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November 08, 2012 12:50 AM

By: HERBERT VEGO

A FEW months ago, this corner featured the case of a disabled seaman who had sought the help of  Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo broadcaster Jay Balnig, host of the “Aksyon Legal” program.

In that column, I cited the case of seaman Marcelino Elpusan of Miag-ao, Iloilo who met Balnig to lament his missed opportunity to collect permanent disability compensation amounting to US $60,000.00 from an international shipping company due to mere technicality: His lawyer had filed his petition for certiorari belatedly or 13 days after the reglamentary 60-day period had elapsed.

Elpusan thereafter sued his Quezon City-based lawyer, Rebene Carrera, for disbarment before the Supreme Court.

Since the publication of the said pending disbarment case in this column, two other disbarment cases -- one filed at the Supreme Court and the other at the Commission on Bar Discipline – have been brought to our attention.

The one by complainant Ludenia Guzman Buenaflor asks the Supreme Court to disbar  two Ilonggo lawyers representating the Makati-based Sapalo, Velez, Bundalian & Bulilan law offices. The cited ground: negligence resulting in her failure to collect the death benefits of her late husband amounting to US $50,000.00-plus.

Husband Nestor Buenaflor entered into a six-month contract with a shipping company on October 17, 2008 to work as chief mate of the sulphur-carrying vessel M/V Sulphur Glory.

While on board, he complained of fatigue and chronic cough but waited till his repatriation to Manila on April 23, 2009 before consulting a doctor and undergoing treatment at his own expense, since the shipping company would not shoulder his medical needs.

Ironically, Magsaysay Shipping, the manning agency, offered to rehire him for a new assignment on another vessel, probably to establish the notion that he had not caught a disease in his previous work. This time, he failed to pass the pre-employment medical examination due to “tuberculosis.”

On July 22, 2009, Buenaflor had himself admitted at the Great Saviour International Hospital in Iloilo City due to pneumonia and hypertension.

On September 11 of same year, he checked into Iloilo Mission Hospital. His illness had worsened to bronchogenic carcinoma, stage 3.

He died at St. Paul’s Hospital on October 17, 2009.

Widowed, Ludenia Buenaflor sought the legal services of Ilonggo lawyers Joenel Alipao and Myra Duremdes in May 2010, asking the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) to order respondent shipping company to pay $58,000.00 for death benefits and burial expenses, P100,000.00 for moral damages, P100,000.00 for exemplary damages and attorney’s fees equivalent to 10% of the total amount due as provided by Section 20 of the standard POEA employment contract. Her husband had allegedly become sick on the job.

Unfortunately, NLRC Labor Arbiter Rene Eñano dismissed the case on October 26, 2010, allegedly for lack of evidence that her husband had died of a work-related disease.

It was not until December 2, 2010 however, that Mrs. Buenaflor received a copy of the decision. She had 10 days (after receipt of decision) to appeal to the NLRC Commissioner.

Thereafter she was able to talk only once by phone to her lawyer Atty. Myra Duremdes, who reiterated that they still had a strong chance to win through an appeal.

Unfortunately, the lady lawyer made no such appeal.

Mrs. Buenaflor thereafter asked the Supreme Court to disbar her lawyers and order the respondent law firm to compensate her with the sum she was claiming from respondent ship owner and manning agency.

On the other hand, the disbarment case filed by ship electrician Ambrocio Pandan against Manila-based maritime lawyer Romulo Valmores at the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) in Pasig City stems from an almost similar negligence.

Pandan entered into a 12-month contract with Arpaphil Shipping Corporation in April 1998, occupying the position of electrician on the M/ V Blue Lady. He had barely completed two months of work when he complained of numbness and weakness of the right side of his body. He was repatriated to Manila. Confined at the Novaliches General Hospital at his own expense, he was diagnosed to be suffering from hypertension and mild cardiac arrest.

Engaging the services of maritime lawyer RomuloValmores, Pandan and his wife instituted a case for recovery of permanent disability benefits against his employer at the Adjudication Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

On October 18, 1999, NLRC Labor Arbiter Donato Quinto promulgated a judgment favorable to the electrician, ordering the shipping company to pay him disability benefits and illness allowances to the tune of US $48,405.00, P105,067.00 in moral damages and medical expenses, and attorney’s fees equivalent to10% of the dollar award.

The NLRC, moreover, denied Arpaphil’s motion for reconsideration.

On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals, in a promulgation dated April 2, 2001, reversed the NLRC decision, granting the complainant a measly $3,000.00 to cover complainant’s salary for three months. This was definitely a setback for complainant, who could have countered through a petition for review. Unfortunately, Atty. Valmores never filed such a petition within the 15-day reglamentary period.

At present, electrician Ambrocio Pandan pins on his disbarment case against Valmores to recover his lost claim. He is physically inutile while living a life of penury with his wife in Novaliches, Quezon City.

It is not the purpose of this column to pass judgment on aforementioned lawyers. Suffice it to say that in relating the facts of the above cases, this corner merely intends to remind law practitioners to observe the lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibilities, the violation of which could be ground for disbarment.

Rule 18.03 of the Code provides: “A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.”

And Rule 18.04 says, “A lawyer shall keep his client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a reasonable time to the client’s request for information.”

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