FIRST DIVISION

 

DIONISIO M. MUSNIT,

Petitioner,

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

 

SEA STAR SHIPPING CORPORATION and SEA STAR SHIPPING CORPORATION, LTD.,

Respondents.

G.R. No. 182623

 

Present:

 

PUNO, C.J., Chairperson,

CARPIO MORALES,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BERSAMIN, and

VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

 

 

Promulgated:

December 4, 2009

 

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

 

 

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

 

Dionisio M. Musnit (petitioner) entered into a 3-month contract of employment with respondent Sea Star Shipping Corporation (Sea Star), a local manning agency acting for and in behalf of its co-respondent Sea Star Shipping Corporation, Ltd., as chief cook on board the vessel M/V Navajo Princess with a basic monthly salary of US$ 486.00.[1]

 

 

 

After undergoing a Pre-Employment Medical Examination conducted by a company-designated physician, petitioner was declared fit for sea service[2] and commenced working on October 30, 2001.

 

His contract, which was for three months, was extended by seven months.[3]

 

Before his contract expired, petitioner, sometime in August 2002, while on board the vessel, felt a throbbing pain in his chest and shortening of breath which made him feel as if he were about to fall. By his claim, he reported his condition to his officer who ignored it, however.[4] As the pain persisted, he resorted to pain relievers.[5]

 

Upon completion of his contract, petitioner was repatriated to the Philippines on October 31, 2002 following which he, again by his claim, immediately reported to Sea Stars office and informed it of his condition, but that he was never referred to a doctor for consultation.[6]

 

Seven months after his repatriation, petitioner sought re-employment with Sea Star. During his pre-employment medical examination on May 26, 2003 at the American Outpatient Clinic, petitioner was diagnosed with error of refraction, hyperglycemia, cardiac dysrhythmia, and atrial fibrillation with rapid value response[7] on account of which he was declared unfit for sea duties and was denied further deployment.

 

Petitioner underwent further medical examination at the Jose R. Reyes Medical Center in the course of which he was also diagnosed as having osteoarthritis, hypertensive cardiovascular disease and acute upper respiratory infection.[8]

 

On June 9, 2004, petitioner sought a third opinion from Dr. Efren R. Vicaldo who declared him unfit to board ship and work as a seaman in any capacity.[9] Moreover, Dr. Vicaldo assessed his disability with an Impediment Grade IX and considered his illness to be work-aggravated.[10]

 

Petitioner thereupon lodged a claim for disability benefits from Sea Star which denied the same, however, drawing him to file a complaint against it, docketed as NLRC-OFW Case No. (L) 04-06-01688-00, for Medical Reimbursement, Sickness Allowance, Permanent Disability Benefits, Compensatory Damages, Moral Damages, Exemplary Damages, and Attorneys fees.[11]

 

By Decision[12] of March 20, 2006, the Labor Arbiter dismissed the complaint for lack of merit,[13] finding that petitioner was able to finish the term of his employment contract and accordingly repatriated due to completion of contract.[14] Furthermore, the Arbiter found no records or evidence or any report of any incident which would show that complainant suffered an illness or injury while on board the vessel[15] to entitle him to disability benefits in accordance with Section 20(B) of the POEA Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers On-Board Ocean-Going Vessels.[16]

 

The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), by Resolution[17] of August 28, 2006, dismissed petitioners appeal, it finding no evidence to support his claim that he suffered the illness during the term of his contract,[18] and there was nothing to back up his claim that he was repatriated for medical reasons.[19]

 

Petitioners Motion for Reconsideration having been denied by the NLRC, he filed a Petition for Certiorari[20] before the Court of Appeals which, by Decision of December 26, 2007,[21] dismissed the same, it noting that the medical examination on May 26, 2003, which declared him unfit to work, was made only after the completion of his contract and during his application for re-employment;[22] and that while petitioner claimed that his sickness was a result of his continuous employment, he failed to have himself checked by the company-designated doctor in accordance with the mandatory requirement for post-employment medical examination.[23]

 

Discrediting petitioners claim that his complaints, while on board the vessel, were ignored, the Court of Appeals ruled:

 

While it may be true that petitioner reported his illness to his officers, as alleged, said officers were not named. Thus, this fact belies his claim that his continuous service with the respondent company resulted to his sickness or that he incurred said illness during the term of contract.[24]

 

 

His Motion for Reconsideration having been denied[25] by Resolution of April 22, 2008,[26] petitioner filed this present Petition for Review on Certiorari.[27]

 

Petitioner argues that, among other things, his illness is reasonably work-related, relying primarily on the earlier assessment made by Dr. Vicaldo.[28] Enumerating the various hazards[29] to which a ship cook may be exposed, he goes on to argue that the term work-related entails merely a probability, not certainty, of exposure to the risk of illness.[30] Petitioner thus claims entitlement to sickness allowance and to disability benefits under paragraphs 3 & 6, respectively, of Section 20(B) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract, contending that his affliction falls within the meaning of Occupational Diseases under Section 32-A paragraph 11[31] of the Standard Contract.

 

Respecting his failure to comply with the mandatory reportorial requirement under paragraph 3, Section 20(B) of the Standard Contract, petitioner advances that the same was due to respondents refusal to extend him any medical assistance despite his information to them of his condition. Petitioner claims anyway that the requirement is not absolute, citing Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission.[32]

 

The petition fails.

 

Section 20 (B) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract reads:

 

 

COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS FOR INJURY OR ILLNESS

The liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract are as follows:

x x x x

 

3. 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 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.

x x x x[33] (italics and underscoring supplied)

 

 

Section 20(B) provides for the liabilities of the employer only when the seafarer suffers from a work-related injury or illness during the term of his employment.[34]

 

Petitioner claims to have reported his illness to an officer once on board the vessel during the course of his employment.[35] The records are bereft, however, of any documentary proof that he had indeed referred his illness to a nurse or doctor in order to avail of proper treatment. It thus becomes apparent that he was repatriated to the Philippines, not on account of any illness or injury, but in view of the completion of his contract.

 

But even assuming that petitioner was repatriated for medical reasons, he failed to submit himself to the company-designated doctor in accordance with the post-employment medical examination requirement under the above-quoted paragraph 3 of Section 20(B) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract. Failure to comply with this requirement which is a sine qua non bars the filing of claim for disability benefits.[36]

 

All told, the rule is that under Section 20-B(3) of the 1996 POEA-SEC,  it is mandatory for a claimant to be examined by a company-designated physician within three days from his repatriation.  The unexplained omission of this requirement will bar the filing of a claim for disability benefits.[37] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

 

Without any valid excuse, petitioner did not submit himself to a company-designated physician for medical examination within three days from his arrival in the Philippines. He submitted himself for medical examination to the company-designated physician only on May 26, 2003,[38] or seven months after his repatriation following the completion of his previous contract, only because he was procuring further employment from respondent Sea Star.[39]

 

Petitioners claim that he immediately reported to Sea Star office upon disembarkation and informed it of his present condition was discredited by the Labor Arbiter, which was affirmed by the NLRC and the appellate court. Such factual determination is a statutory function of the NLRC.[40]

 

As for petitioners invocation of the ruling in Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission[41] in support of his contention that the requirement of post-employment medical examinations within three days from return to the Philippines is not absolute,[42] the same is misplaced. Wallems dictum reads:

 

. . . [T]he seaman shall submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by the 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 seaman to comply with the mandatory requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the above benefits (underscoring supplied).

 

Admittedly, Faustino Inductivo did not subject himself to post-employment medical examination within three (3) days from his return to the Philippines, as required by the above provision of the POEA standard employment contract. But such requirement is not absolute and admits of an exception, i.e., when the seaman is physically incapacitated from complying with the requirement. Indeed, for a man who was terminally ill and in need of urgent medical attention one could not reasonably expect that he would immediately resort to and avail of the required medical examination, assuming that he was still capable of submitting himself to such examination at that time. It is quite understandable that his immediate desire was to be with his family in Nueva Ecija whom he knew would take care of him. Surely, under the circumstances, we cannot deny him, or his surviving heirs after his death, the right to claim benefits under the law.[43] (Underscoring supplied)

 

 

As stated above, petitioner had no valid excuse for not complying with the sine qua non requirement.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 



[1] NLRC records, p. 44.

[2] Id. at 90.

[3] Id. at 27.

[4] Id. at 31.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Id. at 91.

[7] Id. at 47.

[8] Id. at 49.

[9] Id. at 50.

[10] Id. at 51.

[11] Id. at 2.

[12] Id. at 90-101.

[13] Id. at 95.

[14] Id. at 93.

[15] Id. at 94.

[16] 2000 POEA Standard Employment Contract, Section 20(B)(6):

SECTION 20. COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS

x x x x

B. COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS FOR INJURY OR ILLNESS

The liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract are as follows:

x x x x

(6) In case of permanent or total disability of the seafarer caused by either injury or illness the seafarer shall be compensated in accordance with the schedule of benefits enumerated in Section 32 of this Contract. Computation of his benefits arising from an illness or disease shall be governed by the rates and rules of compensation applicable at the time the disease or illness was contracted.

[17] Rollo, pp. 178-183.

[18] Id. at 180.

[19] Id. at 181.

[20] Id. at 59-77.

[21] Penned by Justice Arturo G. Tayag, with the concurrence of Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Vicente Q. Roxas. Id. at 36-47.

[22] Id. at 43.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Id. at 45.

[25] Id. at 50.

[26] Penned by Justice Arturo G. Tayag, with the concurrence of Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Vicente Q. Roxas; id. at 49-50.

[27] Id. at 3-34.

[28] NLRC records, supra note 9.

[29] Rollo, pp. 22-24.

[30] Id. at 25.

[31] Cardio-Vascular Diseases. Any of following conditions must be met:

(a) 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.

(b) The strain of work that brings about an acute attack must be sufficient severity and must be followed within 24 hours by the clinical signs of a cardiac insult to constitute casual relationship.

(c) If a person who was apparently a symptomatic 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 casual relationship.

[32] Rollo, p. 26.

[33] 2000 POEA Standard Employment Contract, Section 20 (B).

[34] Nisda v. Sea Serve Maritime Agency, G.R. No. 179177, July 23, 2009.

[35] Supra note 15.

[36] 2000 POEA Standard Employment Contract, Section 20(B), paragraph 3.

[37] Maunlad Transport, Inc. v. Manigo, Jr., G.R. No. 161416, June 13, 2008, 554 SCRA 446, 459.

[38] NLRC records, p. 47.

[39] Id. at 32.

[40] Masangcay v. Trans-Global Maritime Agency, Inc., G.R. No. 172800, October 17, 2008, 569 SCRA 592, 606 citing CBL Transit, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 469 Phil. 363, 371 (2004).

[41] 376 Phil. 738 (1999).

[42] Supra note 32.

[43] Supra note 42 at 748.