Case Digest: Pantollano v. Korphil Ship

G.R. No. 169575: March 30, 2011




On March 24, 1994, Korphil Shipmanagement and Manning Corporation (Korphil) hired Vedasto C. Pantollano (Vedasto) as 4th Engineer on board the vessel M/V Couper under a Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) approved contract of employment. On August 2, 1994, Vedasto did not show up for his duty. The vessel then altered its course to search for Vedasto. he search and rescue operation lasted for about six hours, but Vedasto was not found.On August 3, 1994, a Report was issued by the Master of M/V Couper declaring that Vedasto was missing.His wife, Imelda Pantollano (Imelda), was likewise informed about the disappearance of Vedasto while on board M/V Couper.Since then, Vedasto was never seen again

On May 29, 2000, Imelda filed a complaint before the NLRC where she sought to recover death benefits, damages and attorney's fees. The Labor Arbiter (LA) held that the legal heirs of Vedasto are entitled to the payment of death benefits and attorneys fees. The NLRC reversed, stating that the death of Vedasto which was clearly shown by evidence to be a case of suicide was not compensable under the clear provisions of the POEA Standard Employment Contract. However, the NLRC reversed itself after.

Korphil appealed. The CA held that under Article 291 of the Labor Code, Imelda should have filed her complaint within three years from the time the cause of action accrued.Thus, Imelda should have filed her complaint within three years from Vedasto's disappearance on August 2, 1994.Having filed her complaint only on May 29, 2000, the same is already barred by prescription.

ISSUE: Whether or not the claim of Imelda for death compensation benefits filed on May 29, 2000, or more than five years from the time her husband Vedasto was reported missing on August 2, 1994, is already barred by prescription following the provisions of Article 291 of the Labor Code


The petition is impressed with merit.

LABOR LAW & CIVIL LAW: Period by which to claim death benefits arising from a person presumed dead.

Preliminarily, it must be stressed that Korphil is estopped from asserting that Imeldas cause of action accrued on August 2, 1994. In a previous case involving Korphil, and which also involved an earlier claim for compensation benefits filed by Gliceria (the wife of a seaman also presumed missing), Korphil claimed that it was still premature because the death of Vedasto was not yet duly proven and the period that must elapse before a seaman can be lawfully presumed dead has not been complied with.Consequently, Korphil is estopped from insisting in this later case filed by Imelda that Vedasto should be considered dead from the time he went missing on August 2, 1994 and therefore the claim was filed beyond the allowable period of three years. Indeed, when Imelda claimed the benefits, Korphil informed Imelda that it was still premature to claim the same and advised her instead to wait four more years before her husband could be presumed dead thereby entitling his heirs to death benefits.Korphil is therefore guilty of estoppel.

Korphil also posits that the three-year prescriptive period referred to in Article 291 shall commence to run from the time the cause of action accrued,i.e., at the time Vedasto died on August 2, 1994. However, on August 2, 1994, it cannot as yet be presumed that Vedasto is already dead. A person missing under the circumstances as those of Vedasto may not legally be considered as dead until the lapse of the period fixed by law on presumption of death, and consequently Imelda cannot yet be considered as a widow entitled to compensation under the law.

The provisions of Article 391 of the Civil Code state that a person "shall be presumed dead forall purposes, including the division of the estate among the heirs, when inter alia, the person has been in danger of death under other circumstances and his existence has not been known for four years. Thus, Vedasto can only be presumed dead after the lapse of four years from August 2, 1994 when he was declared missing. Vedasto is thus presumed legally dead only on August 2, 1998.It is only at this time that the rights of his heirs to file their claim for death benefits accrued.

Having already established that Imelda's cause of action accrued on August 2, 1998, it follows that her claim filed on May 29, 2000 was timely.