Case Digest: Esguerra v. UPLI

G.R. No. 199932 : JULY 3, 2013




United Philippines Lines, Inc. (UPLI), a Philippine-registered manning agency, in behalf of its principal, Belships Management (Singapore) Pte Ltd., (Belships), hired the petitioner to work as a fitter on board the vessel M/V Jaco Triumph for a period of 9 months or until July 2008 subject to a 1 month extension upon mutual agreement of the parties.

On August 21, 2008, a manhole cover accidentally fell and hit the petitioner on the head. The impact of the blow caused him pain on his neck and shoulders despite him wearing a protective helmet.

After series of medical examination, petitioner was diagnosed with Coccygodynia and Thoracolumbar Strain. He was directed to continue his physical therapy sessions. On December 16, 2008, the doctors pronounced petitioners temporary disability as Grade 11 under Section 32 of the POEA-SEC. Despite undergoing medical treatment and physical therapy session, petitioners injuries did not heal and instead, his condition deteriorated, he then filed a complaint before the LA for permanent disability benefits and sickness allowance with claims for damages against UPLI, its President and Belships.

Petitioner consulted independent physician Dr. Raul Sabado who, after examination, diagnosed him to be suffering from Compression fracture vertebrae, which is classified as Grade 1 disability. Dr. Sabado pronounced the petitioner permanently unfit for sea-faring duty.

Respondents denied that the petitioners employment was covered by the CBA. They averred that he is entitled only to the benefits accorded to Grade 11 disability as determined by the companys designated physicians.

The LA rendered a decision in favor of the petitioner. The NLRC affirmed the decision of the LA. It found that there is no disparity between the assessment given by the company doctors and the petitioners own physician as they uniformly found the petitioner to be permanently unfit for sea duty. The motion for reconsideration filed by respondents was denied.

The CA disagreed with the LA and NLRC. It sustained the assessment of the respondents physicians assigning Grade 8 disability of the petitioner which is compensable under Section 32 of the POEA-SEC.

ISSUE: Whether or not CA erred in its decision?

HELD: The CA partly erred in its decision


Permanent and total disability means disablement of an employee to earn wages in the same kind of work or work of a similar nature that he was trained for or accustomed to perform, or any kind of work which a person of his mentality and attainment can do.

It is inconsequential whether the petitioner was actually recorded by the respondents to be driving a motorcycle. It does not preclude an award for disability because, in labor laws, disability need not render the seafarer absolutely helpless or feeble to be compensable; it is enough that it incapacitates to perform his customary work.

It is not unexpected for Drs. Cruz-Balbon and Lim to downplay the report of Dr. Chuasuan when they issued the Grade 8 final disability assessment. The Court is not naive of such interplay of force between the seafarer, the company and the latters accredited physicians. As the medical coordinators of the hospital that represents the company in the conduct of medical evaluations, they are accustomed to do so in order to underrate the compensation the company must pay to the seafarer-claimant. This is precisely one of the reasons why the seafarer is given the option by the POEA-SEC to seek a second opinion from his preferred physician.

Settled is the rule that the burden of proof rests upon the party who asserts the affirmative of an issue. In labor cases, the quantum of proof necessary is substantial evidence, or such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. In disability claims, as in the case at bar, the employee bears the onus to prove by substantial evidence his own positive assertions.

The petitioner failed to proffer credible and competent evidence of his claim for superior disability benefits. What remains as competent basis for disability award is the POEA-SEC, Section 20(B)(6). Anent sickness benefits, the Court finds that the respondents have already satisfied the same based on Section 20(B)(3) of the POEA-SEC. Under the said provision, upon sign-off from the vessel for medical treatment, the seafarer is entitled to sickness allowance equivalent to his basic wage until he is declared fit to work or the degree of permanent disability has been assessed by the company-designated physician but in no case shall this period exceed one hundred twenty (120) days. The receipts on record establish payment of the petitioners sickness allowance from September 14, 2008 to January 12, 2009 or for a period of 120 days.