By HERBERT VEGO
HAVING just finished his nautical course a few years ago, Dominador Alcabaza considered himself lucky to have qualified for employment on a nine-month contract with Indochina Ship Management Agency as able seaman on board “M/T Baltimar”, a tanker owned by Majestic Carriers, Incorporated. He would receive a basic salary of US$1,018 per month plus overtime pay.
As a bachelor with a girlfriend, he was looking forward to a family life in the near future. This was motivation enough for him to work harder, knowing for a fact that a renewal of his contract would depend on his performance.
He was right. While the other Filipino seamen in his batch disembarked at the end of nine months, Alcabaza stood out as the only one extended for another three months.
“Congratulations,” the ship captain greeted him. “You have a good future in this company.”
He had an uneasy foreboding, however, on that extension of his contract. He shrugged it off as natural, since he really missed his girlfriend, parents and siblings.
He phoned them about two “good news,” namely the extension of his contract by three months, which could earn him enough income for pasalubong; and the opportunity to set foot on their next destination – Venice, Italy.
It was no day off for him when the ship anchored on the port of Venice. He had to work on that day and look forward to touring the fabulous city the next day.
While working on the ship’s pontoons, however, he fell down on the lower gangplank and hurt himself very badly. He could see a bone on his right shoulder jutting out of his bloodied flesh and skin. He was grimacing in pain while being rushed in an ambulance to the nearest Venice hospital.
The chief mate and the captain, who were with him in the ambulance, comforted him with the assurance that their shipping agent and principal would shoulder all his hospital expenses.
The hospital doctors diagnosed his condition as “frattura plurima scomposta,” an Italian term for fracture of the shoulder. He had to undergo surgery immediately.
Probably to minimize expenses, the agency office in Manila advised the ship officers to board Alcabaza on connecting plane flights to Manila so that he could be operated on at the Metropolitan Hospital.
The surgeon who did the surgery at the said hospital described the seaman’s condition as “complete oblique fracture, middle 3rd of left clavicle.” It necessitated an implant of steel inside his shoulder.
Though the operation was successful, Alcabaza had become unfit to work. Knowing that the company had no choice but terminate his employment, he had no choice but apply for total and permanent disability benefits due him. Unfortunately, the manning agency would not accommodate him on the pretext that his hospitalization and surgery had already cost too much.
It was then that he sought the advice of the lawyers affiliated with the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers (FLAS) in Manila.
The FLAS lawyers sought the arbitration of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), arguing that having already extended Alcabaza’s contract for three months at the time of the accident, the manning agency and the ship owner are liable to jointly pay the victim permanent disability benefits in the amount of US $60,000.
It only took two months for the NLRC arbiter to order respondents to pay Alcabaza that amount plus sickness allowance of US$2,232 and moral damages amounting to Php 300,000.
The labor arbiter quoted Section 20 of the POEA Standard Employment Contract: “An employer shall be liable to the seafarer for illnesses/injuries suffered during the period of his employment contract.”
The arbiter also noted that the respondents had agreed that the victim had been totally and permanently disabled by the accident in Venice.
For a brief footnote, Dominador Alcazaba has no more girl friend; she is now his wife.
Incidentally, for updates on ongoing legal battles handled by the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers (FLAS), please listen to the radio program “Tribuna sang Banwa” on Aksyon Radyo every Sunday, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. It is hosted by paralegals Neri Camiña, Nelly Nobleza and this writer, who may be contacted through cellular phone number 09173288742./PN