Fraudulent concealment of the stenting procedure during the PEME does not bar the seafarer’s right to disability benefit under the POEA-SEC considering that it does not belong to the phrase “illness or condition” that requires declaration otherwise, it will amount to concealment and fraud.
Hence, the SC held in the December 6, 2017 case, as follows:
Alamario F. Leoncio vs. MST Marine Services (Phils.), Inc.
G.R. No. 230357, December 6, 2017
Private respondent MST Marine Services (Phils.), Inc. (MST Marine) is a domestic manning agency, with private respondent Thome Ship Management Pte. Ltd (Thome) as one of its principals. Starting May 5, 1996 and for a period of more than eighteen (18) years thereafter, MST Marine repeatedly hired Leoncio to work for its principals, including Thome.
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On August 23, 2001, Leoncio disembarked from M/V Golden Stream, owned by one of MST Marine’s principals, and was repatriated to be treated for his Coronary Artery Disease/Hypertensive Cardio-Vascular Disease (CAD/HCVD) by the company-designated physician. For two months, he received sickness allowance and was in the care and management of the company-designated physician. Thereafter, he was declared “fit to work” and redeployed by MST Marine, et al. on board M/V Frontier Express, albeit with a demotion in rank.
After several more deployments from 2005, Leoncio Leoncio was employed by MST Marine, et al. on January 27, 2014 as Chief Cook on board M/V Knossos under a POEA Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC). Prior to his embarkation, he underwent a pre-employment medical examination (PEME) and was declared “fit for sea duty.”
Leoncio eventually boarded the vessel. While performing his duties on board M/V Knossos, Leoncio suddenly felt heavy chest pains, shortness of breath, numbness of the left portion of his face, and hypertensive reaction. The Master of the Vessel allowed him to rest and take medicine when Leoncio reported his condition.
However, Leoncio again experienced the same symptoms. Hence, the Master of the Vessel asked respondent MST Marine to refer Leoncio for a medical check-up. Leoncio was admitted to the Geelong Hospital in Australia where he was diagnosed with “unstable angina” and subsequently, underwent “PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention) to severe distal RCA (Right Coronary Artery).”
In due course, Leoncio was medically repatriated to the Philippines on July 12, 2014. Two days later, he was referred to the company-designated physician for post-employment medical examination and treatment of his coronary artery disease and hypertensive cardiovascular disease. He was then confined at the St. Luke’s Medical Center for four days under the care of Dr. Elpidio Nolasco. While under treatment, respondent MST Marine inquired from Dr. Nolasco regarding Leoncio’s condition.
In particular, MST Marine asked the doctor to check or confirm whether Leoncio had previously undergone stenting procedures. Dr. Nolasco confirmed that, indeed, Leoncio had previously undergone stenting procedure sometime in 2008 and “there are stents found on the LAD [Left Anterior Descending] ahd LCS [Left Circumflex] arteries in the heart or in the coronary arteribs. ” Based on said formation, MST Marine cut off the medical and sickness allowances provided to Leoncio on the ground of his failure to declare during PEME that he underwent a stenting procedure in 2009 .
Leoncio then promptly consulted Dr. Ramon Reyes. The latter issued a certificate declaring Leoncio unfit for work. Dr. Fernandez, an internal medicine-cardiologist at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, echoed Dr. Reyes’ findings in a medical certification.
On account of the doctors’ findings that the lesions found in 2014 were new and not connected with the previous stents, Leoncio filed a complaint for permanent and total disability benefits against the private MST Marine, et al..
The Labor Arbiter rendered a decision finding for Leoncio.
The Labor Arbiter noted, as Leoncio has insisted, that MST Marine, et al. were already aware of the existence of Leoncio’s coronary artery disease (CAD/HCVD) since 2001 but nonetheless reemployed and redeployed him to work for several more years.
Thus, for the Labor Arbiter, Leoncio’s failure to disclose the stenting procedure in 2009 cannot bar his claim for permanent and total disability benefits. Further, the Labor Arbiter noted that the subject of the stenting procedure in 2009 were the Left Anterior Descending (LAD) and the Left Circumflex ‘(LCX) arteries, which are distinct and different from the cause and subject of his angioplasty, and later repatriation, in 2014-the Right Coronary Artery (RCA).
MST Marine, et al. filed an appeal.
The NLRC granted the appeal.
Relying on the ruling in the case of Status Maritime vs. Spouses Delalamon, the NLRC held that Leoncio’s concealment of the stenting procedure during the PEME is a misrepresentation that bars his right to any disability compensation or illness benefit under the POEA-SEC.
The NLRC paid no heed to Leoncio’s argument that the respondent already knew of his coronary artery disease since 2001 when he was first medically repatriated on account thereof. The NLRC took the opinion that “a previous illness which occurred seven years prior to the 2009 medical procedure should not be used as proof of Leoncio’s illness.
The NLRC denied Leoncio’s motion for reconsideration. Therefrom, respondent went on a Certiorari to the CA.
The CA ruled against Leoncio’s entitlement to the benefits he claimed, and accordingly the NLRC.
Adopting the NLRC’s recitation of facts and likewise citing Status Maritime vs. Spouses Delalamon, the legal conclusions reached by the NLRC were likewise adhered to by the CA in holding that Leoncio’s concealment of the stenting procedure during the PEME bars his right to disability benefit under the POEA-SEC.
With his motion for reconsideration having been denied by the CA in its equally challenged Resolution, Leoncio files the Petition with the SC.
Whether or not a medical procedure that is not declared in the PEME falls within the phrase “illness or condition” that requires declaration otherwise, it will amount to concealment and fraud
Whether or not the knowledge of the employer of the illness in the previous contract is obliterated upon expiration and execution of another
Whether or not Coronary Artery Disease/Hypertensive Cardio-Vascular Disease (CAD/HCVD) is work-related and compensable
The SC granted the petition.
The SC held that the resolution of this case pivots on the construction of the phrase “illness or condition” in Section 20 (E) of the 2010 PO EA-SEC, which states that a seafarer who knowingly conceals a pre-existing illness or condition in the Medical Examination (PEME) shall be liable for misrepresentation and shall be disqualified from any compensation and benefits.
For Leoncio, the phrase refers to his “coronary artery disease.” Thus, given his medical repatriation on account thereof in 2001, for which he was compensated and even demoted by MST Marine, he cannot be considered to have concealed the same during his PEME in 2014.
MST Marine, et al., on the other hand, maintain that the phrase includes and requires the disclosure of the stenting procedure on his LAD and LCX arteries undergone by Leoncio in 2009. Thus, for MST Marine, et al., Leoncio’s failure to reveal the same is a fraudulent misrepresentation that bars his entitlement to any compensation or benefit under the POEA-SEC and/ or their CBA.
The rule is that where the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no room for interpretation; there is only room for application. Only when the law is ambiguous or of doubtful meaning may the court interpret or construe its true intent.
Even then, Article 4 of the Labor Code is explicit that “all doubts in the implementation and interpretation of the provisions of the Labor Code, including its implementing rules and regulations, shall be resolved in favor of labor.” This liberal interpretation of labor laws and rules have been applied to employment contracts by Article 1702 of the New Civil Code which mandates that ”all labor contracts” shall likewise be construed in favor of the laborer.
In this case, nothing can be plainer than the meaning of the word “illness” as referring to a disease or injury afflicting a, person’s body. By the doctrine of noscitor a sociis, “condition” likewise refers to the state of one’s health. Neither of these words refers to a medical procedure undergone by a seafarer in connection with an “illness or condition” already known to the employer as far back as 2001.
The employer cannot validly decry his supposed concealment and fraudulent misrepresentation of Leoncio’s illness on account of the non-disclosure of the stenting procedure. Most importantly, the record is undisputed that Leoncio was first medically repatriated in 2001 due to Hypertension and Angina Pectoris where he was declared “Fit for Sea Duty” after undergoing treatment by the company-designated physician.
Leoncio was initially demoted for one contract after said medical repatriation but reverted to his old position as Chief Cook on subsequent deployments. MST Marine, et al. cannot claim there was misrepresentation by the complainant on account of his medical repatriation in 2001 which contradicts their alleged lack of knowledge of said pre-existing illnesses of the complainant. These circumstances indubitably establish MST Marine, et al.’s awareness M complainant’s impaired medical condition despite being fit to work. Hence, the allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation by MST Marine, et al. were not given credence.
The SC did not apply the ruling in Status Maritime vs. Spouses Delalamon considering that the seafarer in such case was disqualified from receiving benefits for knowingly concealing his diabetes — a pre-existing disease; not a prior procedure or surgery.
The SC did not apply as well the holding in the case of Vetyard Terminals & Shipping Services, Inc. vs. Suarez because the seafarer in said case knowingly misrepresented during his PEME that “he was merely wearing corrective lens” when in fact he had a previous cataract operation that could have caused the he was diagnosed with. Clearly, in Vetyard, the materiality of the active misrepresentation by the seafarer to the disability he complained of, which was not heretofore known to the employer, cannot be more pronounced. This spells the substantial disparity between the case at bar and Vetyard.
The so-called misrepresentation ascribed to Leoncio is more imaginary than real. As it is, the stenting procedure undergone by Leoncio on his LAD and LCX arteries is nothing more than an attempt to discontinue the steady progression of his illness or condition-his CAD/HCVD, which was already known by his employers.
Simply, a stenting procedure is the “placement of a small wire mesh tube called a stent to help prop the artery open and decrease its chance of narrowing again. As it is, the procedure was intended to improve his health condition. Surely, the non-disclosure thereof does not diminish MST Marine’s of the “illness or condition” he had already been diagnosed with since 2001.
Leoncio’s failure to reveal the said procedure does not amount to a concealment of a pre-existing “illness or condition” that can bar his claim for disability benefit and compensation.
That the nature of Leoncio’s employment is contractual is immaterial to the issue in this case. For surely, the knowledge acquired by MST Marine regarding the medical condition of a seafarer is not automatically wiped out and obliterated upon the expiration of a contract and the execution another. Instead, the knowledge and information previously acquired by MST Marine, as agent, is imputed to its principals. The latter cannot, therefore, deny knowledge of Leoncio’s medical condition and so refuse to pay benefits.
Section 32-A of the POEA-SEC lists cardiovascular disease as a compensable work-related condition. Further, in several cases, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, as well as other heart ailments, were held to be compensable.
POEA-SEC provides as a condition for a known CAD to be compensable that there is proof that an acute exacerbation was precipitated by the unusual strain of the seafarer’s work. Having worked as a seafarer for almost two decades and as a Chief Cook, no less, it can be fairly stated that Leoncio was a “walking time bomb ready to explode towards the end of his employment days.
In this instance, on May 25, 2014, Leoncio already felt the onset of an attack, experiencing heavy chest pains, shortness of breath, of the left portion of his face, and hypertensive reaction. He again experienced these in June 2014, and so was forced to disembark for an operation on June 8, 2014.
To be sure, it is more than reasonable to conclude that the risks present in his work environment precipitated the onset of the acute exacerbation of his heart condition. It is likewise a matter of judicial notice that seafarers are exposed to varying temperatures and harsh weather conditions as the ship crossed ocean boundaries.
Worse, they are constantly plagued by homesickness and worry for being physically separated from their families for the entire duration of their contracts. Undoubtedly, this bears a great degree of emotional strain while making an effort to perform their jobs well.