer’s work-related injury or illness which eventually causes his death had occurred during the term of his employment. As rationalized in that case:
With respect to the second requirement for death compensability, the Court takes this opportunity to clarify that while the general rule is that the seafarer’s death should occur during the term of his employment, the seafarer’s death occurring after the termination ofhis employment due to his medical repatriation on account of a work-related injury or illness constitutes an exception thereto. This is based on a liberal construction of the 2000 POEA-SEC as impelled by the plight of the bereaved heirs who stand to be deprived of a just and reasonable compensation for the seafarer’s death, notwithstanding its evident work-connection.1âwphi1 The present petition is a case in point.
Here, Nancing’s repatriation occurred during the eighth (8th) month of his one (1) year employment contract. Were it not for his injury, which had been earlier established as work-related, he would not have been repatriated for medical reasons and his contract consequently terminated pursuant to Part 1 of Section 18 (B) of the 2000 POEA-SEC as hereunder quoted:
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The terminative consequence of a medical repatriation case then appears to present a rather prejudicial quandary to the seafarer and his heirs. Particularly, if the Court wereto apply the provisions of Section 20 of the 2000 POEA-SEC as above-cited based on a strict and literal construction thereof, then the heirs of Nancing would stand to be barred from receiving any compensation for the latter’s death despite its obvious work-relatedness. Again, this is for the reason that the work-related death would, by mere legal technicality, be considered to have occurred after the term of his employment on account of his medical repatriation. It equally bears stressing that neither would the heirs be able to receive any disability compensation since the seafarer’s death in this case precluded the determination of a disability grade,which, following Section 20 (B) in relation to Section 32 of the 2000 POEA-SEC, stands as the basis therefor. However, a strict and literal construction of the 2000 POEA-SEC, especially when the same would result into inequitable consequences against labor, is not subscribed to in this jurisdiction. Concordant with the State’s avowed policy to give maximum aid and full protection to labor as enshrined in ArticleXIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, contracts of labor, such as the 2000 POEA-SEC, are deemedto be so impressed with public interest that the more beneficial conditions must be endeavoured in favor of the laborer. The rule therefore is one of liberal construction. As enunciated in the case of Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc. v. NLRC[(405 Phil. 487 )]:
The POEA Standard Employment Contract for Seamen is designed primarily for the protection and benefit of Filipino seamen in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels. Its provisions must [therefore] be construed and applied fairly, reasonably and liberally in their favor [as it is only] then can its beneficent provisions be fully carried into effect. (Emphasis supplied)
Applying the rule on liberal construction, the Court is thus brought to the recognition that medical repatriation cases should be considered as an exception to Section 20 of the 2000 POEA-SEC. Accordingly, the phrase "work-related death of the seafarer, during the term of his employment contract" under Part A (1) of the said provision should not be strictly and literally construed to mean that the seafarer’s work-related death should have precisely occurred during the term of his employment. Rather, it is enough that the seafarer’s work-related injury or illness which eventually causes his death should have occurred during the term of his employment. Taking all things into account, the Court reckons that it is by this method of construction that undue prejudice to the laborer and his heirs may be obviated and the State policy on labor protection be championed. For if the laborer’s death was brought about (whether fully or partially) by the work he had harbored for his master’s profit, then it is but proper that his demise be compensated. Here, since it has been established that (a) the seafarer had been suffering from a workrelated injury or illness during the term of his employment, (b) his injury or illness was the cause for his medical repatriation, and (c) it was later determined that the injury or illness for which he was medically repatriated was the proximate cause ofhis actual death although the same occurred after the term of his employment, the above-mentioned rule should squarely apply. Perforce, the present claim for death benefits should be granted.66 (Citations omitted)
As elucidated in Canuel, the foregoing liberal approach was applied in Inter-Orient Maritime, Incorporated v. Candava,67 Interorient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. v. Remo,68and Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. NLRC,69 wherein the Court had previously allowed the recovery of death benefits even if the seafarers in those cases had died after repatriation, given that there was proof of a clear causal connection between their work and the illness which was contracted in the course of employment, and their eventual death. The converse conclusion was reached in the cases of Gau Sheng Phils., Inc. v. Joaquin70 (Gau Sheng), Spouses Aya-ay, Sr. v. Arpaphil Shipping Corp.71 (Spouses Aya-ay, Sr.), Hermogenes v. Osco Shipping Services, Inc.,72 Prudential Shipping and Management Corp. v. Sta. Rita73 (Prudential), and Ortega v. CA74 (Ortega),since the element of work relatedness had not been established. All in all, the sense gathered from these cases, as pointed out in Canuel, is that it is crucial to determine whether the death of the deceased was reasonably connected with his work, or whether the working conditions increased the risk of contracting the disease that resulted in the seafarer’s death. If the injury or illness is the proximate cause, or at least increased the risk of his death for which compensation is sought, recovery may behad for said death, or for that matter, for the injury or illness. Thus, in Seagull Ship management and Trans., Inc. v. NLRC,75 the Court significantly observed that:
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