Case Digest: Pantollano v. Korphil

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

IMELDA PANTOLLANO (for herself as surviving spouse and in behalf of her 4 children Honeyvette, Tierra Bryn, Kienne Dionnes, Sherra Veda Mae, then all minors, with deceased seaman VEDASTO PANTOLLANO), Petitioner, v. KORPHIL SHIPMANAGEMENT AND MANNING CORPORATION, Respondent.



Korphil Shipmanagement and Manning Corporation (Korphil) is a domestic corporation engaged in the recruitment of seafarers for its foreign principals, hired Vedasto C. Pantollano (Vedasto) as 4th Engineer on board the vessel M/V Couper under a Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) approved contractof employment.

Vedasto was seen by Messman Nolito L. Tarnate (Messman Nolito) to be in deep thought, counting other vessels passing by and talking to himself. At about 8:15 A.M., the Chief Engineer of the vessel reported to the Master of the vessel, Mr. Kim Jong Chul, that Vedasto did not show up for his duty. The Master of the vessel thus ordered all personnel on standby. The vessel then altered its course to search for Vedasto. Some crew members were tasked to search the vessel while others were assigned to focus their search on the open sea to locate and rescue Vedasto. Assistance from other vessels was also requested. Thesearch 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. Since then, Vedasto was never seen again.

For this reason, Imelda, wife of Vedasto, filed a complaint before the NLRC where she sought to recover death benefits, damages and attorneys fees.

The LA rendered a decision holding that the legal heirs of Vedasto are entitled to the payment of death benefits and attorneys fees. On appeal to the NLRC, the LA decision was affirmed. Aggrieved, a petition for certiorari was filed before the CA where the NLRC decision was reversed. Upon denial of Imelda's motion for reconsideration, the present petition is filed.

Whether or not the heirs of Vedasto are entitled to the benefits


The death of a seaman during the term of employment makes the employer liable to his heirs for death compensation benefits.


In this case, there is no dispute that Vedasto went missing on August 2, 1994, during the effectivity of his employment contract. Thus, his beneficiaries are entitled to the death benefits under the POEA Standard Employment Contract for Seafarers. Upon the death of Vedasto, his heirs, specifically Imelda and their four children, are entitled to US$50,000.00 as well as US$7,000.00 for each child under the age of 21. The status of Imelda and her four children as the legitimate beneficiaries of Vedasto was never questioned. The only issue raised by Korphil was the prescription of their claim.

Korphil 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. Hence, when Imelda filed her claim on May 29, 2000, the same has already prescribed.

On August 2, 1994, it cannot as yet be presumed that Vedasto is already dead. Nobody knows what has happened to him. He could have transferred to another vessel or watercraft. He could even have swum to safety. Or he could have died. Or worse, he could have taken his own life. Legal implications such as right to compensation, succession, the legal status of the wife are so important that courts should not so easily be carried to the conclusion that the man is dead. The result is that death cannot be taken as a fact.

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.

On August 2, 1994, when Vedasto was reported missing, Imelda cannot as yet file her claim for death benefits as it is still premature. The provisions of Article 391 of the Civil Code therefore become relevant. With the known facts, namely, that Vedasto was lost or missing while M/V Couper was navigating the open sea, there is no doubt that he could have been in danger of death. Paragraph (3) of Article 391 of the Civil Code will then be applicable in this case. Thus, Vedasto can only be presumed dead after the lapse of four years from August 2, 1994 when he was declared missing. But of course, evidence must be shown that Vedasto has not been heard of for four years or thereafter. This is the case here.

Vedasto is 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 Imeldas cause of action accrued on August 2, 1998, it follows that her claim filed on May 29, 2000 was timely. It was filed within three years from the time the cause of action accrued pursuant to Article 291 of the Labor Code. Hence, Imelda and her children are entitled to the payment of said compensation.