Case Digest: Philman Marine v. Cabanban

G.R. No. 186509 : July 29, 2013




On September 15, 2002, Armando entered into a nine-month contract of employment with DOHLE, through its local agent PTCI. He was assigned to work as a 2nd mate on board the vessel "INGA-S." Armando underwent the requisite pre-employment medical examination (PEME) at PTCI's accredited medical clinic,which found him fit for sea service. During his medical examination, he declared that he had no history of high blood pressure and heart trouble, and had not previously consulted any doctor relative to any disease.

On February 9, 2003, while on board the vessel "INGA-S," Armando felt dizzy and complained of chest pain. He was immediately brought to the Fujairah Port Clinic, UAE, and was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit after an initial diagnosis of "Unstable Angina." On February 21, 2003, Dr. Mohamed Dipti Ranjan, the Chief Medical Officer of Fujairah Port Clinic, UAE, stated in Armando's medical report that he is a known case of HT, on atenolol 50 mg od for five years.

Following Dr. Ranjan's recommendation, the petitioners repatriated Armando on medical ground. Armando arrived in the Philippines on February 23, 2003 and upon instruction, he proceeded to PTCIs company designated physician, Dr. Natalio Alegre II, at the St. Luke's Medical Center. Dr. Alegre treated Armando and monitored his condition for three months. After the three-month close monitoring, treatment and consultation with the attending cardiologist, Dr. Marietta Crisostomo, Dr. Alegre declared Armando "fit to work" on May 12, 2003.

Despite the certification of Dr. Alegre as to Armando's fitness to resume work, Armando nevertheless claimed otherwise. In a letter dated June 25, 2003, Armando demanded from PTCI payment of permanent disability benefits under the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC). The petitioners did not heed Armando's demand, prompting Armando to file, on July 4, 2003, a complaint against the petitioners for injury/illness compensation benefit under a disability grade of 7, according to the POEASEC, in the amount of US$20,900.00.

Armando, acting well within his rights, disagreed with the assessment of the company-designated physician and sought the opinion of four private physicians who arrived at a contrary finding.

The LA dismissed Armando's claims except for the balance of the latters sickness allowance in the amount of P68,560.30. In ruling for the petitioners, the LA declared that the petitioners had fully complied with their liabilities to Armando for the work-related injury/illness suffered by the latter during the term of the contract, pursuant to the POEA-SEC. NLRC dismissed Armando's appeal for lack of merit. As the LA did, the NLRC upheld the certification of fitness to work issued by Dr. Alegre over the various medical certificates Armando presented. The CA however reversed the findings of the NLRC. CA denied petitioners motion for reconsideration. Hence, this present petition

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

HELD: NO. CA decision reversed and set aside

Labor Law

When read together with Articles 191 to 193, Chapter VI (Disability Benefits) of the Labor Code and Section 2, Rule X of the Rules and Regulations Implementing Book IV of the Labor Code, and following our various pronouncements, Section 20-B of the POEA-SEC evidently shows that it is the company-designated physician who primarily assesses the degree of the seafarer's disability. Upon the seafarers repatriation for medical treatment, and during the course of such treatment, the seafarer is under total temporary disability and receives medical allowance until the company-designated physician declares his fitness to work resumption or determines the degree of the seafarers permanent disability - either total or partial.

The company-designated physician should, however, make the declaration or determination within 120 days, otherwise, the law considers the seafarer's disability as total and permanent and the latter shall be entitled to disability benefits. Should the seafarer still require medical treatment for more than 120 days, the period granted to the company-designated physician to make the declaration of the fitness to work or determination of the permanent disability may be extended, but not to exceed 240 days. At any time during this latter period, the company-designated physician may make the declaration or determination: either the seafarer will no longer be entitled to any sickness allowance as he is already declared fit to work, or he shall be entitled to receive disability benefits depending on the degree of his permanent disability.

The seafarer is not, of course, irretrievably bound by the findings of the company-designated physician as the above provisions allow him 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 seafarers appointed physician, the parties shall jointly agree to refer the matter to a third doctor whose findings shall be final and binding on both.

In the present petition, the petitioners designated physician Dr. Alegre declared Armando fit for sea service on May 12, 2003 or 92 days from the time he disembarked or signed off from the vessel on February 10, 2003. As defined under Article 192(c)(1) of the Labor Code, total and permanent disability means total temporary disability lasting for more than 120 days (unless the seafarer is still under treatment up to a maximum period of 240 days.

Viewed in this light, we find the LA and the NLRC legally correct when they refused to recognize any disability on Armando's part as the petitioners designated physician had already declared his fitness to resume work. Consequently, absent any disability after his temporary disability was dealt with, he is therefore not entitled to compensation benefits under Section 20 of the POEA-SEC.

Armando, acting well within his rights, disagreed with the assessment of the company-designated physician and sought the opinion of four private physicians who arrived at a contrary finding. We note, however, that he did so only after he had already filed his complaint with the LA. Thus, Armando, in fact, had no ground for a disability claim at the time he filed his complaint, as he did not have any sufficient evidentiary basis to support his claim.

Considering the absence of findings coming from a third doctor, we sustain the findings of the NLRC and hold that the certification of the company-designated physician should prevail. We do so for the following reasons: first, the records show that the medical certifications issued by Armando's chosen physician were not supported by such laboratory tests and/or procedures that would sufficiently controvert the "normal" results of those administered to Armando at the St. Luke's Medical Center. And second, majority of these medical certificates were issued after Armando consulted these private physicians only once.

In contrast, the medical certificate of the petitioners designated physician was issued after three months of closely monitoring Armando's medical condition and progress, and after careful analysis of the results of the diagnostic tests and procedures administered to Armando while in consultation with Dr. Crisostomo, a cardiologist. The extensive medical attention that Dr. Alegre gave to Armando enabled him to acquire a more accurate diagnosis of Armando's medical condition and fitness for work resumption compared to Armando's chosen physicians who were not privy to his case from the beginning.

Consequently, the CA erroneously imputed grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NLRC in giving greater evidentiary weight to the medical certificate issued by Dr. Alegre over those issued by Armando's physicians.