Case Digest: Andrada v. Agemar Manning

G.R. No. 194758 : October 24, 2012




Petitioner Ruben D. Andrada (Andrada) was employed by respondent Agemar Manning Agency, Inc. (Agemar Manning), for and in behalf of its foreign principal, respondent Sonnet Shipping Ltd./Malta (Sonnet Shipping), as chief cook steward on board M/T Superlady. While the vessel was navigating in high seas, Andrada experienced severe abdominal pain while carrying heavy food provisions which was part of his job. Consequently, he was referred to the Island Healthy Center in Texas, U.S.A., where he was diagnosed with umbilical hernia. Andrada requested for a medical sign-off and was repatriated to the Philippines so he could continue his treatment and medication as per advice of a doctor in Texas, U.S.A.

Dr. Jose Macario V. Faylona (Dr. Faylona) performed a surgery for Andrada. Dr. Faylona, through a letter, certified that Andrada was “fully recovered from the surgery and is now fit to work.”

As he could still feel the symptoms of his illness, Andrada once consulted Dr. Efren R. Vicaldo (Dr. Vicaldo) of the Philippine Heart Center. Dr. Vicaldo opined that Andrada's illness was considered work aggravated/related.

Almost two months after his surgery, Dr. Maria Cristina L. Ramos (Dr. Ramos), the company-designated physician, conducted a check-up on Andrada. In the progress report, Dr. Ramos declared Andrada as fit to work.

Thereafter, Andrada signed a Deed of Release, Waiver and Quitclaim wherein he acknowledged receipt of the amount of $3,501.53 or its peso equivalent of P192,357.41. The said deed stated that Andrada was thereby releasing and discharging Agemar Manning and Sonnet Shipping from all actions, complaints and demands on account or arising out of his employment as a seaman on board M/T Superlady.

Notwithstanding, Andrada demanded payment of disability and illness allowance/benefits from Agemar Manning and Sonnet Shipping pursuant to the POEA Standard Employment Contract on the basis of the findings/recommendations of Dr. Vicaldo. His claims were refused.

Hence, Andrada filed a complaint for the recovery of disability benefits, sickness allowance, reimbursement of medical expenses, damages, and attorney's fees against Agemar Manning and Sonnet Shipping.

The Labor Arbiter ruled that Andrada was entitled to disability benefits. The NLRC reversed the Labor Arbiter. On appeal, the CA sustained the NLRC.

Essentially, Andrada argues that the company-designated physician is not conferred with the sole and exclusive authority to determine whether a seafarer is suffering from disability or whether his sickness is work-related and, hence, his declaration anent the medical condition of the seafarer is not conclusive upon the latter and the courts. Andrada insists that umbilical hernia is an occupational disease and one of its risk factors is the lifting of heavy objects which was part of his job.

ISSUE: Whether or not Andrada is entitled to disability benefits on account of his medical condition?

HELD: The Court rules in the negative.

LABOR LAW: seafarer's disability claim

Jurisprudence is replete with pronouncements that it is the company-designated physician who is entrusted with the task of assessing the seaman's disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of the latter's employment. It is his findings and evaluations which should form the basis of the seafarer's disability claim. His assessment, however, is not automatically final, binding or conclusive on the claimant, the labor tribunal or the courts, as its inherent merits would still have to be weighed and duly considered. The seafarer may dispute such assessment by seasonably exercising his prerogative to seek a second opinion and consult a doctor of his choice. In case of disagreement between the findings of the company-designated physician and the seafarer's doctor of choice, the employer and the seaman may agree jointly to refer the latter to a third doctor whose decision shall be final and binding on them.

The Court notes that the dispute regarding Andrada's medical condition could have been easily clarified and resolved had the parties observed and stayed true to the procedure laid down in Section 20 (B), par. 3 of the POEA-SEC. Considering that the parties did not jointly resort to seek the opinion of a third physician in the determination and assessment of Andrada's disability or the absence of it, the credibility of the findings of their respective doctors was properly evaluated by the NLRC on the basis of their inherent merits.

Probability and not ultimate degree of certainty is the test of proof in compensation proceedings. It cannot be gainsaid, however, that award of compensation and disability benefits cannot rest on speculations, presumptions or conjectures. In labor cases, as in other administrative proceedings, substantial evidence is required and it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, often described as more than a scintilla. The onus probandi fell on Andrada to establish his claim for disability benefits by the requisite quantum of evidence to serve as basis for the grant of relief. In this task, he failed.

Dr. Vicaldo examined him only once. It is pristine clear that the examination and treatment of Andrada by Dr. Faylona had been more extensive than the examination conducted by Dr. Vicaldo.

Petition is DENIED.