CASE DIGEST: Jebsens Maritime v. Babol

G.R. No. 204076 : December 4, 2013


FACTS: On September 21, 2006, respondent Eleno O. Babol was rehired by Hapag-Lloyd Aktiengesell Schaft through its local manning agent, Jebsens Maritime Inc. as a reefer fitter for a term of six months. As a mandatory procedure, he underwent a Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) and was cleared as fit for sea of duty. He then boarded to MV Glasgow Express, an ocean-going vessel flying the German flag.

Sometime in February 2007, respondent noticed the swelling of his neck. With the discovery of a large recurrent left neck mass, a recommendation was issued by the Health Watch Clinic in Germany for his repatriation.

He arrived in the Philippines and was then placed at the Metropolitan Medical Center for treatment and management under the care of Dr. Robert D. Lim, the company designated physician. Respondent was diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma (NPC).

A chemotherapy and a radiotherapy sessions was recommended by the doctors for him to undergo with a total cost of P828,500.00 wherein petitioners who, in good faith shouldered all the expenses.

Petitioners requested from Dr. Lim whether respondents condition is work-related or not. Responding to the request, Dr. Pena, a company-designated oncologist that respondents cancer as likely not work-related. The report also indicated the risk factors that could have contributed to respondents conditions: diet - salted cured fish; viral agents Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) and Genetic Susceptibility H2 locus antigens, Singapore Antigen BW46 and B17 Antigen.

Despite having received an expensive company sponsored treatment, respondent still demanded the payment of disability benefits from the petitioners. His demands being unheeded, respondent filed a claim before the LA.

The LA awarded respondent the sum of US$60,000.00 as total disability benefits plus 10% thereof as attorneys fees. It ruled that there existed a causal relationship between respondents cancer and his diet on board the vessel; and that the petitioners failed to overcome the presumption of the work-relatedness of repondents disease.

On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the LA ruling but deleted the award for attorneys fees.

Both parties moved for reconsideration but the NRLC denied the same.

Petitioners filed via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court filed before the CA.

The CA dismissed the petition and affirmed the LA and NLRC decisions, amd later denied the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioners. Hence, this petition via Rule 45.

ISSUE: Whether or not the respondents condition, Nasopharyngeal cancer is work-related.

HELD: The decision of the CA is sustained.

LABOR LAW Theory of work-relation

The well-entered rule in this jurisdiction is that only questions of law may be entertained by this Court in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45. This rule, however, is not absolute and admits certain exceptions, such as when the petitioner persuasively alleges that there is insufficient or insubstantial evidence on record to support the factual findings of the tribunal orcourt a quo,as Section 5, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court states in express terms that in cases filed before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, a fact may be deemed established only if supported by substantial evidence. Cabuyoc v. Inter-Orient Navigation Shipmanagement, Inc., 537 Phil. 897

Here, the petitioners question the conclusion that the disease subject of this petition is a work-related illness or at least aggravated by the working conditions onboard the vessel. They argue that respondent failed to present substantial evidence in support of his claims for compensability.

As a general rule, the principle of work-relation requires that the disease in question must be one of those listed as an occupational disease under Sec. 32-A of the POEA-SEC. Nevertheless, should it be not classified as occupational in nature, Section 20 (B) paragraph 4 of the POEA-SECprovides that such diseases are disputed are disputably presumed as work-related.

In this case, it is undisputed that NPC afflicted respondent while on board the petitioners vessel. As a non-occupational disease, it has the disputable presumption of being work-related. This presumption obviously works in the sefarers favor.Hence, unless contrary evidence is presented by the employers, the work-relatedness of the disease must be sustained.

In this wise, the petitioners, as employers, failed to disproved the presumption of NPCs work-relatedness. They primarily relied on the medical report issued by Dr. Co Pe. The report, however, failed to make a categorical statement confirming the total absence of work relation. There being no certainty as to the statement made by Dr. Pena, His condition is likely not work-related. Hence the presumption of NPCs work-relatedness stays.

Theory of Work-aggravation

To determine if indeed respondent sufficiently established the link between his cancer and the working conditions on board MV Glasgow Express understanding the disease is utmost importance.

Respondent is of the theory that such high risk dietary factor persisted on board the vessel, thus, increasing the probability that the disease was aggravated by his working conditions on the food they take on board. Thus, the long voyage on the high seas, the vessels menu is limited to salt-cured foods (such as salted fish, dried fish, anchovies, dried meat, salted eggs, etc.) frozen meat, processed meat, canned goods, and other preserved risk of contracting nasopharyngeal cancer.

Complainant had no other alternative or option but to eat whatever is served at the mess hall, and considering further that his "diet" or sustenance while on board the vessel had presumably contributed to, if not caused by, his present health condition, there is good reason to conclude that his ailment or affliction is work related or, otherwise stated, reasonably connected/aggravated by his work.

The above assertions of respondent do not constitute as substantial evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between his illness and the working conditions on board the petitioners vessel. The claimant must therefore, prove a convincing proposition other that by his mere allegations.This he failed to do.

Permanent Total Disability

Based on the foregoing, both parties failed to discharge their respective burdens to prove the non-work-relatedness of the disease for the petitioners(theory of work-relation)and the substantiation of claims for respondent(theory of work-aggravation).

InECC v. Sanico, 378 Phil. 900 (1999), the Court held that disability should be understood not more on its medical significance, but on the loss of earning capacity. Permanent total disability means disablement of an employee to earn wages in the same kind of work or 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 attainment could do. It does not mean absolute helplessness. Evidence of this condition can be found in a certification of fitness/unfitness to work issued by the company-designated physician.

In this case, records reveal that the medical report issued by the company-designated oncologist was bereft of any certification that respondent remained fit to work as a seafarer despite his cancer.

In the absence of any certification, the law presumes that the employee remains in a state of temporary disability. Should no certification be issued within the 240 day maximum period,as in this case, the pertinent disability becomes permanent in nature.

The petition is denied.