Disability characterized as total and permanent does not mean absolute helplessness.

In disability compensation, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of one’s earning capacity.

Thus, the SC held in the following case as follows:

Belchem Philippines Inc. vs. Eduardo A. Zafra, Jr.
G.R. No. 204845, June 15, 2015


Zafra was hired as a “wiper” by Belchem, through its local manning agent UPL, for a period of four (4) months under a duly approved contract of employment.

Records reveal that Zafra boarded MT Chemtrans Havel. While on board, he sustained injuries on his left knee after hitting the floor on his way to the ship’s engine room to check for leaks in the machineries there. After being initially examined in Amsterdam by a doctor who advised him to undergo x-ray examination, he was repatriated on October 22, 2009 for further medical treatment in the Philippines.

Learn How to Design and Formulate Legally Defensible Company Code of Discipline

On October 22, 2009, upon his arrival in the Philippines, he immediately reported to the UPL office and was sent to the Belchem et al.’s designated physician, Dr. Robert D. Lim (Dr. Lim), at the Metropolitan Medical Center, Marine Medical Services. The attending physician found him to have “probable Medial Meniscal Tear, Left knee” and “Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear, Left Knee” which required surgery. He underwent a procedure known as “Arthroscopic ACL Reconstruction” costing him more than one (1) week of confinement and subsequent rehabilitation measures for him to walk again.

After noting that Zafra’s condition improved, Dr. Lim gave an interim assessment of Grade 10 for the injuries he had suffered. Within the 240-day treatment period, the attending doctor, William Chuasuan, Jr. (Dr. Chuasuan, Jr.), wrote a letter to Dr. Lim stating that the suggested disability grading of Zafra’s injuries was 20% of Grade 10, which under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration – Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC), was equivalent to US$3,590.73.

On July 5, 2010, much to Belchem et al.’s surprise, Zafra filed a complaint for payment of permanent total disability benefits, moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees.

LA Ruling:

The LA declared Zafra entitled to disability benefits in the amount of US$3,590.73. The LA reasoned out, among others, that Zafra’s claim for the maximum benefit of US$60,000.00 was unsubstantiated considering that (1) the assessment of the company-designated physician of his injury as Grade 10 should be respected; and     (2) he failed to present the medical findings showing total and permanent disability.

NLRC Ruling:

On appeal, the NLRC reversed and set aside the findings of the LA and awarded US$60,000.00 to Zafra after finding his injury permanent and total.

It explained that, in disability compensation, what was being compensated was not the injury per se but the incapacity to work. Considering that more than 240 days from date of repatriation had lapsed without any declaration of fitness to work from the company-designated physician, the NLRC found him entitled to receive permanent total disability benefit in the amount of US$ 60,000.00.

Aggrieved, Belchem et al. filed a petition for certiorari with the CA, asserting that the NLRC should have considered the final assessment which was made in accordance with the Schedule of Disability Impediment provided for in Section 32 of the POEA-SEC and issued within the 240-day period.

They also challenged the award of attorney’s fees amounting to $6,000.00 on the ground that it could only be given when the circumstances warrant the same. In Zafra’s case, Belchem et al. opined that there was no basis for the said award.

CA Ruling:

The CA affirmed the NLRC decision.

According to the CA, the test of whether or not an employee suffered from permanent total disability was a showing of the capacity of the employee to continue performing his work, notwithstanding the disability incurred.

Thus, if by reason of the injury or sickness sustained, the employee was unable to perform his customary job for more than 120 days and he did not come within the coverage of Rule X of the Amended Rules on Employees Compensability, then the said employee undoubtedly suffered from permanent total disability regardless of whether or not he lost the use of any part of his body.

Even if the 120-day period could be extended to 240 days, the employer must make a declaration within the same period, otherwise, characterizing the injury as permanent and total would become inevitable.

Accordingly, the CA took note of the fact that Zafra had not been able to work for more than 240 days from his repatriation by reason of his injuries without the Belchem et al.s issuing any certificate attesting to his fitness to work or any declaration of permanent disability. It considered the assessment valueless because no declaration of fitness to work or any degree of Zafra’s permanent disability was made.

Belchem et al. moved for reconsideration but it was denied by the CA.


Whether or not for the claim of permanent total disability to prosper there has to be absolute helplessness on the part of the seafarer

Whether or not within the extended 240-day period the employer should categorically declare fitness to work otherwise, it is deemed as permanent disability

SC Ruling:

The SC denied the petition.

The SC held that total permanent disability means the disablement of an employee to earn wages in the same kind of work that he was trained for, or accustomed to perform, or any kind of work which a person of his mentality and attainments could do. It does not mean absolute helplessness.

Get an updated and re-numbered copy of the Labor Code 2017

In disability compensation, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of one’s earning capacity. Permanent partial disability presupposes a seafarer’s fitness to resume sea duties before the end of the 120/240-day medical treatment period despite the injuries sustained. The premise is that such partial injuries did not disable a seafarer to earn wages in the same kind of work or similar nature for which he was trained.

Determining whether a seafarer’s fitness to work despite suffering an alleged partial injury generally requires resort to the assessment and certification issued within the 120/240-day period by the company-designated physician.

Through such certification, a seafarer’s fitness to resume work or the degree of disability can be known, unless challenged by the seafarer through a second opinion secured by virtue of his right under the POEA-SEC. Such certification must be a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or permanent disability.

In Oriental Shipmanagement Co., Inc. vs. Bastol, the company-designated doctor must declare the seaman fit to work or assess the degree of his permanent disability. Without which, the characterization of a seafarer’s condition as permanent and total will ensue because the ability to return to one’s accustomed work before the applicable periods elapse cannot be shown.

The final assessment is devoid of any definitive declaration as to the capacity of Zafra to return to work or at least a categorical and final degree of disability. The SC observed that all the medical certificates found in the record merely recited his medical history and, worse, it made no mention as to whether the seafarer was even capable of resuming work.

The SC found as well that it was merely a suggestion coming from the attending doctor and not from the company-designated physician, as if the letter was written while the process of evaluation was still being completed. According to SC, Section 20 (B)(3) of the POEA-SEC requires the declaration of fit to work or the degree of permanent disability by the company-designated physician and not by anyone else.

Here, it was only Dr. Chuasuan, Jr. who signed the suggested assessment, addressing the letter solely to Dr. Lim, the company-designated physician. Taken in this context, no assessment, definitive in character, from the company-designated physician’s end was issued to reflect whether Zafra was fit or unfit to resume duties within the 120/240 day period, as the case may be. Thus, the SC deemed him unfit to resume work on board a sea vessel.

Evident in the record is the fact that he has remained unemployed as a seafarer for more than 240 days from the time of his repatriation on October 22, 2009. His allegation that he was unable to perform the same physical activities he used to perform prior to his injury has not been contradicted by Belchem et al.’s or by contrary documentary evidence. Even the latest medical report, dated August 20, 2010, shows that as of July 20, 2010 (exceeding 240 days from the date of repatriation), Zafra remained a victim of the same disability

The SC cited the case of Fil-Pride Shipping Company, Inc. vs. Balasta in holding that the “company-designated physician must arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or permanent disability within the period of 120 or 240 days, pursuant to Article 192 (c)(1) of the Labor Code and Rule X, Section 2 of the Amended Rules on Employees Compensation. If he fails to do so and the seafarer’s medical condition remains unresolved, the latter shall be deemed totally and permanently disabled.”

Similarly, in United Philippine Lines vs. Sibig and Magsaysay Maritime Corporation vs. Lobusta, the SC affirmed the award of US$60,000 as permanent and total disability benefits where after the lapse of 240 days there was no declaration of permanent disability issued by the company-designated physician.

Verily, there is no question that Zafra has remained in a state of disability that has become permanent and total considering that no certification, compliant with the POEA-SEC and the Labor Code, was issued within the 120/240-day period. Viewed in this light, the CA did not err in finding the absence of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NLRC and in affirming the award of permanent and total disability benefits to Zafra. It correctly applied the provisions of the POEA-SEC and the Labor Code on permanent disability in accordance with the rulings promulgated by this Court.



error: Content is protected !!