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[av_heading heading=’A seafarer’s heartache’ tag=’h3′ style=’blockquote modern-quote’ size=” subheading_active=’subheading_below’ subheading_size=’15’ padding=’10’ color=” custom_font=”]

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

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A JOB OF a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park. One with a heart condition is “a walking time bomb ready to explode towards the end of his employment days.”

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term to describe conditions of the heart and blood vessels and is the leading cause of death in the country today, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

Common CVDs include, among others, coronary heart diseases / ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular accident or stroke, and hypertension or elevated blood pressure.

Under Section 32-A(11) of the 2010 POEA Amended Standard Terms and Conditions, CVD is considered an occupational disease for which a seafarer may claim compensation if it was contracted under working conditions identified therein as follows: 

* when the heart disease was aggravated by reasons of the nature of the seafarer’s work

* the severity of the strain of the work may be sufficient and followed within 24 hours by clinical signs of cardiac insult, and

* signs and symptoms of cardiac injury appeared during his work and the same persisted.

In several cases, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, as well as other heart ailments, were held to be compensable as total permanent disability by the Supreme Court.

Seafarers working for companies  for long periods of time is normally saddled with heavy responsibilities relative to navigation of the vessel, ship safety and management of emergencies. (Magsaysay Mitsui OSK Marine, Inc. vs Juanito Bengson; G.R. No. 198528, October 13, 2014)
It is beyond doubt that a seafarer can be subjected to physical and mental stress and strain; these responsibilities cause heavy burden on one’s shoulders all these years, and certainly contributed to the development of his illness. Besides, it is already recognized that any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain normally resulting in wear and tear of the human body. 

Notably, it is a matter of judicial notice that an overseas worker, having to ward off homesickness by reason of being physically separated from his family for the entire duration of his contract, bears a great degree of emotional strain while making an effort to perform his work well. The strain is even greater in the case of a seafarer who is constantly subjected to the perils of the sea while at work abroad and away from his family.

Having worked for the company under several employment contracts that were continuously renewed, it can be said that a seafarer spent much of his productive years with the company; his years of service certainly took a toll on his body, and he could not have contracted his illness elsewhere except while working for the company.

The case of Carlos N. Nisda vs Sea Serve Maritime Agency, et. al. (G.R. No. 179177, July 23, 2009) made it clear that by showing the reasonable connection between the seafarer’s work and the development and exacerbation of his CVD, a seafarer may claim for payment of disability benefits under the POEA SEC.

The physical discomforts for which he sought medical attention when he was abroad bear the hallmarks of coronary artery disease that did not develop overnight hence, making it highly possible that he had the disease while he was still onboard during the life of his POEA-SEC, although it went undiagnosed because he had yet to experience the symptoms.

The fact that he was deployed by his employers numerous times, which job was found to be arduous and grueling, showed the reasonable connection between the nature of his job and his heart disease. 

Accordingly, he was able to prove that disease was work-related given the difficult nature of his job  that caused his disease or at least, aggravated any pre-existing conditions that he might have had.

Considering the repulsive physical manifestation of the disease, it’s chronic nature, lack of long-term cure and the vulnerability of the patient to cardiovascular diseases, a seafarer would no longer be able to perform strenuous activities such as the rigorous duties of a seafarer.

Companies definitely will no longer hire a seafarer due to his medical condition, especially the high risk of having heart failure or stoke in the future.

From the business point of view, it will be risky for them to let him be re-employed since the harsh working environment might only aggravate the seafarer’s fragile condition and in the end expose the company to more serious insurance liabilities.

The Supreme Court described an employee with a heart condition as “a walking time bomb ready to explode towards the end of his employment days.”  (GSIS vs. Alcaraz, GR. 187474, Feb. 6, 2013) To be sure, the risks present in his work environment for the entire duration of his employment might precipitate a graver heart condition.

A job of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park.  He performs duties and responsibilities as instructed or as necessary. (Heirs of the Late R/O Reynaldo Aniban vs. NLRC, 282 SCRA 377)

What makes the job more difficult, aside from exposure to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes, the job obviously entails laborious manual tasks conducted in a moving ship, which makes for increased work-related stress. All these factors may exacerbate private respondent’s heart condition. Prolonged and continued exposure to the same could probably risk him to another attack (Oriental Shipmgt. Co., Inc. vs Bastol, G.R. 168269 January 29, 2010).


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 info@sapalovelez.comor call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)/PN




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