Manota v. Avantgarde (G.R. No. 179607; July 24, 2013)


FACTS: On April 10, 1996, Avantgarde Shipping Corporation, the local manning agent of Sembawang Johnson Mgt. Pte. Ltd. (respondents), hired Enrique Manota (Enrique) as an able seaman for a period of 7 months. Their employment contract incorporated the Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers on Board Ocean-Going Vessels as prescribed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).On January 6, 1997, Enrique had himself examined at the United Doctors Medical Center (UDMC), Quezon City, where he underwent an x-ray examination and the result of which showed that he had pneumonia/tuberculosis foci. On May 18, 1997, he also went to the Clinica Anda Laboratory, Davao City, for blood chemistry where it was shown that he had an elevated blood sugar.Subsequent laboratory examinations showed a slight decrease in his blood sugar level.

On November 4, 1999, Enrique went to the Seamen's Hospital for an examination where he was diagnosed as suffering from Diabetes Mellitus II, PTB cavitary class 3, and movement disorder (Ataxia) affecting the left side upper and lower extremities. Based on such condition, he was deemed to have impediment Grade 1 disability and was deemed unfit for sea duty.

On November 18, 1999, Enrique consulted with Dr. Efren Vicaldo for the assessment of his disability and for which the latter issued a medical certificate on the same day confirming the former's disability as rated Grade 1. Thus, Enrique claimed from respondents, disability and other benefits which were all denied.

Consequently, Enrique filed with the LA a Complaint for disability benefits, illness allowance, reimbursement of medical expenses, damages and attorney's fees. He alleged that after working with respondents as a seaman for 7 months, he was placed on repatriated illness on November 30, 1996 and arrived in the Philippines on December 2, 1996; that from the time he embarked from the vessel up to the filing of the complaint, he had yet to receive his sickness allowance equivalent to his basic wage for a period of 120 days; and that since his permanent total disability occurred during the term of his employment contract, he is entitled to Grade 1 disability under the POEA Schedule of Benefits in the amount of US$50,000.00. He also asked for moral and exemplary damages, and attorney's fees.

LA ruled in favor of Enrique and ordered respondents to pay. NLRC reversed the LA decision, ruling that Enrique failed to adduce any evidence which established that he contracted or suffered from pneumonia/tuberculosis foci while in the employ of respondents from April 23, 1996 to November 30, 1996. The CA affirmed in toto the NLRC decision. Hence, this petition before the SC.

ISSUE: Is Enrique entitled to disability benefits?

HELD: Whoever claims entitlement to the benefits provided by law should establish his right to the benefits by substantial evidence.

A review of the records shows that petitioners failed to prove by substantial evidence that Enrique's illness which resulted to his disability was acquired during the term of his employment contract. There was no record of medical complaint lodged by Enrique during his employment on board the vessel "Henriette Kosan" and even after his arrival in the Philippines on December 2, 1996.

As the NLRC correctly observed, the medical certificates submitted were issued long after Enrique had disembarked from the vessel. Except for their bare allegation, petitioners failed to present any evidence that would indeed establish that Enrique contracted his illness during his employment. In fact, respondents were not even aware or apprised of Enrique's illness which was allegedly contracted during the term of his employment contract until the latter claimed for disability benefits almost 3 years later. Thus, we give credence to respondents' claim that Enrique was repatriated to the Philippines due to the completion of his employment contract and not on account of medical reason.

But assuming arguendo that Enrique was repatriated for medical treatment as he claimed, the above-quoted provision clearly provides that it is mandatory for a seaman to submit himself to a post-employment medical examination within three (3) working days from his arrival in the Philippines before his right to a claim for disability or death benefits can prosper. The provision, however, admits of exception, i.e., when the seafarer is physically incapacitated to do so, but there must be a written notice to the agency within the same period for the seaman to be considered to have complied with the 3-day rule. The 3-day mandatory reporting requirement must be strictly observed since within 3 days from repatriation, it would be fairly manageable for the physician to identify whether the disease for which the seaman died was contracted during the term of his employment or that his working conditions increased the risk of contracting the ailment.

In this case, Enrique admitted that he had his physical examination at the UDMC on January 6, 1997, which was more than a month from his arrival in the Philippines, and his x-ray result showed that he had pneumonia/tuberculosis foci. Clearly, Enrique failed to comply with the required post-employment medical examination within 3 days from his arrival and there was no showing that he was physically incapacitated to do so to justify his non-compliance.

The fact that Enrique's pre-employment medical examination showed that he was fit to work would not necessarily follow that his illness was acquired during his employment as a seaman. To reiterate, there was no showing of any medical complaint from him while still on board the vessel. He also did not comply with the mandatory post-employment medical examination within 3 days from arrival in the Philippines where the designated physician could have evaluated his medical condition. More importantly, except for petitioners' bare allegation that Enrique could not have acquired his illness within the period of 35 days upon his disembarkation, they have not presented any concrete proof or medical expert opinion to substantiate their claim. DENIED.

Project Jurisprudence is connected with the following:

Facebook page:
Twitter page:
YouTube channel:
Another YouTube channel: