G.R. No. 233965. January 22, 2018

THIRD DIVISION: [G.R. No. 233965, January 22, 2018] BSM CREW SERVICE CENTER PHILS., INC. AND/OR BERHHARD SCHULTE SHIPMANAGEMENT [ISLE OF MAN] LIMITED V. ROSALINO M. COLUMBRES, JR.

For review in this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court are the November 21, 2016 Decision and August 31, 2017 Resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA G.R. SP No. 139007.

Facts

On May 27, 2013, private respondent Rosalino Columbres, Jr. (Columbres) was hired as Fireman and Motorman to board "Mubaraz," a vessel owned by petitioner Berhhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Isle of Man) Limited, represented in the Philippines by BSM Crew Service Center Philippines, Inc. The deployment was for a period of eight (8) months with a basic monthly salary of USD573.00. Columbres underwent Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) and was found fit for sea duty. On June 7, 2013, he was deployed aboard the said vessel.

Columbres' duties included engine room watch, oiling of various parts of the vessel, routine preventive maintenance work and other related jobs as directed by his superior officers.

On September 16, 2013, Columbres complained of palpitations, nervousness, and lack of sleep. Further, on September 24, 2013, while doing some cleaning in the Boiler Room of the vessel, the improvised wood handle of a floor mop broke. One of the wood splinters fell into his right eye, causing an injury. He was brought to a hospital in Japan where he was diagnosed with "Right eye rupture" and "Dehydration and Sleeping Disorder." His repatriation was thereafter recommended.

On September 28, 2013, Columbres was repatriated and referred to the company-accredited doctor. In a Letter dated September 30, 2013, Dr. Richard Olalia (Dr. Olalia) of the Marine Medical Services diagnosed Columbres with "Penetrating Eye Injury secondary to a retained Intraocular Foreign Body, Right Eye Corneoscleral Laceration with Vitreous Prolapse and Hyphema, Right Eye to consider Vitreous Hemorrhage rule out retinal Detachment and endophthalmitis, right eye."[1]

Columbres sought medical opinions from other doctors. In a Medical Certificate dated May 22, 2014, Dr. Noel Perez opined that Columbres is "unfit for duty." Further, Dr. Joel Enrico Anastacio diagnosed Columbres with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and stated in a Psychiatric Report that the respondent is "presently unfit to perform any kind of sea services."[2]

As there was disagreement as to Columbres' entitlement to disability benefits, he availed of the grievance machinery. Failing thereon, the dispute was then referred to voluntary arbitration.

During the proceedings, petitioners for their part presented a Letter dated October 12, 2013 issued by a Dr. Johnny Lokin (Dr. Lokin), stating that Columbres has Schizoaffective disorder, a mental disorder where the person had "disordered thought process and abnormal emotional responses."[3] He opined that this disorder could have caused Columbres' eye injury. Petitioners also presented a Letter dated November 15, 2013 from Dr. Kent Wee (Dr. Wee) which stated that Columbres' injury is not work-related as his eye condition is "due to his Psyche problem... His suggested disability grading is Grade 7-total blindness of one eye."[4] Petitioners also presented several letters from their employees, Columbres' co-workers, which substantially stated that Columbres has a psychiatric problem which led him to have the eye injury.

After the filing of the parties' respective position papers, the panel of Voluntary Arbitrators (VA) rendered a Decision dated October 3, 2014, the decretal portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE ABOVE, judgment is hereby promulgated DIRECTING the respondents, JOINTLY and SEVERALLY, to pay the complainant the following amount, to wit: 
1. Disability benefits in the amount of Ninety-Three Thousand One Hundred Fifty-Four Dollars (US$93,154);
2. Attorney's fees equivalent to 10% of the total amount due. 
All other claims are dismissed for lack of merit.
Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the arbitrators remained steadfast and maintained their position in a Resolution dated December 8, 2014. Hence, petitioners elevated the matter to the CA on a Petition for Review under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court.

The CA's Ruling

In the Assailed Decision, the appellate court affirmed the VA's Decision and denied the petitioners' petition. The fallo of the Assailed Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition is hereby DENIED. The Decision dated October 3, 2014 and Resolution dated December 8, 2014 of the Panel of Voluntary Arbitrators in AC-542-RCM-NCR-MVA-052-01-06-2014 are hereby AFFIRMED. 
SO ORDERED.
In so ruling, the appellate court adhered to Columbres' explanation that a splinter from the broom's wooden handle went to his eye when the handle accidentally broke.[5] It did not agree with the petitioners that Columbres' eye injury was brought about by a psychiatric disorder.[6] The CA held that it cannot give credit to the opinions of Drs. Lokin and Wee. It noted that Dr. Lokin has not personally examined Columbres, while Dr. Wee's specialization is on surgery, laser, and diseases of the eye so that his opinion on the injury's relation to Columbres' work could not be blindly accepted.[7] The CA further held that the affidavits executed by Columbres' colleagues as to his alleged psychiatric problem fail to impress since, aside from the fact that the affiants were not presented, the statements therein are too vague and inconsistent as to support the petitioners' contention that Columbres intentionally blinded himself.[8]

The CA likewise noted that the company-accredited doctor, Dr. Olalia, failed to issue a final disability assessment and fitness to work certification as required by the parties' CBA. There is no indication, so the CA found, that Dr. Wee's suggested Grade 7 disability rating was adopted by Dr. Olalia. Even if it were so adopted, the failure on Dr. Olalia's part to make a final certification as to Columbres' fitness to work and disability rating caused Columbres' disability to lapse into a total and permanent disability.[9]

The appellate court later reiterated its pronouncements in the Assailed Resolution dated August 31, 2017, denying the petitioners' motion for reconsideration.

Hence, the present petition.

Issue

The sole issue in this case is whether the CA committed a grievous and reversible error in affirming the private respondent's entitlement to total and permanent disability benefits.

The Court's Ruling

After a careful review of the records, the Court finds no compelling reason to doubt the common findings of the VA and the CA that respondent is entitled to a total and permanent disability compensation under their CBA, for an injury sustained while in the performance of his duty. The petitioners failed to provide sufficient proof that Columbres' eye injury was intentional or that it was caused by a psychiatric disorder. What is instead patent is that Columbres sustained an accidental eye injury while performing his duties on board the petitioners' ship.

Furthermore, as the Court is not a trier of facts, it does not wish to disturb the factual findings of the VA and the CA that indeed the company-designated physician failed to issue a final assessment of Columbres' disability grading[10] within the prescribed period of 120 or 240 days. Even if it were so inclined to look into the matter, the Court has held in Fil-Star Maritime Corporation v. Rosete[11] and Tamin v. Magsaysay Maritime Corporation[12] that the company-designated doctor's certification issued within the prescribed periods must be a final and definite assessment of the seafarer's fitness to work or disability. As the CA noted, however, the Letter issued by Dr. Wee provides but a mere "suggestion" and Dr. Wee is not the company-designated physician but Dr. Olalia. Hence, under the Labor Code and the Amended Rules on Employee Compensation (AREC) implementing Title II, Book IV of the Labor Code, Columbres is considered as totally and permanently disabled.

WHEREFORE, We DENY the petition. We AFFIRM the November 21, 2016 Decision and August 31, 2017 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 139007.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 14-15.
[2] Id. at 15.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id. at 18.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id. at 21.
[10] Hoegh Fleet Services Phils., Inc. v. Turallo, G.R. Nos. 230481 & 230500 (Resolution), July 26, 2017. See also Ocean Prosperity Manning and Management Corp. v. Silva, G.R. No. 225269 (Notice), September 14, 2016.
[11] G.R. No. 192686, November 23, 2011, 661 SCRA 247.
[12] G.R. No. 220608, August 31, 2016

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