Quitoriano v. Jebsens Maritime (G.R. No. 179868; January 21, 2010)


FACTS: Respondent Jebsens Maritime, Inc. (represented by Ma. Theresa Gutay), hired petitioner Quitoriano as 2nd Officer aboard the vessel M/V Trimnes for a period of six months with a basic monthly salary of US$936. On May 23, 2001, petitioner, who was assigned as navigating officer from 12:00 midnight to 4:00 a.m. and port watcher from 12:00 midnight to 6:00 a.m., complained of dizziness with severe headache, general body weakness, chest pains, easy fatigability, weak grip strength, and numbness on the left side of his body and was observed to be dragging his left foot, his mouth slightly down to one side, and his speech slurred. When the vessel berthed on May 26, 2001 at Port Huelva, Spain, petitioner was brought to a hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from hypertension arterial or mild stroke. Since his health condition did not improve, petitioner was repatriated to the Philippines on May 30,2001to undergo further medical examination and treatment.

Upon arrival in Manila, petitioner underwent several tests at the Medical Center Manila under the care of Dr. Nicomedes G. Cruz (Dr. Cruz), the company-designated physician. On November 16, 2001or 169 days after petitioners repatriation, Dr. Cruz issued a medical report declaring him fit to work.

Petitioner later sought the opinion of an independent internist-cardiologist, Dr. Sharon A. Lacson of the Philippine Heart Center, who diagnosed him as suffering from hypertension cardiovascular disease and hyperlipidemia. Dr. Abdias V. Aquino of the same hospital also found him to have cerebral infarction, R, basal ganglia area.

Petitioner thus filed a complaint to recover permanent total disability compensation of US$80,000, as provided for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) forged with respondents. Respondents disclaimed petitioners entitlement to any disability benefits in view of the company-designated physicians certification that he is fit to work. Petitioner countered, however, that the "fit to work" assessment did not reflect his real health condition; and that his illness, given its delicate nature, could recur anytime once he resumes sea duties.

The LA dismissed the complaint as it found that petitioner has already recovered from illness. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the LA decision but ordered respondents to allow petitioner to resume sea duty. Petitioner filed a certiorari petition before the CA but the CA denied the same and its subsequent motion for reconsideration. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Is petitioner entitled to disability benefits?

HELD: A total disability does not require that the employee be absolutely disabled or totally paralyzed. What is necessary is that the injury must be such that the employee cannot pursue his usual work and earn therefrom.

In accordance with the avowed policy of the State to give maximum aid and full protection to labor, the Court has applied the Labor Code concept of permanent total disability to Filipino seafarers,it holding that the notion of disability is intimately related to the workers capacity to earn, what is compensated being not his injury or illness but his inability to work resulting in the impairment of his earning capacity; hence, disability should be understood less on its medical significance but more on the loss of earning capacity.

Permanent disability is inability of a worker to perform his job for more than 120 days, regardless of whether or not he loses the use of any part of his body.

Total disability, on the other hand, means the disablement of an employee to earn wages in the same kind of work of similar nature that he was trained for, or accustomed to perform, or any kind of work which a person of his mentality and attainments could do. It does not mean absolute helplessness. In disability compensation, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of one's earning capacity.

The "fit to work" certification was issued by Dr. Cruz or more than five months from the time petitioner was medically repatriated on May 30, 2001, thus, petitioner's disability is considered permanent and total.

Significantly, it is gathered that petitioner remained unemployed even after he filed on February 26, 2002 his complaint to recover permanent total disability compensation and despite the August 31, 2005 Decision of the NLRC which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, ordering respondents to "allow complainant to resume sea duty." GRANTED.