Unsigned report, per SC, cannot have any evidentiary value, as it is self-serving and of dubious character. In Asuncion v. National Labor Relations Commission, the SC disregarded unsigned listings and computer printouts presented in evidence by the employer to prove its employee’s absenteeism and tardiness.
Thus, the SC held in the October 2, 2017 case as follows:
Career Philippines Shipmanagement, Inc. vs. Eduardo J. Godinez
G.R. No. 206826/G.R. No. 206828, October 2, 2017
Eduardo J. Godinez (Godinez) was hired by local manning agency Career Philippines Shipmanagement, Inc. (Career), for its foreign principal Columbian Shipmanagement, Ltd. (Columbian). He was assigned as Deck Cadet onboard the vessel “MN Norviken.” His nine-month stint, covered by a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Standard Employment Contract.
Godinez was 20 years old at the time.
Prior to his employment, Godinez underwent a pre-employment medical examination (PEME) consisting of a physical medical examination and psychological evaluation, involving an intelligence and personality test, after which he was declared fit to work. Particularly, Godinez’s Psychological Evaluation revealed “no significant manifestation of personality and mental disturbances noted at the time of evaluation.
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On Godinez boarded “M/V Norviken” and commenced his work. On the evening of December 17, 2003, just before the start of his look-out duty at midnight, Godinez failed to wake up despite attempts by the crew to rouse him from sleep. As a result, his superior, Second Officer Antonio Dayo (Dayo) took his place and acted as look-out, together with the outgoing look-out.
For this, Dayo became strict with Godinez, requiring the latter, as punishment, to clean toilets instead of performing his regular look-out duty; Dayo became rude, always finding fault and humiliating, accusing, shouting, insulting, nagging, and snapping at Godinez, who was also prevented from preparing his food for breakfast and snacks.
On December 24, 2003, a report was prepared and sent by the vessel master via electronic mail to Career, stating complaints that he would not listen, he was not sleeping, walking or jogging without shirt on. The captain further said that everyday he was getting worse, and the captain said that he strongly opposed his presence on board. He wanted him to be dis-embarked immediately on arrival. He was resisting orders, he did not listen to the officers and to his escort. This endangered the safety of all crew on board and the vessel during transit and maneuvering. The captain finally said that his patience was over.
Upon the vessel’s arrival in Egypt, a physician was called on board to assist Godinez, and he was brought to a local medical facility. On January 10, 2004, Godinez was repatriated, and was referred to and confined at Sachly International Health Partners, Inc. (Sachly), the company-designated medical facility, for evaluation and treatment.
The resulting Initial Medical Report on Godinez’ s case, which was unsigned, contains an admission made by the latter that when he was 15 years old, he began to have episodes of insomnia and paranoia, for which he sought psychiatric evaluation and management.
Godinez was once more examined at Sachly, and the January 19, 2004 Medical Progress Report issued by Sachly’s Medical Coordinator Dr. Susannah Ong-Salvador (Salvador) thereafter contained a recommendation that a psychological test be done “to consider bipolar disorder II”, as it was noted that Godinez became “excessively talkative, with flight of ideas, and had erratic sleeping patterns [of only 1-2 hours, hallucinations, and was verbally abusive towards his mother and suffered from uncontrolled sleepiness].” He was admitted at the University of Santo Tomas Hospital.
Salvador issued another report which confirmed that Godinez was suffering from bipolar disorder, which “has a good prognosis with adequate treatment” but “is not an occupational related illness.”
On March 12, 2004, an unsigned Medical Progress Report on the findings of the examination conducted on Godinez on even date was ostensibly issued by Sachly. It contained findings that Godinez was “asymptomatic and doing well with no recurrence of depressive episodes;” that Godinez “verbalized a feeling of wellness;” that his vital signs were stable;” that he was in a “euthymic mood, and is able to sleep and eat well;” and finally, that he was “found to be functionally stable at present.
That very same day, Godinez was made to sign a prepared form/document entitled “Certificate of Fitness for Work” whose particulars were mechanically filled out. Godinez signed this document as the declarant, and, interestingly, Sachly’s Medical Coordinator, Dr. Salvador, signed as witness. The document was likewise notarized.
Godinez sought to be re-hired and re-engaged by Career, but he was denied. He sought to be hired by other manning agents as well, but he was rejected just the same. Godinez consulted an independent specialist who diagnosed him to be suffering from bipolar disorder. Godinez was declared “unfit to work as a seaman,” placed on “maintenance medication,” and advised to undergo “regular counseling and psychotherapy” as he was “prone to relapses due to emotional triggers.
Godinez filed a labor case with a claim for disability benefits, sickness allowance, medical and hospital expenses, moral and exemplary damages, attorney’s fees, and other relief against Career, Columbian, and Verlou Carmelino (Carmelino), Career’s Operations Manager.
Career, Columbian, and Cannelino argued that Godinez should have filed his case before the Voluntary Arbitrator as it involved a dispute regarding a collective bargaining agreement and the interpretation of the POEA-Standard Employment Contract; that his illness is not compensable and work-related, since bipolar disorder is “chiefly rooted in gene defects” and in heredity; therefore, he could not have contracted bipolar disorder during his employment on board Columbian’s vessel, and his work did not expose him to any risk of contracting the illness; that he was nonetheless declared fit to work, and he did not dispute this, as he, in fact, executed a Certificate of Fitness for Work;
Career et al. argued further that Godinez’s failure to declare in his pre-employment medical examination that he previously suffered from insomnia and paranoia amounted to fraudulent concealment under Section 20(E) of the POEA contract which states that “a seafarer who knowingly conceals and does not disclose past medical condition, disability and history in the pre-employment medical examination constitutes fraudulent misrepresentation and shall disqualify him from any compensation and benefits. This may also be a valid ground for termination of employment and imposition of the appropriate administrative and legal sanctions;” that Godinez has been paid his illness allowance; and that for lack of merit, Godinez is not entitled to his claim of damages and attorney’s fees. Thus, they prayed for dismissal of the case.
The LA issued her Decision declaring that her office had jurisdiction over the case; that Godinez’s bipolar disorder was work-connected and thus compensable, pursuant to Section 20(B)(4) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract; and that based on substantial evidence, the nature of Godinez’s work and/or his working conditions on board “M/V Norviken,” as well as Dayo’s harsh treatment, which caused trauma and anxiety, increased the risk of contracting his illness.
The Labor Arbiter stated further that the defense that Dayo could not have maltreated Godinez in December, 2003, since he was already medically repatriated as early as November 29, 2003, could not hold.
The Labor Arbiter held further that the “psychological trauma and anxiety attacks as a result of the maltreatment which complainant suffered under 2nd Officer Dayo has already rendered Godinez permanently and totally disabled;” that the “result of the trauma and anxiety attacks caused by 2nd Officer Dayo’s harassment and maltreatment of Godinez caused his permanent and total disability considering that the result of the first episode has left Godinez a high risk to subsequent episodes of a mood disorder;”
The LA held further that Godinez’s status and his genetic history were not factors to be considered as he was still single and there was no history of bipolar disorder in his family; that the claim that Godinez was already fit for work, as opined by Sachly’s doctors and certified in the March 12, 2004 Medical Progress Report could not be considered as there was nothing in said report to suggest that Godinez was fit for work; that the Certificate of Fitness for Work executed by Godinez was an improper waiver, “irregular scandalous” especially when it was witnessed by Salvador, and did not deserve evidentiary weight since there was nothing in the POEA contract authorizing or requiring a seafarer to certify his own state of health.
Career, Columbian, and Carmelino appealed before the National Labor Relations Commission.
The NLRC issued a Decision affirming with modification the Decision of the LA.
The NLRC held that the LA had jurisdiction over the case as it has the original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide within ninety (90) calendar days after filing of the complaint, the claims arising out of an employer-employee relationship involving Filipino workers for overseas deployment.
Furthermore, the NLRC found irregular and scandalous the execution by Godinez of the ‘Certificate of Fitness For Work’, specially so, when witnessed by the company-designated physician.
This certification according to it did not deserve evidentiary value, as there is nothing in the POEA Standard Employment Contract requiring the seafarer to certify as to his own health status. Neither can the said certificate bar complainant to his claim for disability compensation. Jurisprudence is replete that waiver and release cannot bar complainant from claiming what he is legally entitled to.
Career and Columbian moved to reconsider, but in a July 31, 2008 Resolution, the NLRC held its ground.
Career and Columbian went up to the CA on certiorari. On May 22, 2012, the CA issued the assailed Decision.
The CA affirmed with modifications the Decision of the NLRC.
The CA held that Section 29 of the POEA Standard Contract is explicit that the voluntary arbitrator or panel of arbitrators have jurisdiction only when the claim or dispute arises from employment. In the instant case, the Labor Arbiter was correct that there was no longer an employer-employee relationship existing between the parties when private respondent filed the Complaint.
The CA held further that convinced that Godinez was able to prove by substantial evidence that his risk of contracting such illness was aggravated by his working conditions on board MV Norviken, specially taking into consideration the inhumane treatment he suffered from Second Officer Dayo which ultimately led private respondent to snap.
Godinez filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration, questioning the reduction in the award of medical expenses and moral and exemplary damages. In essence, he sought reinstatement of the monetary awards contained in the NLRC Decision.
On the other hand, Career and Columbian filed a joint Motion for Reconsideration questioning the entire decision and award, and reiterating all their arguments before the Labor Arbiter, NLRC, and in their Petition for Certiorari. Both were denied.
Thus, the petitions filed before the SC.
Whether or not failure to declare in the PEME that the seafarer had insomnia and paranoia amounted to intentional and fraudulent omission
Whether or not such non-disclosure being contained in an unsigned report holds probative weight
Whether or not work-connected mental illness is compensable
Whether or not the Certificate of Fitness to Work executed by the seafarer can serve as proof of state of health
The SC ruled in favor of Godinez.
The SC held that workers are not robots built simply for labor; nor are they machines that may be turned on or off at will; not objects that are conveniently discarded when every ounce of efficiency and utility has been squeezed out of them; not appliances that may be thrown away when they conk out. They are thinking and feeling beings possessed of humanity and dignity, worthy of compassion, understanding, and respect.
The SC reiterated the claim that Godinez concealed his past medical history when he failed to disclose during the PEME that when he was 15, he suffered from insomnia and paranoia for which he sought psychiatric evaluation and management. This is based on an unsigned an Initial Medical Report, containing a supposed admission by Godinez that he was treated in the past for insomnia and paranoia.
However, this unsigned report, per SC, cannot have any evidentiary value, as it is self-serving and of dubious character. In Asuncion v. National Labor Relations Commission, the SC disregarded unsigned listings and computer printouts presented in evidence by the employer to prove its employee’s absenteeism and tardiness.
Handwritten listing and unsigned computer print-outs were unauthenticated and, hence, unreliable. Mere self-serving evidence of which the listing and print-outs are of that nature should be rejected as evidence without any rational probative value even in administrative proceedings. Thus, the SC concluded that there could be no fraudulent concealment on Godinez’s part.
Even if it is true that Godinez suffered from insomnia and paranoia and he failed to disclose this fact, we do not believe that the omission was intentional and fraudulent. As the labor tribunals and the CA correctly opined, the fact may have simply “slipped his mind considering the passage of time” since his bout with insomnia and paranoia occurred when he was only 15 years old.
Given his age, innocence, and lack of experience at the time he was applying for work with Career, one is not quick to assume that Godinez was capable of deception or prevarication; as a young boy breaking into the world and facing the prospect of serious honest work for the first time in his life, it can be said that he innocently believed this fact to be unimportant and irrelevant.
On the other hand, the SC believes that Godinez was unjustifiably maltreated by his superior, 2nd Officer Dayo.
The SC held that when Godinez applied for work with Career, he was an innocent boy of 20. His stint with Career would be his very first employment as a seafarer onboard an ocean-going vessel. He was lacking in experience and knowledge, yet full of innocence, dreams, idealism, positive expectations, enthusiasm, and optimism.
All these were shattered by his horrible experience onboard the “M/V Norviken,” under the hands of Dayo, who unnecessarily exposed the young, inexperienced, and innocent boy to a different reality, a cruel one, and robbed him of the positive expectations and dreams he had coming to his very first job as a seafarer. His uncalled for cruelty broke the heart and spirit of this fledgling until he could no longer take it. The conditions of work, the elements, the environment, the fear and loneliness, the strange surroundings, and the unnecessary cruelty and lack of understanding and compassion of his immediate superior, the weight of all these was too much for the young man to handle. Like a tender twig in a vicious storm, he snapped.
Godinez was never given medical care onboard as soon as he became ill. The reports of the vessel master, Capt. Vicente A. Capero, sent to Career prove that even as Godinez was already exhibiting the symptoms of a nervous breakdown, his superiors and the crew provided no medical intervention or support.
Instead, they ignored him as he wandered aimlessly half-naked around the ship; simply watched him make a fool of himself in front of his peers; and allowed him to precariously roam the ship even as it became evident that he was becoming a danger to himself, the crew, he ship. In short, he was treated like a stray dog, whose presence is merely condoned.
The vessel master’s reaction was not reassuring either: instead of exhibiting compassion and providing needed care, he could not wait to expel Godinez from the ship, because the poor boy’s strange behavior was starting to get on his nerves.
The Court concludes that Godinez’s grave illness was directly caused by the unprofessional and inhumane treatment, as well as the physical, psychological, and mental abuse inflicted upon him by his superiors, aggravated by the latter’s failure and refusal to provide timely medical and/or professional intervention, and their neglect and indifference to his condition even as it was deteriorating before their very eyes.
In Cabuyoc v. Inter-Orient Navigation Shipmanagement, Inc., the Court declared that work-connected mental illnesses or disorders are compensable. The SC found as well that suffered permanent total disability, as there has been no definite medical assessment by the company-designated physician regarding his condition.
“The company-designated doctor is expected to arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or to determine the degree of his disability within a period of 120 or 240 days from repatriation, as the case may be. If after the lapse of the 120/240-day period the seafarer remains incapacitated and the company-designated physician has not yet declared him fit to work or determined his degree of disability, the seafarer is deemed totally and permanently disabled.”
The SC held that the unsigned Progress Report on Godinez has no evidentiary value as well, just like the Initial Medical Report containing Godinez’s supposed admission to a past history of mental illness.
The SC ruled that neither can the Certificate of Fitness for Work executed by Godinez serve as proof of his state of health. He is not a trained physician; his declaration is not competent and cannot take the place of the company-designated physician’s assessment required by law and the POEA contract. Nor can Salvador’s signature as witness on the certificate validate the document or be considered as substitute for the legally required medical assessment; quite the contrary, it proves her unethical and unprofessional conduct.