Supreme Court explains that presumption of work-relation of an illness under the POEA Contract does not extend to its compensability

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc.,  15 December 2017 (Issue 2017/22)

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Supreme Court explains that presumption of work-relation of an illness under the POEA Contract does not extend to its compensability
 A Fitter filed a claim for disability benefits based on his diagnosed hemangioblastoma or brain tumor.  He claims to have been hit on the head by a metal ceiling and later on that he was exposed to certain harmful chemicals.  The seafarer argued that his illness is presumed to be work-related under the POEA Contract for which he should be entitled to disability compensation.  On the other hand, the employer denied the claim considering that the medical condition is not a listed occupational disease under the POEA Contract and that the company-designated physician has declared the same as not work-related.
Uniformly, the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC and the Court of Appeals all denied the claim for disability benefits on the ground that the condition was declared to be not work-related.
The Supreme Court likewise denied the claim for benefits but took the opportunity to again clarify the disputable presumption clause in the POEA Contract.
Under the POEA Contract, any sickness resulting to disability or death as a result of an occupational disease listed in the contract with the conditions set therein satisfied is deemed to be a work related illness.  On the other hand, the contract also states that those illnesses not listed are disputably presumed as work related. The legal presumption of work-relatedness was borne out from the fact that the said list cannot account for all known and unknown illnesses/diseases that may be associated with, caused or aggravated by working conditions, and that the presumption is made in the law to signify that the non-inclusion in the list of occupational diseases does not translate to an absolute exclusion from disability benefits.
Given the legal presumption in favor of the seafarer, he may rely on and invoke such legal presumption to establish a fact in issue.  If no contrary proof is offered, such fact, based on the presumption, will prevail.
Nonetheless, the presumption provided in the POEA Contract is only limited to the "work-relatedness" of an illness. It does not cover and extend to compensability. In this sense, there exists a fine line between the work-relatedness of an illness and the matter of compensability. The former concept merely relates to the assumption that the seafarer's illness, although not listed as an occupational disease, may have been contracted during and in connection with one's work, whereas compensability pertains to the entitlement to receive compensation and benefits upon a showing that his work conditions caused or at least increased the risk of contracting the disease. This can be gathered from the provisions of the POEA Contract which already qualifies the listed disease as an "occupational disease" (in other words, a "work-related disease"), but nevertheless, mentions certain conditions for said disease to be compensable.
As differentiated from the matter of work-relatedness, no legal presumption of compensability is accorded in favor of the seafarer. As such, he bears the burden of proving that conditions for compensability of a medical condition are met.
In other words, while the POEA Contract refers to conditions of compensability for listed occupational diseases, it should be pointed out that the conditions stated therein should also apply to non-listed illnesses given that: (a) the disputable presumption of work-relation in the POEA Contract is limited only to "work-relatedness"; and (b) for its compensability, a reasonable connection between the nature of work on board the vessel and the illness contracted or aggravated must be shown.
The Supreme Court had acknowledged that their past decisions would often confuse and/or mischaracterize the “presumption of work-relation” to “presumption of compensability” of a medical condition.
To address this apparent confusion, the Court clarified that there lies a technical demarcation between work-relatedness and compensability relative to how these concepts operate in the realm of disability compensation. As the Court discussed, work-relatedness of an illness is presumed; hence, the seafarer does not bear the initial burden of proving the same. Rather, it is the employer who bears the burden of disputing this presumption. If the employer successfully proves that the illness suffered by the seafarer was contracted outside of his work (meaning, the illness is pre-existing), or that although the illness is pre-existing, none of the conditions of his work affected the risk of contracting or aggravating such illness, then there is no need to go into the matter of whether or not said illness is compensable. As the name itself implies, work-relatedness means that the seafarer's illness has a possible connection to one's work, and thus, allows the seafarer to claim disability benefits therefor, albeit the same is not listed as an occupational disease.
The established work-relatedness of an illness does not, however, mean that the resulting disability is automatically compensable. As the Court also discussed, the seafarer, while not needing to prove the work-relatedness of his illness, bears the burden of proving compliance with the conditions of compensability under the POEA Contract.  Failure to do so will result in the dismissal of his claim.
The Court pointed out that the seafarer would, in all instance, have to prove compliance with the conditions for compensability, whether or not the work-relatedness of his illness is disputed by the employer:
On the one hand, when an employer attempts to discharge the burden of disputing the presumption of work-relatedness (i.e., by either claiming that the illness is pre-existing or, even if pre-existing, that the risk of contracting or aggravating the same has nothing do with his work), the burden of evidence now shifts to the seafarer to prove otherwise (i.e., that the illness was not pre-existing, or even if pre-existing, that his work affected the risk of contracting or aggravating the illness). In so doing, the seafarer effectively discharges his own burden of proving compliance with the conditions of compensability under the POEA Contract, i.e., that (1) the seafarer's work must involve the risks described herein; (2) the disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer's exposure to the described risks; and (3) the disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it.  Thus, when the presumption of work-relatedness is contested by the employer, the factors which the seafarer needs to prove to rebut the employer's argument would necessarily overlap with some of the conditions which the seafarer needs to prove to establish the compensability of his illness and the resulting disability. In this regard, the seafarer, therefore, addresses the refutation of the employer against the work relatedness of his illness and, at the same time, discharges his burden of proving compliance with certain conditions of compensability.
On the other hand, when an employer does not attempt to discharge the burden of disputing the presumption of work-relatedness, the seafarer must still discharge his own burden of proving compliance with the conditions of compensability, which does not only include the three (3) conditions above-mentioned, but also, the distinct fourth condition, i.e., that there was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer. Thereafter, the burden of evidence shifts to the employer to now disprove the veracity of the information presented by the seafarer. The employer may also raise any other affirmative defense which may preclude compensation, such as concealment of a known pre-existing illness or failure to comply with the third-doctor referral provision.
Subsequently, if the work-relatedness of the seafarer's illness is not successfully disputed by the employer, and the seafarer is then able to establish compliance with the conditions of compensability, the matter now shifts to a determination of the nature and, in tum, the amount of disability benefits to be paid to the seafarer.
Benedict Romana vs. Magsaysay Maritime Corporation and/or Princess Cruise Line, Ltd. et al., G.R. No. 192442  August 9, 2017, First Division, Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, ponente (Attys.Herbert Tria and Pamela Coseip-Abarico of Del Rosario & Del Rosario handled for vessels interests)
 Firm News
Del Rosario Law Partner Charles Jay Dela Cruz was elected as Member of the Board of Trustees and Corporate Secretary of the Philippines Norway Business Council (PNBC) for the term 2017-2018.
PNBC is a non-stock, non-profit organization which aims to promote closer economic and friendly relations between Philippines and Norway and provides a forum for exchange of views on business and commercial dealings in both domestic and international setting.
Del Rosario Law also acts as legal advisor to PNBC.

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DelRosarioLaw welcomes Ruben Jose G. Del Rosario Jr., as a Junior Associate of the firm. He is a 2011 Bachelor of Science in Management, Major in Legal Management graduate of Ateneo de Manila and a 2017 Bachelor of Laws graduate of San Beda College - Alabang.


Partner Charles Dela Cruz spoke on "Nuances of Retirement Law in the Philippines" at the 2nd HR Compliance Conference held on September 25-26, 2018 at SMX Aura Convention in Bonifacio Global City.


Partners Charles Dela Cruz and Herbert Tria spoke on “Current Crew Claims Handling Issues related to the Data Privacy Act” at the 7th Annual Magsaysay Shipping and Logistics’ Marine Insurance Seminar held on 21 September 2018 at Robert Hall, Times Plaza Building, Manila.


DelRosarioLaw Senior Partner Charles Jay Dela Cruz was elected as member of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) for the term 2018-2019.



  • IRR Seafarer's Protection Act
  • Seafarers Protection Act
  • ORDINANCE No. 28 Series of 2015 Zambales, Philippines
  • NLRC MEMO on 3rd Doctor
  • NLRC Rules of Procedure 2011
  • Standard Terms and Conditions of Del Rosario Law
  • POEA SEC - 2010 Amendments
  • POEA Memorandum Circular No. 10 Series of 2010
  • Governing Board Resolution No. 09 Series of 2010

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