PINOY MARINO RIGHTS: Pre-Employment Medical Examination and seafarer’s illnesses

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO March 26,2019 - 03:42 PM

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

 The examining physician, and not the seafarer, may be faulted for discounting the presence of illnesses even after subjecting  him to a series of procedures through the  pre-employment medical examination (PEME).

In Manansala, v. Marlow Navigation Phils., Inc.  (G.R. No. 208314, August 23, 2017), the Supreme Court explained the  two categories of information obtained in PEMEs as to their source, in relation to claims for disability and death benefits.

First is the information obtained from and colored by the  seafarer’s opinion, i.e., information on medical history gained from probing questions asked to  and answered to the best of his knowledge.
Second is the information generated by procedures conducted by health professionals. From these, a determination is made on whether the seafarer is fit, unfit, or temporarily unfit for sea duty.

The seafarer  will be  assessed “Fit for Sea Duty” if  he  is able to perform safely the duties of his position aboard a ship in the absence of medical care, without danger to his health or to the safety of the vessel, crew and passengers. Otherwise, he is assessed to be “not fit for sea duty.”

The seafarer may be assessed to be “temporarily unfit for sea duty” when, at the time of PEME, the result shows an abnormal finding, a suspected medical or surgical condition, or a disclosed significant past medical history which needs further reevaluation. He shall be given 30 days to undergo further assessment in accordance with the established referral system of the accredited medical clinic. Within the said period, he may either be medically upgraded to fitness or downgraded to unfitness indefinitely based on the results of the follow-up evaluation.

Between the seafarer and an examining physician, the Supreme Court said that the latter is in a better position to assess fitness for the rigors of sea duty. Apart from one’s literal body, the seafarer’s only other contribution to a medical examination is a set of responses to questions.

His personal health assessment is based on his amateur opinion, or otherwise unrefined understanding of nuanced medical conditions. In contrast, the PEME procedures are conducted and supervised by professionals with scientific and technical capabilities. Their examinations generate verifiable empirical data, which are then evaluated by a physician.

A recommendation stating that a seafarer is “fit for sea duty” when standardized procedures would readily reveal that he is not can only mean that medical examiners failed to diligently screen a seafarer. The persons responsible for the examination are then bound by their negligence.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court said that it is more appropriate that the examining physician, a trained professional, and not the seafarer, who is a layperson, be faulted for discounting the presence of diseases even after subjecting the seafarer to a series of procedures.
Under R.A. 100022, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, in case a seafarer is found to be not medically fit within fifteen (15) days upon his arrival in the assigned vessel, the medical clinic or health facility that conducted the health examinations of such seafarer shall pay for his repatriation back to the Philippines and the cost of deployment of such worker.

The DOH-accredited clinic, in addition to any other liability it may have incurred, suffer the penalty of revocation of its DOH-accredited if after investigation, the medical reason for repatriation could have been detected at the time of examination using the DOH PEME package as required by the employer/principal.

Seafarers are not required to pay for the PEME expenses since these are considered as processing fees required for deployment. chargeable to principal. However, in case of seafarer’s failure or unjustified refusal to join ship after all processing fees have been incurred by the principal, the said fees shall be refunded by the seafarer.

(Attorney Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)

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