Case Digest: Transocean Ship Management v. Vedad

G.R. Nos. 194490-91 : March 20, 2013



Inocencio was a seafarer employed as second engineer by Transocean Ship Management (Phils.), Inc. (Transocean). Before the expiry of his 1 0-month contract or specifically on February 19, 2006, Inocencio was, however, repatriated for medical reasons. On board M/V lnvicta he fell ill and experienced fever, sore throat and pain in his right car.

The ship docked on February 3, 2006 at Port Louis, Mauritius. The day after, on February 4. 2006, he underwent medical examination with the finding of ''chronic suppurative otitis media right CSOM(R) with acute pharyngitis, with mild maxillary sinusitis," for which he was prescribed antibiotics and ear drops with the recommendation of a follow-up examination of the CSOM(R). Subsequently on February 16, 2006, he underwent a follow-up examination on his illness in Tanjung Priok, Indonesia, and consequently, his eventual repatriation on February 19, 2006 for further evaluation and treatment.

Inocencio immediately reported to the company-designated doctor, Dr. Nicomedes G. Cruz (Dr. Cruz). The final histopathologic diagnosis reports: "undifferentiated carcinoma, right tonsil; and chronic follicular tonsillitis with actinomycosis, left tonsil."Dr. Cruz then advised Inocencio to undergo chemotherapy and linear treatment at an estimated cost of PhP 500,000, which Transocean and General Marine promised to shoulder. Inocencio started with the procedure but could not continue due to the failure of Transocean and General Marine to provide the necessary amount. This constrained Inoncencio to file, on July 17, 2006, a Complaintbefore the Labor Arbiter for, among others, total permanent disability benefits and sickness allowance.

The LA awarded permanent total disability benefits to Inocencio. Upon appeal by Transocean, the NLRC reversed the LA decision and awarded only sickness allowance. The NLRC ruled that the illness was work related was not substantiated by Inocencio. The CA affirmed the NLRC decision.

Transocean appealed the CAs decision ordering the former to reimburse Inocencios medical expenses. On the other hand, Inocencio contended that the CA erred in reversing the NLRC decision awarding permanent total disability benefits.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Inocencio is entitled to permanent total disability benefits


Labor Law

To be entitled to permanent total disability benefits, it must be established that the illness was work- related

Anent Inocencio's claim for permanent total disability benefits, its propriety hinges on whether or not his illness was work-related. We find no compelling reason to deviate from the factual findings of the NLRC that Inocencio failed to establish that his illness was work-related. Thus, he is not entitled to claim total permanent disability benefits. This Court has, time and again, held that the "factual findings of quasi-judicial agencies like the NLRC, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are conclusive upon the parties and binding on this Court.""It must be stressed that in petitions for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, only questions of law must be raised" before this Court.

Tonsil cancer or tonsillar carcinoma is, indeed, not work-related. The NLRC and the CA correctly ruled on this issue. It is not included in the list of occupational diseases. Thus, Inocencio carried the burden of showing by substantial evidence that his cancer developed or was aggravated from work-related causes. As both the NLRC and the CA found, he had nothing to support his claim other than his bare allegations.

We note that when Inocencio was repatriated, Dr. Cruz, the company-designated physician, conducted the examination, diagnosis and treatment of Inocencio until the hispathology report showed he had cancer of the tonsils. Signitlcantly, Dr. Cruz issued on June 9, 2006 his assessment and medical certification that Inocencio's cancer was not work-related or work-aggravated.

In detemining whether or not a given illness is work-related, it is understandable that a company-designated physician would be more positive and in favor of the company than, say, the physician of the seafarer's choice. It is on this account that a seafarer is given the option by the POEA-SEC to seek a second opinion from his preferred physician. And the law has anticipated the possibility of divergence in the medical findings and assessments by incorporating a mechanism for its resolution wherein a third doctor selected by both parties decides the dispute with finality, as provided by Sec. 20(B)(3) of the POEA-SEC.

Inocencio, however, failed to seek a second opinion from a physician of his choice. As already mentioned, Inocencio did not present any proof of work-relatedness other than his bare allegations. We, thus, have no option but to declare that the company-designated doctor's certification is the final determination that must prevail. To recapitulate, the CA properly affirmed the findings of the NLRC that Inocencio's illness was not work-related.

The NLRC's Endings of facts have sufficient basis in evidence and in the records of the case and, in our own view, far from the arbitrariness that characterizes excess of jurisdiction. If Inocencio had any basis at all to support his claim, such basis might have been found after considering that he was medically fit when he boarded the ship based on the requisite PEME.

The award granted by the NLRC and the CA for payment or reimbursement of the medical expenses of Inocencio relative to the required treatment for his cancer is proper. In fact, Transocean, et al. acknowledged offering to shoulder these expenses, alleging, however, that Inocencio did not continue with the treatment. They judicially admitted this in their Respondents' Position Paper filed at the outset before the Labor Arbiter.

Having obliged themselves to shoulder the medical treatment of Inocencio, Transoceanmust be held answerable to said obligation, a finding of fact not only determined by the NLRC and the CA, but is also a judicial admission of Transocean.