Case Digest: Leonis Navigation v. Villamater

G.R. No. 179169 : March 3, 2010

LEONIS NAVIGATION CO., INC. and WORLD MARINE PANAMA, S.A., Petitioners, v. CATALINO U. VILLAMATER and/or The Heirs of the Late Catalino U. Villamater, represented herein by Sonia Mayuyu Villamater; and NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, Respondents.



Private respondent Catalino U. Villamater was hired as Chief Engineer for the ship MV Nord Monaco, owned by petitioner World Marine Panama,S.A., through the services of petitioner Leonis Navigation Co., Inc., as the latter's local manning agent. Prior to his deployment, Villamater underwent the required Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME).He passed the PEME and was declared Fit to Work.
Thereafter, Villamater was deployed on June 26, 2002. Around four (4) months after his deployment, Villamater suffered intestinal bleeding and was given a blood transfusion.He consulted a physician in Hamburg,Germany, who advised hospital confinement.He was advised to undergo chemotherapy and continuous supportive treatment, such as painkillers and blood transfusion. Villamater was later repatriated and as soon as he arrived in the Philippines, Villamater was referred to company-designated physicians.

The diagnosis and the recommended treatment abroad were confirmed.He was advised to undergo six (6) cycles of chemotherapy. However, Dr. Kelly Siy Salvador, one of the company-designated physicians, opined that Villamaters condition appears to be not work-related, but suggested a disability grading of 1. In the course of his chemotherapy, when no noticeable improvement occurred, Villamater filed a complaint before the Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) for payment of permanent and total disability benefits.

The Labor Arbiter rendered a decision in favor of Villamater, holding that his illness was compensable, but denying his claim for moral and exemplary damages.Petitioners and Villamater appealed to the NLRC. The NLRC issued its resolution,dismissing the respective appeals of both parties and affirming in toto the decision of the Labor Arbiter. Aggrieved, petitioners filed a petition forcertiorariunder Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the CA.The CA rendered its assailed Decision, dismissing the petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not Villamater is entitled to total and permanent disability benefits.

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is affirmed.


Under Section 32-A of the POEA Standard Contract, only two types of cancers are listed as occupational diseases (1) Cancer of the epithelial lining of the bladder (papilloma of the bladder); and (2) cancer, epithellematous or ulceration of the skin or of the corneal surface of the eye due to tar, pitch, bitumen, mineral oil or paraffin, or compound products or residues of these substances.Section 20 of the same Contract also states that those illnesses not listed under Section 32 are disputably presumed as work-related.Section 20 should, however, be read together with Section 32-A on the conditions to be satisfied for an occupational disease and the resulting disability or death to be compensable, to wit: 1. The seafarers work must involve the risk described herein; 2. The disease was contracted as a result of the seafarers exposure to the described risks; 3. The disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it; 4.There was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer.

In the case of Villamater, it is manifest that the interplay of age, hereditary, and dietary factors contributed to the development of colon cancer.By the time he signed his employment contract on June 4, 2002, he was already 58 years old, an age at which the incidence of colon cancer is more likely.He had a familial history of colon cancer, with a brother who succumbed to death and an uncle who underwent surgery for the same illness.Both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC found his illness to be compensable for permanent and total disability, because they found that his dietary provisions while at sea increased his risk of contracting colon cancer because he had no choice of what to eat on board except those provided on the vessels and these consisted mainly of high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber foods.

The Labor Arbiter and the NLRC were correct in granting total and permanent disability benefits in favor of Villamater, as it was sufficiently shown that his having contracted colon cancer was, at the very least, aggravated by his working conditions,taking into consideration his dietary provisions on board, his age, and his job as Chief Engineer, who was primarily in charge of the technical and mechanical operations of the vessels to ensure voyage safety.Jurisprudence provides that to establish compensability of a non-occupational disease, reasonable proof of work-connection and not direct causal relation is required.Probability, not the ultimate degree of certainty, is the test of proof in compensation proceedings.

By reason of Villamater's entitlement to total and permanent disability benefits, he (or in this case his widow Sonia) is also entitled to the award of attorney's fees, not under Article 2208(2) of the Civil Code, when the defendant's act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest, but under Article 2208(8) of the same Code, involving actions for indemnity under workmens compensation and employers liability laws.