Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc. Crown Shipmanagement Inc., and Victorio Q. Esta Vs. Wilfredo T. De Leon
G.R. No. 199977, January 25, 2017
Wilfredo T. de Leon worked for Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc. (Scanmar) as a seafarer aboard the vessels of its principal, Crown Shipmanagement, Inc. He was repatriated on September 13, 2005 after completing his nine-month Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract (POEA Contract).
For 22 years in the service, there was no account of any ailment he had contracted. Prior to his next deployment, De Leon reported to Scanmar’s office on 17 November 2005 for a pre-employment medical examination.
Noticing that de Leon dragged his right leg, the company physician referred him to a neurologist for consultation, management, and clearance. In the meantime, the status of de Leon in his Medical Examination Certificate6 was marked “pending.”
Thereafter, Scanmar no longer heard from De Leon. Two years later, in Dece1T1ber 2007, it received a letter from him asking for disability benefits amounting to USD60,000. It did not reply to the letter, prompting him to file a Complaint with the LA for disability benefits and attorney’s fees.
The LA ruled in favor of De Leon, awarding him USD60,000 disability benefits and attorney’s fees.
The former held that, absent any recorded incident after the disembarkation, the causative circumstances leading to the permanent disability of de Leon must have transpired during the 22 years of the latter’s employment. The LA declared that the three-day post-employment medical examination requirement did not apply, as de Leon had not been medically repatriated.
The LA also awarded attorney’s fees to de Leon. Scanmars appealed to the NLRC.
The NLRC affirmed the ruling of the LA in toto.
Thereafter, Scanmars lodged an original action for certiorari before the CA, claiming that the NLRC had committed grave abuse of discretion by awarding disability benefits to de Leon absent the following: (1) proof that the illness was suffered during the term of his employment; (2) compliance with the three-day post-employment medical examination requirement. Scanmars also questioned the award of attorney’s fees.
The CA dismissed the action for certiorari.
Whether or not the employee is entitled to disability benefits without undergoing post-employment medical examination
To be entitled to disability benefits, this Court refers to the provisions of the POEA Contract, as it sets forth the minimum rights of a seafarer and the concomitant obligations of an employer.
Under Section 20 (B) thereof, these are the requirements for compensability: (1) the seafarer must have submitted to a mandatory post-employment medical examination within three working days upon return; (2) the injury must have existed during the term of the seafarer’s employment contract; and (3) the injury must be work-related.
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The LA, the NLRC, and the CA excused him from complying with this requirement, reasoning that he had not been medically repatriated. This excuse does not hold water. In the past, the Court has consistently held that the three-day rule must be observed by all those claiming disability benefits, including seafarers who disembarked upon the completion of contract.
In lnterOrient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. vs. Creer 111 the seafarer’s repatriation was not due to any medical reasons but because his employment contract had already expired. On that occasion, the Court applied the doctrine in Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. Tanawan which provides that the rationale for the rule [on mandatory post-employment medical examination within three days from repatriation by a company-designated physician] is that reporting the illness or injury within three days from repatriation fairly makes it easier for a physician to determine the cause of the illness or injury. Ascertaining the real cause of the illness or injury beyond the period may prove difficult. To ignore the rule might set a precedent with negative repercussions, like opening to a limitless number of seafarers claiming disability benefits, or causing unfairness to the employer who would have difficulty determining the cause of a claimant’s illness because of the passage of time. The employer would then have no protection against unrelated disability claims.
Claimants for disability benefits must first discharge the burden of proving, with substantial evidence, that their ailment was acquired during the term of their contract. They must show that they experienced health problems while at sea, the circumstances under which they developed the illness, as well as the symptoms associate with it. In this case, de Leon adduced insufficient proof that he experienced his injury or its symptoms during the term of his contract.
The second hurdle for seafarers claiming disability benefits is to prove the positive proposition that there is a reasonable causal connection between their ailment and the work for which they have been contracted.24 Logically, the labor courts must determine their actual work, the nature of their ailment, and other factors that may lead to the conclusion that they contracted a work-related injury.
The records lack the portrayal of how De Leon contracted the injury, its symptoms, and its aggravating factors. The curability of the injury, in order to determine whether it results in a permanent or temporary disability, was not at all discussed in the proceedings below. In effect, De Leon failed to show before the labor tribunals his functions as a seafarer, as well as the nature of his ailment. Absent these premises, none of the courts can rightfully deduce any reasonable causal connection between his ailment and the work for which he was contracted.
The courts a quo merely speculated that because de Leon 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.