Magsaysay Maritime v. NLRC (G.R. No. 186180; March 22, 2010)


FACTS: Respondent entered into a seven-month contract of employment with petitioner Magsaysay Maritime Corporation. Prior to the execution of this employment contract, the respondent had previously worked as housekeeping cleaner and assistant housekeeping manager on board the petitioners other vessels from 2000 to 2004.

In November 2004, the respondent felt pain in his lower right quadrant. He was brought to and conferred at the Andreas Constantinou Medical Center in Cyprus for consultation.The Histopathology Report showed that The appearances are consistent with a malignant lymphoid infiltration of the ileum and the mesenteric lymph nodes.

Upon repatriation, the respondent was placed under the medical care and supervision of the company-designated physician, Dr. Susannah Ong-Salvador (Dr. Ong-Salvador). In Dr. Ong-Salvadors Initial Medical Report dated February 10, 2005, she found the respondent to be suffering from lymphoma, and declared his illness to be non-work related.

Dr. Ong-Salvadors Medical Progress Report found the respondents recurrent lymphoma to be in complete remission, and declared him "fit to resume sea duties" after undergoing six (6) sessions of chemotherapy. On June 16, 2006, the respondent filed before the Labor Arbiter a complaint for total and permanent disability benefits, reimbursement of medical and hospital expenses, damages, and attorneys fees against the petitioners. He claims that he contracted his illness while working on board the petitioners vessel.

The LA ruled in favor of respondent, holding that the respondents illness to be work-related, hence compensable. She held that the respondents illness was aggravated by his work, as he had always passed the companys physical examinations since 2000. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the LA decision. On further appeal to the CA, the latter denied the petition for lack of merit. Hence, this petition.
ISSUE: Is respondent entitled to disability benefits?

HELD: Entitlement of seamen on overseas work to disability benefits is a matter governed, not only by medical findings, but by law and by contract.

The material statutory provisions are Articles 191 to 193 under Chapter VI (Disability Benefits) of the Labor Code, in relation with Rule X of the Rules and Regulations Implementing Book IV of the Labor Code. By contract, the POEA-SEC, as provided under Department Order No. 4, series of 2000 of the Department of Labor and Employment, and the parties Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) bind the seaman and his employer to each other.

For disability to be compensable under Section 20 (B) of the 2000 POEA-SEC, two elements must concur: (1) the injury or illness must be work-related; and (2) the work-related injury or illness must have existed during the term of the seafarers employment contract. In other words, to be entitled to compensation and benefits under this provision, it is not sufficient to establish that the seafarers illness or injury has rendered him permanently or partially disabled; it must also be shown that there is a causal connection between the seafarers illness or injury and the work for which he had been contracted.

For this purpose, the seafarer shall submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return except when he is physically incapacitated to do so, in which case, a written notice to the agency within the same period is deemed as compliance. Failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the above benefits.

If a doctor appointed by the seafarer disagrees with the assessment, a third doctor may be agreed jointly between the employer and the seafarer. The third doctors decision shall be final and binding on both parties.

In the case before us, there is no dispute that the respondent reported to the company-designated physician for treatment immediately upon repatriation. Problems arose when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, and the company-designated physician ruled this illness to be non-work-related.

Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphocites of the immune system and presents as a solid tumor of lymphoid cells. Like other cancers, lymphoma occurs when lymphocytes are in a state of uncontrolled cell growth and multiplication. It is treatable with chemotherapy, and, in some cases, radiotherapy and/or bone marrow transplantation, and can be curable, depending on the histology, type, and stage of the disease. These malignant cells often originate in lymph nodes, presenting as an enlargement of the node (a tumor).

While it is true that medical reports issued by the company-designated physicians do not bind the courts, our examination of Dr. Ong-Salvadors Initial Medical Report leads us to agree with her findings. Dr. Ong-Salvador was able to sufficiently explain her basis in concluding that the respondents illness was not work-related: she found the respondent not to have been exposed to any carcinogenic fumes, or to any viral infection in his workplace. Her findings were arrived at after the respondent was made to undergo a physical, neurological and laboratory examination, taking into consideration his (respondents) past medical history, family history, and social history. In addition, the respondent was evaluated by a specialist, a surgeon and an oncologist. The series of tests and evaluations show that Dr. Ong-Salvadors findings were not arrived at arbitrarily; neither were they biased in the companys favor.

The respondent, on the other hand, did not adduce proof to show a reasonable connection between his work as an assistant housekeeping manager and his lymphoma. In short, the evidence on record is totally bare of essential facts on how the respondent contracted or developed lymphoma and how and why his working conditions increased the risk of contracting this illness. In the absence of substantial evidence, we cannot just presume that respondents job caused his illness or aggravated any pre-existing condition he might have had.

In sum, we hold that the respondent is not entitled to total and permanent disability benefits for his failure to refute the company-designated physicians findings that: (1) his illness was not work-related; and (2) he was fit to resume sea duties. GRANTED.
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