Case Digest: Santiago v. Pacbasin

G.R. No. 194677: April 18, 2012




Petitioner Alen H. Santiago(Santiago)entered into a contract of employment with respondent Pacbasin Ship Management, Inc.(Pacbasin),as a "riding crew cleaner" with a monthly salary of US$162.00 for two months.

Santiago boarded the vessel M/T Grand Explorer. During his stint, he figured in an accident. On March 9, 2005, he was accidentally hit by two falling scaffolding pipes while performing a task, and his head, neck and shoulder were injured. He was rushed to Rashid Hospital in Dubai where he underwent a series of examination and treatment. Despite the treatment he received, his condition did not improve. For this reason, it was advised that he be repatriated to the Philippines.

Two days after his repatriation, Santiago was referred to the company-designated doctor, Dr. Robert Lim. His neck injury was diagnosed to be a contusion, nape area and left, C5, C6, C7 radiculopathy, mild sensorineural hearing loss, bilateral probably secondary to cochlear concussion. He was referred to a neurologist and EMG/NCV was conducted. After several sessions of treatment and evaluation, Dr. Lim, in coordination with the clinics orthopedic surgeon and EENT specialists, pronounced that his hearing problem was cured and gave him a disability assessment of "Grade 12."

Santiago underwent a CT scan of the head at his own expense. Despite medical treatment, his condition showed minimal improvement. He continued to experience a lingering pain in his nape, headaches and mixed type deafness. On February 16, 2006, he consulted Dr. Efren Vicaldo(Dr. Vicaldo)of the Philippine Heart Center, who was not a company-designated physician. After checking on his condition, Dr. Vicaldo issued a medical certificate assessing his disability as Grade 7. He was also declared to be unfit to resume work as a seaman. His medical state would require regular medication and that it would take a considerable length of time before he would be considered symptom-free.

Consequently, he filed a complaint for disability benefit, illness allowance, and reimbursement of medical expenses, damages and attorneys fees.

The LA adopted the findings of Dr. Vicaldo and held that Santiago is entitled to full disability benefits. On appeal, the NLRC held that Santiago is only entitled to partial permanent disability. Aggrieved, Santiago elevated the case to the CA. He insisted that he was entitled to the maximum disability benefit. The CA ruled dismissed the petition and affirmed the NLRC decision. A motion for reconsideration was filed but the same was denied. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not whether or not Santiago is entitled to a maximum disability benefit of US$60,000.00 on account of his being unable to perform work as a seaman for more than 120 days.

Labor Law

The standard terms of the POEA Standard Employment Contract agreed upon are intended to be read and understood in accordance with Philippine laws, particularly, Articles 191 to 193 of the Labor Code, as amended, and the applicable implementing rules and regulations in case of any dispute, claim or grievance.

As these provisions operate, the seafarer, upon sign-off from his vessel, must report to the company-designated physician within three (3) days from arrival for diagnosis and treatment. For the duration of the treatment but in no case to exceed 120 days, the seaman is ontemporary total disabilityas he is totally unable to work.

He receives his basic wage during this period until he is declared fit to work or his temporary disability is acknowledged by the company to be permanent, either partially or totally, as his condition is defined under the POEA Standard Employment Contract and by applicable Philippine laws. If the 120 days initial period is exceeded and no such declaration is made because the seafarer requires further medical attention, then the temporary total disability period may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days, subject to the right of the employer to declare within this period that a permanent partial or total disability already exists.

As outlined above,a temporary total disability only becomes permanent when so declared by the company physician within the periods he is allowed to do so, or upon the expiration of the maximum 240-day medical treatment period without a declaration of either fitness to work or the existence of a permanent disability.

To be sure, there is oneLabor Codeconcept of permanent total disability, as stated in Article 192(c)(1) of theLabor Code, as amended, and the ECC Rules. We also note that the first paragraph of Section 20(B)(3) of the 2000 POEA Standard Employment Contract was lifted verbatim from the first paragraph of Section 20(B)(3) of the 1996 POEA Standard Employment Contract, to wit:

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.

In contrast, in the case at bench, two days after repatriation on March 17, 2005, Santiago underwent several tests and treatment. On April 8, 2005, a neurologist conducted EMG/NCV on him. On August 13, Dr. Lim, the company-designated physician, opined that he was suffering from a "Grade 12" disability only, not a permanent total one.

Counting the days from March 17 to August 13, this assessment by Dr. Lim was made on the 148th day, more or less, and, therefore, within the 240-day period. Thus, Santiagos condition cannot be considered a permanent total disability that would entitle him to the maximum disability benefit of $60,000.00. To stress, the rule is that a temporary total disability only becomes permanent when the company-designated physician, within the 240 day period, declares it to be so, or when after the lapse of the same, he fails to make such declaration.