Medical repatriation as exception to Section 20 of 2000 POEA-SEC

The provisions currently governing the entitlement of the seafarer’s beneficiaries to death benefits are found in Section 20 of the 2000 POEA-SEC.

Part A (1) thereof states that the seafarer’s beneficiaries may successfully claim death benefits if they are able to establish that the seafarer’s death is (a) work-related, and (b) had occurred during the term of his employment contract, viz.:

  1. In case of work-related death of the seafarer, during the term of his contract, the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the Philippine Currency equivalent to the amount of Fifty Thousand US dollars (US$50,000) and an additional amount of Seven Thousand US dollars (US$7,000) to each child under the age of twenty-one (21) but not exceeding four (4) children, at the exchange rate prevailing during the time of payment. (Emphases supplied)
In the case of Canuel v. Magsaysay Maritime (G.R. No. 190161, October 13, 2014), with respect to the second requirement for death compensability, the Supreme Court took the 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 of his 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.

In the above-cited Canuel case, 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 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:


x x x x
  1. 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)[5] of this Contract.

The terminative consequence of a medical repatriation case then appears to present a rather prejudicial quandary to the seafarer and his heirs. Particularly, if courts were to 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)[1] in relation to Section 32[2] 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 Article XIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution,[3] contracts of labor, such as the 2000 POEA-SEC, are deemed to be so impressed with public interest that the more beneficial conditions must be endeavoured in favor of the laborer.[4] The rule therefore is one of liberal construction.

As enunciated in the case of Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc. v. NLRC:[5]

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.[6] (Emphasis supplied)

Applying the rule on liberal construction, the Supreme Court recognized 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, 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.[7]


The liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract are as follows:

1. The employer shall continue to pay the seafarer his wages during the time he is on board the vessel;

2. If the injury or illness requires medical and/or dental treatment in a foreign port, the employer shall be liable for the full cost of such medical, serious dental, surgical and hospital treatment as well as board and lodging until the seafarer is declared fit to work or to be repatriated.

However, if after repatriation, the seafarer still requires medical attention arising from said injury or illness, he shall be so provided at cost to the employer until such time he is declared fit to work or the degree of his disability has been established by the company-designated physician.

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.

For this purpose, the seafarer shall submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return except when he is physically incapacitated to do so, in which case, a written notice to the agency within the same period is deemed as compliance. Failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the above benefits.

If a doctor appointed by the seafarer disagrees with the assessment, a third doctor may be agreed jointly between the Employer and the seafarer. The third doctor’s decision shall be final and binding on both parties.

4. Those illnesses not listed in Section 32 of this Contract are disputably presumed as work related.

5. Upon sign-off of the seafarer from the vessel for medical treatment, the employer shall bear the full cost of repatriation in the event the seafarer is declared (1) fit for repatriation; or (2) fit to work but the employer is unable to find employment for the seafarer on board his former vessel or another vessel of the employer despite earnest efforts.

6. In case of permanent total or partial disability of the seafarer caused by either injury or illness the seafarer shall be compensated in accordance with the schedule of benefits arising from an illness or disease shall be governed by the rates and the rules of compensation applicable at the time the illness or disease was contracted.


[3] Section 3, Article XIII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution reads as follows:


Sec. 3. The State shall afford full protection to labor, local and overseas, organized and unorganized, and promote full employment and equality of employment opportunities for all.

It shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations, and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law. They shall be entitled to security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage. They shall also participate in policy and decision-making processes affecting their rights and benefits as may be provided by law.

The State shall promote the principle of shared responsibility between workers and employers and the preferential use of voluntary modes in settling disputes, including conciliation, and shall enforce their mutual compliance therewith to foster industrial peace.

The State shall regulate the relations between workers and employers, recognizing the right of labor to its just share in the fruits of production and the right of enterprises to reasonable returns on investments, and to expansion and growth.

[4] Legal Heirs of the Late Edwin B. Deauna v. Fil-Star Maritime Corporation, G.R. No. 191563, June 20, 2012, 674 SCRA 284, 304.

[5] 405 Phil. 487 (2001).

[6] Id. at 495.