SC Awards US$60k+ to Seafarer

January 22, 2020

A big win for the country’s seafarers who were refused by their employers a medical check-up after their return.

The Supreme Court ordered a recruitment firm to pay a seafarer permanent total disability benefits and sickness allowance amounting to US$62,024 who had developed diabetes purportedly caused by his work on board the vessel.

Aside from the permanent total disability benefits of US$60,000 and sickness allowance of US$2,024 or its peso equivalent at the time of actual payment, Apolinario Z. Zonio, Jr. was also awarded attorney’s fees of 10% of the total monetary award to be jointly paid by respondents 88 Aces Maritime Services, Inc. (88 Aces), its president Janet A. Jocson, and 88 Aces’ foreign principal Khalifa Algosaibi Diving & Services Co. (Khalifa Algosaibi).

In an 18-page decision penned by Justice Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, the Court’s Third Division held that Zonio’s duties on board the vessel exposed him to physical, mental and emotional strain and stress and that such triggered his diabetes mellitus as proved by the medical records he had presented.

The SC pointed out that the respondents had the opportunity to refer Zonio to a company-designated physician after his repatriation but did not so. It stressed “[b]etween the non-existent medical assessment of the company-designated physician and the medical assessment of Apolinario [Zonio]’s doctor of choice─stating that his disability is permanent and total─the latter evidently stands.”

The SC held that while the illness is not listed as one of the occupational diseases under Section 32(A) of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)-Standard Employment Contract (SEC), the ailment is presumed work-related under Section 20(B)(4) of the contract. It stressed that had the respondents granted Zonio’s request to undergo a post-employment medical check-up, they could have presented a medical finding to prove otherwise. “Having failed to present evidence to defeat the presumption of work-relatedness of Zonio’s diabetes mellitus, the prima facie case that it is work-related prevails,” the SC held.

On February 4, 2010, Zonio was hired as an “ordinary seaman” by 88 Aces to board the vessel MV Algosaibi 42 for a six month-contract with a basic monthly salary of US$506.15. He completed the contract in August 2010 but was not repatriated as he directly entered into a new contract with 88 Aces’ foreign principal, Khalifa Algosaibi. His new contract with Khalifa Algosaibi lasted until April 2012, during which he was repatriated in Manila.

In May 2015, he filed a complaint before the Labor Arbiter against the respondents. He claimed that while on board MV Algosaibi 42 in 2010, he experienced dizziness and was sent to Salama Hospital in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia which had found him to have high glucose and cholesterol.  He was given medicine and advised to observed proper diet and avoid stress. However, in 2012, his dizziness recurred and accompanied by blurring of vision. He returned to the same hospital and was diagnosed to have diabetes mellitus and dislipidemia.

After repatriation to Philippines in 2012, he reported to 88 Aces office to get unpaid wages and to be referred to company physician but the same refused to shoulder his medical expenses on the reason that his repatriation was due to the completion of his contract.

In 2013, he consulted another doctor who confirmed that his illness was diabetes mellitus. In 2015, he consulted the Municipal Health Officer of the Municipality of San Jose who declared him to be physically unfit to continue work due to his hyperglycemia. Consequently, he demanded from 88 Aces the payment of his disability benefits, but to no avail.

In 2015, the Labor Arbiter ruled in Apolinario’s favor prompting 88 Aces to elevate the case before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). The NLRC ruled otherwise, holding that the findings of Zonio’s physicians cannot be given weight since their medical certificates were only issued in 2015 or three years or more from his repatriation. It also held that since Apolinario failed to establish that his illness was work-related and that he requested for a post-employment medical examination, his claim for disability benefits must be denied. On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the NLRC’s decision and dismissed the petition of Zonio, prompting him to elevate the case to the SC.

The SC, finding Zonio’s Petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court meritorious, reversed and set aside the CA’s July 31, 2017 decision and April 26, 2018 resolution.  

(G.R. No. 239052, Zonio, Jr. v 88 Aces Maritime Services, Inc., et al., October 16, 2019)

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