SC Upholds Dismissal of Racist Sea Captain

October 8, 2021

“A vessel’s Master and Captain who discriminates against crew members on the basis of their national and ethnic origin may be validly dismissed on the ground of serious misconduct.”

Thus said the Supreme Court as it upheld the dismissal of a Filipino captain of an oil tanker who discriminated against his Myanmar crew members.

Petitioner Aniceto Ocampo, Jr. was hired in 2012 by respondent International Ship Crew Management, Philippines, Inc., now called D’Amico Ship Ishima Philippines, Inc., as Master and Captain of MT Golden Ambrosia, an oil and chemical tanker vessel flying under the Singaporean flag. He was relieved from his duty at a port in Malaysia and was repatriated on the basis of complaints regarding his acts of discrimination against his Myanmar crew, who accused him of calling them “animals” and rationing their water supply despite its availability, among others. Likewise, Ocampo’s termination was based on the over- discharge of methanol, the chemical cargo that the ship was carrying, when they arrived at a port in China.

Ocampo filed a complaint for illegal dismissal before the Labor Arbiter, which dismissed the same. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) affirmed the Labor Arbiter, but awarded Ocampo P40,000 as nominal damages. The Court of Appeals (CA) subsequently upheld the NLRC ruling.

In the Decision penned by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, the Supreme Court affirmed the CA’s Decision and Resolution dismissing the appeal of Ocampo. It held that petitioner was validly dismissed on the basis of serious misconduct.

The Court noted that racial discrimination is a grave issue. It explained that “discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, or ethnic origin has deep historical roots, and is a global phenomenon that still exists until today…Evidently, petitioner’s misconduct is considered serious, as it is “of such a grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant.’”

“That he is the commander of the entire crew worsens the situation,” lamented the Court. “Being the leader of the vessel, it was his duty to inspire a ‘harmonious and congenial atmosphere on board,’ which he failed to do. His ill treatment of his subordinates is inevitably

related to the performance of his duties as Master and Captain, and it shows his unfitness to continue in such capacity. Thus, his dismissal for serious misconduct was done for a just cause,” the Court added.

However, the Court pointed out that Ocampo’s dismissal cannot be based on gross and habitual neglect of duties nor willful breach of trust and confidence in connection with the over-discharge of methanol.

While gross and habitual neglect of duty is a just cause for dismissal under the Labor Code, the Court noted that Ocampo was correct in arguing that he could not be dismissed on this ground.

The Court stressed that the singular event of the over-discharge of methanol cannot be considered habitual. It pointed out that records do not show that respondents cited other instances in the past where Ocampo was remiss in the performance of his duties.

The Court further said that when the mishap was discovered and reported to him, Ocampo was the one who made arrangements to pump back the excess methanol in an attempt to save what could still be saved.

It explained: “This is not to say that this Court agrees with petitioner’s theory that he had no responsibility in the incident and that the blame could be passed on to his subordinate. Certainly, there was carelessness on his part, and it caused respondents financial losses. Nevertheless, such carelessness is not a ground for dismissal. It was not established that it amounted to a willful breach resulting in loss of trust and confidence.”

(G.R. No. 232062, Ocampo, Jr. v. International Ship Crew Management Phils. Inc., et al., April 26, 2021)