Substantial evidence to prove work-related, compensable injury

Esposo failed to present substantial evidence that his illness was work- related and was existing during the time of his employment; hence the same is not compensable.

In the 2018 case of Esposo v. Epsilon (G.R. No. 218167), Esposo still failed to show that his illness was work-related and compensable. For disability to be compensable under Section 20-B of the POEA SEC, two (2) 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 seafarer's employment contract.

Relevantly, the 2000 POEA-SEC defines "work-related illness" as "any sickness resulting to disability or death as a result of an occupational disease listed under Section 32-A of the Contract with the conditions set therein satisfied."

The conditions referred to are:

For an occupational disease and the resulting disability or death to be compensable, all of the following conditions must be satisfied:

The seafarers work must involve the risks described herein;
The disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer's exposure to the described risks;
The disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it;
There was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer. (Emphasis supplied)
Cardio-Vascular diseases are explicitly listed by Section 32-A(11) as occupational diseases when contracted under the conditions therein set, thus:
The following diseases are considered as occupational when contracted under working conditions involving the risks described herein:

x x x x
  1. Cadrio-Vascular Diseases. Any of the following conditions must be met:

    If the heart disease was known to have been present during employment, there must be proof that an acute exacerbation was clearly precipitated by the unusual strain by reasons of the nature of his work.
    The strain of the work that brings about an acute attack must be sufficient severity and must be followed within 24 hours by the clinical signs of cardiac insult to constitute causal relationship;
    If a person who was apparently asymptomatic before being subjected to strain at work showed signs and symptoms of cardiac injury during the performance of his work and such symptoms and signs persisted, it is reasonable to claim a causal relationship. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Hence, although cardio-vascular diseases are listed as occupational diseases, still, to be compensable under the POEA-SEC, all of the four (4) general conditions for occupational diseases under Section 32, plus any one (1) of the conditions listed under Section 32-A for cardio-vascular diseases, must nonetheless be proven to have obtained and/or be obtaining. Moreover, the same must be work-related and must have existed during the term of the seafarer's employment.Here (Esposo v. Epsilon G.R. No. 218167), Esposo failed to substantially prove his claim that his illness was work-related or that it was existing during the time of his employment with Epsilon. He failed to show that his illness was known to have been present during his employment or that the nature of his work brought an acute exacerbation thereof as required under Section 32-A (11)(a).

Although there is no dispute that he was suffering from a cardio vascular disease at the time that he filed the complaint, no proof was presented that such illness subsisted prior to the expiration of his employment contract or even up to the day of his repatriation. Much as he claims that as early as in April 2013, during his employment, he was already feeling severe chest pains and other discomfort, Esposo never presented any written note, request or record about any medical condition to that effect or any medical check-up, consultation or treatment prior to his repatriation.

On the other hand, respondents submitted in evidence a copy of the Medical Vessel Logbook which shows that the only time Esposo complained of a medical condition was on December 17, 2012 when he reported experiencing "skin burn."

It is difficult to believe that Esposo merely neglected to enter in the vessel logbook or sought assistance for his "severe chest pain, dizziness, difficulty of breathing, severe headache and persistent perspiration" which, to the Court, sound much graver than a simple skin burn. Likewise, the respondents presented Esposo's "Resignation Report" dated April 29, 2013 where he categorically affirmed that his health condition was not the cause of the termination of his employment contract and hence, his repatriation, thus:
The undersigned C/E HENRY R. ESPOSO

I hereby inform you that my contract with the Company will be terminated on 21st May 2013. In this respect, I give notice of termination of my contract with the Company and I wish to be repatriated from Discharging Port Shanghai, China to my country Philippines.

This Notice of Termination is due to personal reasons having nothing to do with the condition of my health or the general condition on the vessel. In this respect, I declare that I do not have any claim for compensation. All the expenses of my repatriation as well as the expenses associated with the boarding of my replacement will be paid by the Company.
Indeed, the fact alone that Esposo was repatriated due to the termination of his contract and not due to a medical condition already weighs strongly against his claims. The Court had, in the past, ruled that repatriation for an expired contract belies a seafarer's submission that his ailment was aggravated by his working conditions and that it was existing during his term of employment.

Neither can the Court subscribe to the ratio of the NLRC that the lone evidence of Esposo – his June 22, 2013 medical certificate obtained from a private physician – outweighs all evidence and arguments proving that his illness was not work-related nor subsisting during his employment and that he failed to submit himself to a company-designated physician.

The medical certificate does not prove the work-causation or work-aggravation of Esposo's disease. Neither does it prove that Esposo, prior to proceeding to a private doctor, asked for, and was refused, medical attention by respondents. This holds especially true in light of the substantial documentary evidence of respondents against which Esposo's medical certificate issued by a private physician cannot stand.

While the test of proof in compensation proceedings is merely probability, and not ultimate degree of certainty, the conclusions of the courts must still be based on real evidence and not just inferences and speculations.

In Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc. v. De Leon, the Court overturned the factual conclusions of the LA, NLRC and the CA that since there was no reported incident befalling the seafarer from the time he disembarked from the vessel to the time he underwent medical examination about two (2) months after, whatever causative circumstances led to his permanent disability must have transpired during his 22 years of employment. In that case, the Court likewise rejected the deduction that the illness subsisted during the seafarer's employment from medical reports and certifications issued after such employment and disembarkation. The Court therein discussed the need to have evidentiary bases, instead of speculations, to conclude the compensability of a seafarer's illness, to wit:
Noticeably, Nisda and Seagull did not use the proximity of the development of the injury to the time of disembarkation as the basis for compensability. This Court in those cases made an effort to find out the recognized elements in resolving seafarers' claims: the description of the work, the nature of the injury or illness contracted, and the connection between the two.

Here, the courts a quo merely speculated that because respondent worked for 22 years, it then follows that his injury was caused by his engagement as a seafarer. This blanket speculation alone will not rise to the level of substantial evidence. Whilst the degree of determining whether the illness is work-related requires only probability, the conclusions of the courts must be still be based on real, and not just apparent, evidence. Especially egregious is the error of the CA when it augmented the speculative conclusions of the LA and the NLRC, by referring to a medical website that has not even been vetted to introduce into the CA Decision a modicum presence of the causality requirement for compensable injuries. The tribunals should have gone beyond their inferences. They should have determined the duties of De Leon as a seafarer and the nature of his injury, so that they could validly draw a conclusion that he labored under conditions that would cause his purported permanent and total disability.
Hence, given Esposo's utter lack of evidence to support his claim that he was already suffering his illness when he was onboard respondents' vessel and that his illness was work-related as against the undisputed documentary evidence of respondents belying such claims coupled with the established fact that he was not medically repatriated, he cannot be compensated for his illness.

In sum, Esposo cannot be awarded the total and permanent disability benefits that he seeks. His complaint was filed prematurely, he was in breach of his contractual obligation to submit to a company-designated physician within the required period, and he failed to prove by substantial evidence the compensability of his illness.

As a final word, while the Court commiserates with Esposo, it cannot ignore the fatal flaws of his case and grant his claims, lest a clear injustice be caused to respondents. As the Court has often held, "consistent with the purposes underlying the formulation of the POEA Contract, its provisions must be applied fairly, reasonably and liberally in favor of the seafarers, for it is only then that its beneficent provisions can be fully carried into effect. This exhortation cannot, however, be taken to sanction the award of disability benefits and sickness allowances based on flimsy evidence and/or even in the face of an unjustified non-compliance with the mandatory reporting requirement under the POEA Contract."


[1] Jebsens v. Undag (G.R. No. 191491; December 14, 2011).
[2] De Leon v. Maunlad Trans, Inc., 805 Phil. 531, 539 (2017).
[3] Villanueva v. Baliwag Navigation, Inc., 715 Phil. 299 (2013).
[4] Villamor v. Employees' Compensation Commission, 800 Phil, 269, 281-282 (2016).
[5] Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc. v. De Leon, 804 Phil. 279, 291-292 (2017).
[6] Coastal Safeway Marine Services, Inc. v. Esguerra, supra note 54, at 70.

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