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[av_heading tag=’h3′ padding=’10’ heading=’PINOY SEAFAFERS’ RIGHTS | Suicide’ color=” style=’blockquote modern-quote’ custom_font=” size=” subheading_active=’subheading_below’ subheading_size=’15’ custom_class=”]
BY DENNIS GORECHO
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Thursday, June 8, 2017
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A UK P&I study noted that suicide is the highest cause of fatalities at sea as a result of mental health issues among seafarers, accounting for 15 percent of deaths.
Factors for suicides in the case of seafarers include young age, isolation and the impact of social media.
Causes of depression among seafarers, on the other hand, include work stress, and hours of work and rest.
In terms of social media, whereas in the past seafarers had very little contact with home, young seafarers such as cadets are more aware of all the problems happening at home, making them particularly at risk.
Under an 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 usually is higher if the death is covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Any claim for death compensation for suicide cases is considered in relation to Section 20 of the POEA contract which states, “No compensation and benefits shall be payable in respect of any injury, incapacity, disability or death of the seafarer resulting from his wilful or criminal act or intentional breach of his duties, provided however, that the employer can prove that such injury, incapacity, disability or death is directly attributable to the seafarer.”
Clearly, the employer is liable to pay the heirs of the deceased seafarer for death benefits once it is established that he died during the effectivity of his employment contract. However, the employer may be exempt from liability if it can successfully prove that the seaman’s death was caused by an injury directly attributable to his deliberate or wilful act. Nevertheless, the heirs must be paid either USD10,000 (natural death) or USD15,000 (accidental death) under the Compulsory Insurance Coverage of Republic Act No. 10022 or the Amended Migrant Workers Act (AMWA) whether or not there is a suicide issue as cause of death. In certain cases, the Supreme Court denied death compensation claims in ruling that the company was able to substantially prove that seafarer’s death was attributable to his deliberate act of killing himself by committing suicide. The court took into account the medico-legal report and the death certificate, together with the investigation report, log book extracts, and master’s report.
The court pointed out that the company was able to substantially prove that seafarer’s death is directly attributable to his deliberate act of hanging himself, his death, therefore, is not compensable and his heirs not entitled to any compensation or benefits. (Unicol Management Services, Inc., et. al. v. Delia Malipot, In Behalf of Glicerio Malipot, G.R. No. 206562, Jan. 21, 2015)
Suicide notes and autopsy report proved seafarer committed suicide. The court likewise took cognizance that the report of the Medical Examiner was not merely limited to the autopsy of the remains of the seafarer. It was made after he personally and carefully examined the place immediately after the incident. The medical examiner had the luxury of investigating the crime scene, the rope used for hanging, type of knot, temperature and position of the body when found (Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. vs Donnabelle Pedrajas and Sean Jade Pedrajas; GR. No. 192993; Aug. 11, 2014)
Death compensation claims are likewise denied in a case where the medical report, as well as post mortem examination did not mention of any showing of signs that there was struggle on the part of the seafarer to defend himself from an intruder.
Both reports did not report any marks of violence in the other parts of the seafarer’s body. Thus, the medical report, corroborated by the written report of seafarer’s fellow crew members that the door was locked from the inside when they found the seafarer hanging in his wardrobe, only shows that he committed suicide. (Maritime Factors Inc. vs Hindang G.R. No. 151993, Oct. 19, 2011)
However, the Supreme Court disregarded these type of documents, which presumably embodied the results of interviews with crews and officers, as insufficient to prove the fact that the death was caused by self-inflicted injuries. The testimonies were given by people who merely observed and narrated the circumstances surrounding the death of a Filipino seafarer. The testimonies of the officers and crew are, the Supreme Court said, at best, hearsay. (NFD International Manning Agents vs NLRC. (G.R. No. 116629, Jan. 16, 1998)
In the same manner, the Supreme Court noted that the shipowners’ attempt to show that the Filipino seafarer committed suicide by presenting his co-employees to assert that the deceased had problems, cannot successfully evade their liability for death benefits under the POEA’s Contract. The Filipino seafarer’s lifeless body was found hanging by the neck from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse.
The Autopsy Report and Investigation Report provided that the probable cause of death was asphyxiation by hanging, and circumstances of death were following self-destruction. The Supreme Court ruled in this case that the Autopsy Report and Investigation Report were evidence only of the cause of death but NOT the circumstances of death, and that neither was the presence of US$2,000 indicative that there was no foul play because the motive for the killing might not have been robbery. The evidence presented to prove that suicide was committed is lean, frail and far from convincing, thus the granting of death benefits to the heirs of the deceased seafarer was deemed appropriate by the Supreme Court. (Lapid vs NLRC (306 SCRA 349)
In the same manner, the Supreme Court earlier held that “there is the lack of conclusive or credible proof that the worker took his own life as events surrounding the death of the worker have not been established with any degree of certainty”(NAESS Shipping Phils. vs NLRC (153 SCRA 657)
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho is a graduate of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law (1998) and currently a junior partner at Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan (SVBB) law offices. He heads the seafarers’ division.
He is a speaker on nationwide paralegal seminars on seafarers’ rights and presently the executive vice president of the Maritime Law Association of the Philippines (MARLAW). He is also an active member of the Maritime Forum, Inc., the National Seafarers Day (NSD) committee and International Pro Bono Network.
The SVBB law works hand in hand with various seafarers’ welfare organizations such as the Apostleship of the Seas (AOS) Philippines, Luneta Seafarers Welfare Foundation (LUSWELF), International Seafarers Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN), and United Filipino Seafarers (UFS).
Atty. Gorecho is also a legal commentator on maritime issues on print, radio and TV, and co-anchor of the radio program “Bantay OCW Usapang Marino” aired over Radio Inquirer dzIQ every Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon. (For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)/PN