Flowers for deceased seafarers

FLOWERS are expressions of the fragrance and beauty of love given and received.

Wreathe thrown into the sea carry to all the deceased seafarers the message of love and gratitude. There is no distance of time or oceans but a mutual waiting for eternal reunion in peace.

A job of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park. He performs duties and responsibilities as instructed or as necessary. The job obviously entails laborious manual tasks conducted in a moving ship, which makes for increased work-related stress aside from exposure to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes.

In some instances, a seafarer unfortunately dies due to illness or injury. The shipping industry and seafaring profession are likewise not without incident or peril. There are maritime disasters that result in the loss of life or injury to Filipino seafarers.

The Ecumenical Memorial Rites at sea is part of the annual celebration of the National Seafarers Day (NSD) where prayers are offered and flowers are thrown to the open seas as homage to deceased seafarers.

Former president Fidel V. Ramos issued on July 9, 1996 Proclamation No. 828 declaring Aug. 18 as National Seafarers Day. The Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) was then tasked to coordinate with the public and private sectors in activities related to the celebration of said event. The purpose of the proclamation is to give due recognition to the vital role of Filipino seafarers towards the development of the Philippines as a maritime country. Later, Proclamation No.1094 was issued in 1997 by President Ramos which moved NSD to every last Sunday of September every year.  It is now celebrated on its 23rd year with the theme Marinong Filipino: Kayamanan ng Lahi!

Under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) standard employment contract, in case of work-related death of the seafarer during the term of his contract, the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the Philippine cCurrency 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.

Case law explains that “[t]he words ‘arising out of’ refer to the origin or cause of the accident, and are descriptive of its character, while the words ‘in the course of’ refer to the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident takes place. An injury or accident is said to arise ‘in the course of employment’ when it takes place within the period of the employment, at a place where the employee reasonably may be, and while he is fulfilling his duties or is engaged in doing something incidental thereto.”

However, there are instances when heirs are denied of the death benefits which lead to the filing of cases, specifically due to the “work-connected” phrase of the POEA contract.

In the case of Racelis vs United President Lines/UPL (Nov. 12, 2014 G.R. No. 198408), the Supreme Court said that while it is true that a medical repatriation has the effect of terminating the seafarer’s contract of employment, it is, however, enough that the work-related illness, which eventually becomes the proximate cause of death, occurred while the contract was effective for recovery.

The Court recognized that a medical repatriation case constitutes an exception to the second requirement under Section 20 (A) (1) of the 2000 POEA-SEC, i.e., that the seafarer’s death had occurred during the term of his employment, in view of the terminative consequences of a medical repatriation under Section 18 (B) of the same.

Courts are called upon to be vigilant in their time-honored duty to protect labor, especially in cases of disability or ailment. When applied to Filipino seafarer, the perilous nature of their work is considered in determining the proper benefits to be awarded. These benefits, at the very least, should approximate the risks they brave on board the vessel every single day.

Consistent with the State’s avowed constitutional policy to afford full protection to labor, the POEA-SEC was designed primarily for the protection and benefit of Filipino seafarers in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels. As such, it is a standing principle that its provisions are to be construed and applied fairly, reasonably, and liberally in their favor.

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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

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