G.R. No. 212264. August 30, 2017

FIRST DIVISION: [G.R. No. 212264, August 30, 2017] EMELITO T. BERONES V. NORTH SEA MARINE SERVICES CORPORATION, ET AL.

Petitioner challenges in this Petition the Decision dated January 24, 2014[1] and Resolution dated April 22, 2014[2] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 124879, which declared him suffering from a Grade 8 impediment.

Petitioner was hired as an oiler by respondent, for and in behalf of its principal, Carnival Corporation (Carnival), with a salary of US$525 per month and with a contract period of six months.[3]

Prior to embarkation, petitioner underwent the mandatory Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME), wherein he was pronounced fit for sea duty.[4]

On October 9, 2010, petitioner boarded the vessel M/V Carnival Triumph. However, on October 27, 2010, petitioner, in the course of his duty, was lifting the cover of a boiler when he felt a snapping sound in his back followed by a pain on the lower portion thereof. He reported the incident to his superior; and he was then ordered to proceed to the infirmary. As his condition did not improve, he was brought to Doctors Hospital (Bahamas) Limited at Nassau, Bahamas, where an MRI of the spine was conducted on him.[5]

A Radiology Report revealed that petitioner was suffering from "[d]egenerative endplate changes at L5/S1 margins with disc desiccation at L4-5 & L5-S1 and a left with paracential disc extrusion at L5-S1 causing ventral thecal sac indentation and compression of left SI nerve root as described. Another posterocentral disc bulge due to annulus tear is seen at L4-5 causing ventral sac indentation but without neural for aminal compromise ".[6]

On November 23, 2010, petitioner was medically repatriated. Upon his arrival in the Philippines, he was examined by the company-designated physicians at the Marine Medical Services, Metropolitan Medical Center (MMC). He was diagnosed to be suffering from L5-Sl Disc Extrusion and was recommended to undergo "Laminotomy and Diskectomy". On April 25, 2011, the company-designated physician issued a medical report, certifying that petitioner was suffering from Grade 8 disability due to "moderate rigidity or 2/3 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk".[7]

In disagreement with the findings of the company-designated physician, petitioner filed a complaint for payment of permanent total disability benefits, medical expenses, sickness allowance, damages, and attorney's fees before the Labor Arbiter.

After filing the aforementioned complaint, petitioner consulted with an independent physician, who issued a medical certificate stating that petitioner was not fit for sea duty.

The Labor Arbiter, in a Decision dated October 26, 2011[8], ruled that petitioner is suffering from permanent and total disability. The follo thereof reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered ordering respondents to pay jointly and severally the complainant the sum of US$60,000.00, or its peso equivalent at the time of payment, as his permanent total disability compensation; the amount of US$2,100.00 as sickness allowance; and 10% of the monetary award as attorney's fees.

All other claims are dismissed for lack of merit. SO ORDERED.[9]
On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) affirmed the Decision of the Labor Arbiter in a Decision dated February 13, 2012[10]. The motion for reconsideration filed by respondent was likewise denied in a Resolution dated March 26, 2012[11].

Undeterred, respondent filed a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 before the CA. In a Decision dated January 24, 2014[12] , the CA partially granted the petition and disposed in this wise:
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The assailed Decision dated February 13, 2012 and Resolution dated March 26, 2012 of public respondent National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Second Division in NLRC LAC No. 01-000108-12 are hereby MODIFIED in that private respondent is hereby deemed to be suffering only from permanent and partial disability corresponding to Grade 8 impediment.
SO ORDERED.[13]
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied in a Resolution dated April 22, 2014[14].
Hence, this instant Petition.

We are not persuaded.

Article 198(C)(1) of the Labor Code provides that:

x x x The following disabilities shall be deemed total and permanent:

(1) Temporary total disability lasting continuously for more than one hundred twenty days, except as otherwise provided in the Rules; x x x
Rule X, Section 2 of the Rules and Regulations implementing Title II, Book IV of the Labor Code provides that:
Period of entitlement, (a) The income benefit shall be paid beginning on the first day of such disability. If caused by an injury or sickness it shall not be paid longer than 120 consecutive days except where such injury or sickness still requires medical attendance beyond 120 days but not to exceed 240 days from onset of disability in which case benefit for temporary total disability shall be paid. However, the System may declare the total and permanent status at anytime after 120 days of continuous temporary total disability as may be warranted by the degree of actual loss or impairment of physical or mental functions as determined by the System.
Section 20 (3) of the 2000 POEA Standard Employment Contract states:
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.

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 the forfeiture of his 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 doctor's decision shall be final and binding on both parties.
Thus, while undergoing treatment, the seaman is on temporary total disability as he is totally unable to work, but such treatment shall not exceed 120 days. If the initial 120-day period is exceeded and no declaration was made by the company-designated physician because the seafarer requires further medical attention, then the temporary total disability period may be extended up to 240 days, subject to the right of the employer to declare within this period that a permanent partial or total disability already exists.[15]

In this case, petitioner was medically repatriated on November 23, 2010. The following day, he was examined by the company-designated physician. Petitioner underwent a series of treatments and medical consultations. After 153 days or on April 25, 2011, the company-designated physician issued a medical report, stating that petitioner was suffering from permanent and partial disability of Grade 8 due to moderate rigidity or 2/3 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk. However, petitioner disagreed with the findings of the company-designated physicians and filed a case before the Labor Arbiter. After such filing, he sought another opinion from an independent doctor, but consultation with said doctor was not agreed upon by respondent and petitioner. The independent doctor diagnosed that petitioner was unfit to work as a seafarer.

As correctly found by the CA, the belated act of securing another opinion from a third doctor signified his intention to assure a permanent total disability grading. Moreover, it must be noted that said consultation with an independent doctor took place only once vis-a-vis a series of medical consultations and treatments with the company-designated physicians were conducted. As between two contradictory findings, the report of the company-designated physicians should be accorded with more credence as they were able to carefully and extensively assess the medical condition of the petitioner. On this note, We emphasize that the doctor who had personal knowledge of the actual medical condition, having closely, meticulously and regularly monitored and actually treated the seafarer's illness, is more qualified to assess the seafarer's disability.[16]

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED. The Decision dated January 24, 2014 and Resolution dated April 22, 2014 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 124879 are AFFIRMED in toto. (Sereno, C.J., on leave; Leonardo-De Castro, J., on official leave.)

SO ORDERED.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Sesinando E. Villon and concurred in by Associate Justices Florito S. Macalino and Ramon A. Cruz; rollo, pp. 7-22.

[2] Id. at 23.

[3] Id. at 8.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 9.

[7] Id. at 172.

[8] Id. at 196-210.

[9] Id. at 210.

[10] Id. at 278-293.

[11] Id. at 310-311.

[12] Penned by Associate Justice Sesinando E. Villon and concurred by Associate Justices Florito S. Macalino and Ramon A. Cruz; id. at 7-21.

[13] Id. at 21.

[14] Id. at 23.

[15]Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc., 588 Phil. 895, 912 (2008).

[16] Manana v. MEC Global Shipmanagement and Manning Corporation, et al, 746 Phil. 736, 752 (2014), citing Philman Marine Agency, Inc., et al. v. Cabanban, 715 Phil. 454, 476 (2013)

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