A SEAFARER’S diabetes is considered a compensable work-related illness due to the stressful work condition on board the vessel.
In Apolinario Zonio Jr. vs 88 Aces Maritime Services, Inc., (GR. No. 239052 Oct. 16, 2019), the Supreme Court emphasized the principle that compensability pertains to the entitlement to receive compensation and benefits upon a showing that a seafarer’s work conditions caused or at least increased the risk of contracting the disease.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Standard Employment Contract provides that any sickness resulting in disability because of an occupational disease listed under Section 32(A) of the contract is deemed to be work-related, provided the conditions set therein are satisfied.
Section 20(B)(4) of the POEA contract, on the other hand, declares that if the illness, such as diabetes mellitus, is not listed as an occupational disease under Section 32(A), the ailment is disputably presumed as work-related.
Compensability is not limited to Section 32-A’s listed occupational diseases. For as long as seafarers are able to show by substantial evidence that they suffered disabilities occasioned by a disease contracted on account of or aggravated by working conditions, compensation is availing.
The effect of the legal presumption in favor of the seafarer is to create a burden on the part of the employer to present evidence to overcome the prima facie case of work-relatedness. Absent any evidence from the employer to defeat the legal presumption, the prima facie case of work-relatedness prevails.
The Court pointed out that it is medically accepted that stress has major effects on a person’s metabolic activity, including seafarers who are exposed to various strain and stress – physical, mental and emotional.
The effects of stress on glucose metabolism, the Court said, are mediated by a variety of counter-regulatory hormones that are released in response to stress and that result in elevated blood glucose levels and decreased insulin action.
The Court underscored that stress is a potential contributor to chronic hyperglycemia or diabetes because of a relative or absolute lack of insulin as the increase in blood glucose on account of stress cannot be adequately metabolized.
To prove that his work conditions caused or at least increased the risk of contracting the disease, the seafarer showed that part of his duties as an Ordinary Seaman involved strenuous workload such as assisting in the handling and operation of all deck gear such as topping, cradling and housing of booms; aid the carpenter in the repair work when requested; scaling and chipping paint, handling lines in the mooring of the ship; assisting in the actual tying up and letting go of the vessel; and standing as a lookout in the vessel.
The seafarer further stated that while inside the vessel for several months, he was exposed to physical and psychological stress due to his job, lack of sleep, heat stress, emergency works and homesickness for being away from his family.
The employer, on the other hand, failed to adduce any contrary medical findings from the company-designated physician to show that the seafarer’s illness was not caused or aggravated by his working conditions on board the vessel.
There was also no showing that the seafarer is predisposed to the illness by reason of genetics, obesity or old age.
Such being the case, the Supreme Court considered diabetes as compensable because the stress and strains he was exposed to on board contributed, even to a small degree, to the development of his disease.
In Manansala vs Marlow Navigation Phils. (GR No. 208314, Aug. 23, 2017), the Court noted that diabetes is not among Section 32-A’s listed occupational diseases. As with hypertension, it is a complex medical condition typified by gradations. Blood sugar levels classify as normal, pre-diabetes, or diabetes depending on the glucose level of a patient.
The court added that Diabetes “is a clinical syndrome characterised by hyperclycaemia due to absolute or relative deficiency of insulin.” It can cause several symptoms depending on its type, Type 1 or Type 2. Patients with Type 1 diabetes show more prominent symptoms, while patients with Type 2 diabetes are mostly asymptomatic.
However, the symptoms between these two types may overlap. Other symptoms may even be inexplicit such as fatigue. Diabetes can lead to several complications, among which is suffering a stroke.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)./PN