THE LEGAL battle for death compensation of a deceased seafarer, in some instances, becomes a “telenovela” case due to confusion as to the rightful recipients of the death benefits.
Under the employment contract duly approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), in the 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 US$50,000 and an additional amount of US$7,000 to each child under the age of 21 but not exceeding four children, at the exchange rate prevailing during the time of payment. The amount is usually higher if the death is covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Confusion arises since the terms “allottee” and “beneficiary” were undefined in the previous POEA employment contracts.
Under the current contract, the “allottee” is the person designated by the seafarer as the recipient of his or her salary allotment.
On the other hand, the beneficiary is the person(s) to whom the death compensation and other benefits are paid and is based on the Philippine law on succession. Thus, not all allottees are automatically considered as beneficiaries.
Simply stated, the right of the allottee, as the term suggests, is limited to the allotment of the seafarer which is equivalent to at least 80 percent of his or her monthly basic salary.
Legal or intestate succession takes place if a person dies without a will. And in the absence of heirs instituted in a will, the law vests the inheritance, in the legitimate and illegitimate relatives of the deceased, in the surviving spouse, and in the State in accordance with the rules set forth in the New Civil Code (NCC), Articles 960 and 961.
The law on rules on legal or intestate succession provides that in every inheritance, the relative nearest in degree excludes the more distant ones and that the succession to property by heirs pertains first to the direct descending line (Articles 962 and 978).
Thus, if a seafarer’s mother is his allottee and he dies survived by his wife and one child, the death compensation is paid to the wife and child and not to the mother, in accordance with the Philippine law on succession.
If a widow/ widower and legitimate children are left, the surviving spouse is entitled to the same share as that of each of the children.
When the widow/widower survives with legitimate parents, the surviving spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the death benefits, and the legitimate parents to the other half.
If a widow/widower survives with illegitimate children, she/he shall be entitled to one-half of the death benefits, and the illegitimate children to the other half.
An illegitimate child shall receive a share equivalent to half of the legitimate child’s share.
If legitimate parents, the surviving spouse, and illegitimate children are left, the parents shall be entitled to one-half of the death benefits, and the other half shall be divided between the surviving spouse and the illegitimate children so that such widow shall have one-fourth of the death benefits, and the illegitimate children the other fourth.
An adopted child is entitled in the same manner as a legitimate child.
In case of a legal separation, if the surviving spouse gave cause for the separation, he or she shall not have any of the rights granted by law.
As long as the marriage was not annulled at the time of death, the surviving legitimate spouse will enjoy the rights regardless of their years of physical separation.
The basis of the rules on intestate succession was explained by the Supreme Court in this manner: “The law of intestacy is founded on the presumed will of the deceased. Love, it is said, first descends, then ascends, and finally, spreads sideways. Thus, the law first calls the descendants, then the ascendants and, finally, the collaterals, always preferring those closer in degree to those of remoter degrees, on the assumption that the deceased would have done so had he manifested his last will. Lastly, in default of anyone called to succession or bound to the decedent by ties of blood or affection, it is in accordance with his presumed will that his property be given to charitable or educational institutions, and thus contribute to the welfare of humanity.” (In the Matter of the Intestate Estate of Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay vs. Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay (GR No. 183053; June 16, 2010)
Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)/PN