Medical attention that the company doctors give to seafarer enabled them to acquire a more accurate diagnosis of medical condition and fitness for work resumption compared to chosen physician who was not privy to his case from the beginning and appears to have examined him only once.
Espere vs. NFD International Manning Agents, Inc./
G.R. No. 212098, July 26, 2017
Petitioner Julio C. Espere (Espere) was hired as a Bosun by respondent NFD International Manning Agents, Inc. (NFD) for and in behalf of its foreign principal Target Ship Management Pte Ltd. on board the vessel M V. Kalpana Prem, for a period of nine (9) months.
Learn How to Validly Draft Employment Agreements from a book Human Resource Forms, Notices and Contracts Volume 1
Prior to his employment and embarkation, Espere underwent a Pre-Employment Medical Examination where he was pronounced “Fit For Sea Duty.” Around five (5) months into his deployment, Espere complained that he was feeling dizzy, had body malaise and chills. He was then referred to a clinic in Vancouver, Canada, where the physician who examined him found that he was suffering from “uncontrolled hypertension”, “malaise NYD”, and “psychosomatic illness”. He was also declared unfit for duty and was repatriated back to the Philippines.
Upon his return, Espere was examined at the Marine Medical Services of the Metropolitan Medical Center by the company-designated physicians. In the case report prepared by Dr. Frances Hao-Quan (Dr. Hao-Quan), Asst. Medical Coordinator, which was noted by Dr. Roberto D. Lim (Dr. Lim), Medical Coordinator, of Marine Medical Services. It was stated that Espere was suffering from hypertension. He was given medication for his condition and advised to come back for re-evaluation.
Espere came back as directed. In the follow-up report of Dr. Hao-Quan, which was also noted by Dr. Lim, she noted that Espere is already under the care of a cardiologist. She likewise stated that Espere’s blood pressure is elevated and that the laboratory tests done on the Espere “showed normal fasting blood sugar, creatinine, cholesterol, triglyceride, HDL, LDL, VLDL, SGPT and potassium.” Further, Espere was advised to continue his medication and to come back for his re-evaluation.
In all the follow-up evaluations, Espere was continually diagnosed to be suffering from hypertension and was given the appropriate medications to address his medical condition. Moreover, during the time he was undergoing treatment, Espere received sickness allowance.
The Marine Medical Services of the Metropolitan Medical Center issued a report stating that the cause of Espere’s hypertension was not work-related and that the cause of his hypertension is multifactorial in origin, which includes genetic predisposition, poor lifestyle, high salt intake, smoking, diabetes mellitus, age, and increased sympathetic activity. Moreover, Espere’s hypertension can be triggered by stress and emotional outburst.
In a subsequent report, one of the company doctors stated that Espere’s hypertension “is not a contraindication to resume work as long as patient will be compliant with taking his anti-hypertensive medications and we are able to achieve adequate blood pressure control.”
Not satisfied with the findings of the company-designated physicians, Espere consulted Dr. Manuel C. Jacinto, Jr. (Dr. Jacinto). After examining Espere, Dr. Jacinto issued a Medical Certificate stating that Espere suffered from “uncontrolled essential hypertension.” Dr. Jacinto also concluded that Espere’s illness started from work and his condition did not improve despite treatment. Dr. Jacinto marked Espere’s condition as “work-related/work-aggravated.
Eventually, Espere filed a Complaint against NFD, et al. claiming disability benefits for permanent disability and damages.
The LA rendered a Decision dismissing the complaint.
The LA held that Espere failed to prove by substantial evidence that his hypertension was work-related. The LA also did not give much weight to the findings of Dr. Jacinto because there was no showing that he conducted a thorough medical evaluation of the Espere.
Aggrieved, Espere sought recourse before the NLRC.
The NLRC held that the nature of Espere’s stressful work on board the vessel was a factor in the aggravation of his hypertension.
Also, since 120 days had lapsed without Espere having gone back to his former trade as a seaman, he is entitled to permanent total disability equivalent to Grade 1 rating.
NFD, et al. filed a motion for reconsideration, but it was denied in the NLRC. NFD, et al. then filed a petition for certiorari before the CA assailing the decision and resolution of the NLRC.
During the pendency of the petition before the CA, the LA issued a Writ of Execution. In compliance with the writ, NFD, et al. deposited the judgment award before the NLRC Cashier.
The CA rendered a Decision granting the petition. The CA annulled and set aside the decision of the NLRC and dismissed Espere’s complaint.
The CA held that Espere failed to establish by adequate proof that his hypertension was work-related. It also opined that according to the Standard Employment Contract approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA-SEC), only essential hypertension is listed as an occupational disease and Espere’s hypertension was never classified to be essential.
Unconvinced by the findings of Dr. Jacinto, the CA found the findings of the company physicians more credible, thus, denying Espere’s claim for disability benefits.
Espere filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but it was denied.
Hence, the petition before the SC.
Whether or not the deposit of the amount for purposes of execution pending certiorari constitutes settlement of judgment award rendering moot the petition filed
Whether or not between the two conflicting findings of company-designated physician who examined the patient for five months and private physician of seafarer who examine him only once, the former is controlling.
Whether or not the disputable presumption in favor of illness as work-related requires proof of reasonable connection with the nature of work.
Whether or not PEME is conclusive that the seafarer was free from any ailment prior to his deployment
Whether or not the employee who lost the case is under obligation to return the award.
The SC did not find merit in the petition.
The SC held that the petition for certiorari filed by NFD, et al. with the CA was not rendered moot and academic by the satisfaction of the judgment award in compliance with the writ of execution issued by the LA.
No form of settlement was executed between the parties. NFD, et al.’s payment of the judgment award, without prejudice, required no obligations whatsoever on the part of Espere. The satisfaction of the judgment award may not be considered as an amicable settlement between the parties as it was simply made in strict compliance with or wholly by virtue of satisfying a duly issued writ of execution.
Thus, the SC held that the equitable ruling in Career Philippines Shipmanagement, Inc. v. Madjus, may not be made to apply in the present case, otherwise, it would be unfair to NFD, et al. because it would prevent them from availing of the remedies available to them under the Rules of Court, such as the petition for certiorari they filed with the CA.
Unlike the evaluation made by the company physicians, the SC found no evidence to prove that Dr. Jacinto’s findings were reached based on an extensive or comprehensive examination of Espere. At the time the said Medical Certificate was issued, Espere was under the care of Dr. Jacinto for not more than one week, without any indication as to the number of instances Espere consulted him during that short period of time.
In contrast, the various medical certificates and reports by the company-designated physicians were issued in a span of five (5) months of closely monitoring Espere’s medical condition and progress, and after careful analysis of the results of the diagnostic tests and procedures administered to Espere while in consultation with his cardiologist.
The SC did not find error in the ruling of the CA that the extensive medical attention that the company doctors gave to Espere enabled them to acquire a more accurate diagnosis of Espere’s medical condition and fitness for work resumption compared to Espere’s chosen physician who was not privy to his case from the beginning and appears to have examined him only once.
While the law recognizes that an illness may be disputably presumed to be work-related, the seafarer or the claimant must still show a reasonable connection between the nature of work on board the vessel and the illness contracted or aggravated. The burden is placed upon the claimant to present substantial evidence that his work conditions caused or at least increased the risk of contracting the disease.
In this case, Espere relied on the presumption that his illness is work-related but he was unable to present substantial evidence to show that his work conditions caused or, at the least, increased the risk of contracting his illness. Neither was he able to prove that his illness was pre-existing and that it was aggravated by the nature of his employment. Thus, the LA and the CA, according to the SC, correctly ruled that he is not entitled to any disability compensation.
In view of NFD, et al.’s prior satisfaction of the writ of execution issued by the LA while the case was pending with the CA, coupled with Espere’s admission that he “had already received the full judgment award of this case,” the latter, having been proven not entitled to such an award, should, thus, return the same to NFD, et al.
This is in consonance with Section 18, Rule XI of the 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure, as amended by En Banc Resolution Nos. 11-12, Series of 2012 and 05-14, Series of 2014.