Disability benefits of seafarers

The mere lapse of the 120-day period itself does not automatically warrant the payment of permanent total disability benefits.

Entitlement of seafarers to disability benefits is governed not only by medical findings but also by contract and by law. By contract, Department Order No. 4, series of 2000, of the Department of Labor and Employment Philippine Overseas Employment Agency-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC) and the parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) bind the seafarer and the employer. By law, the Labor Code provisions on disability apply with equal force to seafarers. (Philasia Shipping Agency Corporation v. Tomacruz, G.R. No. 181180, 15 August 2012 and Valenzona v. Fair Shipping Corporation, et al., 675 Phil. 713, 725, 2011)

Article 192(c)(1), Chapter VI, Title II, Book IV of the Labor Code, as amended, states that a disability which lasts continuously for more than 120-days is deemed total and permanent.

Section 2(b), Rule VII of the Implementing Rules of Title II, Book IV of the Labor Code, as amended, reads:

SECTION 2. Disability. x x x

(b) A disability is total and permanent if as a result of the injury or sickness the employee is unable to perform any gainful occupation for a continuous period exceeding 120 days, except as otherwise provided for in Rule X of these Rules.

The provision adverted to is Section 2, Rule X of the Implementing Rules of Title II, Book IV of the Labor Code, as amended, which states:

SECTION 2. Period of entitlement. (a) The income benefit shall be paid beginning on the first day of such disability. If caused by an injury or sickness, it shall not be paid longer than 120 consecutive days except where such injury or sickness still requires medical attendance beyond 120 days but not to exceed 240 days from onset of disability in which case benefit for temporary total disability shall be paid. However, the System may declare the total and permanent status at any time after 120 days of continuous temporary total disability as may be warranted by the degree of actual loss or impairment of physical or mental functions as determined by the System.

By contract, Department Order No. 4, series of 2000 of the Department of Labor and Employment (the POEA Standard Employment Contract) and the parties’ CBA bind the seaman and his employer to each other. The terms under the POEA-SEC are to be read in accordance with what the Philippine law provides. (OSG Shipmanagement Manila, Inc. v. Pellezar, G.R. No. 198367, 6 August 2014)

Section 20(B)(3) of the POEA-SEC states that:

3. Upon sign-off from the vessel for medical treatment, the seafarer is entitled to sickness allowance equivalent to his basic wage until he is declared fit to work or the degree of permanent disability has been assessed by the company-designated physician but in no case shall this period exceed one hundred twenty (120) days. x x x

The Vergara ruling (588 Phil. 895, 913, 2008) gives us a clear picture of how the provisions of the law, the rules and the POEA-SEC operate, thus:

[T]he seafarer, upon sign-off from his vessel, must report to the company-designated physician within three (3) days from arrival for diagnosis and treatment. For the duration of the treatment but in no case to exceed 120 days, the seaman is on temporary total disability as he is totally unable to work. He receives his basic wage during this period until he is declared fit to work or his temporary disability is acknowledged by the company to be permanent, either partially or totally, as his condition is defined under the POEA Standard Employment Contract and by applicable Philippine laws. If the 120 days initial period is exceeded and no such declaration is made because the seafarer requires further medical attention, then the temporary total disability period may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days, subject to the right of the employer to declare within this period that a partial or total disability already exists. The seaman may of course also be declared fit to work at any time such declaration is justified by his medical condition. (588 Phil. 895, 913, 2008)

As the rule now stands, the mere lapse of the 120-day period itself does not automatically warrant the payment of permanent total disability benefits. (OSG Shipmanagement Manila, Inc. v. Pellezar, G.R. No. 198367, 6 August 2014)

In Tagalog v. Crossworld Marine (G.R. No. 191899, June 22, 2015), the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ holding that petitioner is not entitled to permanent total disability benefits. As correctly observed by the Court of Appeals:

Applying this in the case at bench, the NLRC’s finding that private respondent was entitled to permanent total disability benefits because he was unable to perform his work for more than 120 days in untenable. It appears that only 102 days have passed from the time private respondent signed-off from his vessel on January 21, 2006 up to the time the company-designated physician made a pronouncement on May 3, 2006 that he was fit to resume sea duties. Verily, the initial 120-day medical treatment period has not yet lapsed. Even if we were to adopt the computation made by the NLRC that private respondent’s injury was a continuing disability from December 2, 2005, when he was first declared unfit to work at the Port of Spain until May 3, 2006, still the maximum 240-day treatment period has not yet expired when the company-designated physician made a pronouncement on private respondent’s fitness to return to work.

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