Alfredo Mallari Magat vs. Interorient Maritime Enterprises, Inc., et al.
G.R. No. 232892, April 4, 2018
Post-employment medical examination, which must be conducted within three (3) working days upon the seafarer’s return poses upon the employer the implied obligation to conduct a meaningful and timely examination of the seafarer.
Petitioner Alfredo Magat (Magat) has started work with respondent Interorient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. (Interorient) as an Able Seaman on board different vessels. Interorient once again employed the services of Magat on board the vessel MT North Star for a period of nine (9) months. Magat underwent a Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) as a requisite for his latest employment and was certified “fit to work,” thus, he was accordingly deployed.
Part of Magat’s job assignment was to paint the ship’s pump room and due to the poor ventilation in the said room, Magat claimed that he was able to inhale residues and vapors coming from the paint and thinner that he used. As such, Magat suffered shortness of breath and chest pains which he claimed to have reported to the Chief Mate but was told by the latter to just rest. When his condition improved, Magat continued to perform his duties until he was able to complete his contract.
Upon his repatriation, Magat reported immediately to Interorient and asked for a referral to the company physician for a medical examination of his heart condition but the latter ignored Magat’s request. Magat was then asked to execute an Offsigner’s Data Slip indicating therein that he did not experience any illness or injury during his employment on board the vessel, and manifested his willingness to join the vessel again after three (3) months.
However, due to episodes of chest pains, Magat went to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on the same date for consultation and was attended to by Dr. Liberato Casison, a specialist in Internal Medicine, advising him to rest and prescribing certain medications.
After resting and taking the prescribed medication, Magat re-applied with Interorient and was recommended for PEME. The result of Magat’s tests revealed that he had the “Hypertension controlled with ·maintenance medication; Dilated Cardiomyopathy; R/out ischemic etiology; Renal parenchymal calcification bilateral; Suggest coronaryangiogram.” Magat was not deployed due to the said findings.
Thereafter, Magat again consulted Dr. Casison in order to find out the real status of his medical condition. After being examined, Dr. Casison issued his Medical Evaluation, which found him to have a disabling coronary artery disease. The report said that he was a potential candidate for myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, & arrhythmia (ventricular and atrial), which may prove fatal with the above condition. Subject is considered disabled for work.
Thus, Magat filed a complaint for payment of permanent disability benefits and other money claims against Interorient.
The Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered a Decision in favor of Magat awarding disability benefits of $60,000.00 among others.
According to the Labor Arbiter, Magat’s job as able-bodied seaman had contributed even in a small degree to the development of his cardiovascular disease. It was also ruled that the fact that Magat signed-off from MT North Star due to “completion of contract” does not bar recovery of his disability claims considering that he aptly established reasonable causation of his cardiovascular disease and his work as able bodied seaman. Interorient, therefore, elevated the case to the NLRC.
The NLRC affirmed the Decision of the Labor Arbiter.
The Commission held that there is substantial basis to conclude that Magat’s heart disease is work-related. It also ruled that Magat’s heart disease could not have developed during that short period between his repatriation and medical examination, hence, Magat acquired or developed his illness during the term of his contract.
Interorient’s motion for reconsideration having been denied, they filed a petition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with the CA.
The CA reversed and set aside the Decision of the NLRC.
The CA ruled that Magat’s bare allegations do not suffice to discharge the required quantum of proof of compensability. It added that nowhere in the records can it find any documentation or medical report that Magat contracted such heart illness aboard MIT North Star.
Magat filed a motion for reconsideration, but it was denied.
Whether or not a seafarer who did not undergo the mandatory post employment medical examination despite having reported for examination but the company did not refer him is deemed to have failed to comply with such requirement.
Whether or not an employee who turned out in a PEME to be suffering from illness but such illness did not manifest in the PEME prior to his last deployment is deemed to have developed the illness at work
Whether or not as between the positive assertion of seafarer that he was able to comply with the 3-day obligation to report but it was the company who failed to refer him to a company-designated physician and the plain denial of Interorient the seafarer prevails
The SC granted the petition.
The SC held that Magat contracted his illness aboard MIT North Star. However, despite such, the fact that Magat was able to pass his PEME without any finding that he had a pre-existing heart ailment before boarding the vessel and later on finding, after the termination of his contract that he has acquired the said heart ailment, one can conclude that such illness developed while he was on board the same vessel.
The SC determined that the work assigned to Magat (i.e., painting the ship’s pump room), poor diet, advanced age, the stressful nature of his employment, and repeated hiring of his services by Interorient, would all lead to the conclusion that the work of Magat as Able Seaman caused or contributed even to a small degree to the development or aggravation of complainant’s heart disease.
In determining whether a disease is compensable, it is enough that there exists a reasonable work connection. It is sufficient that the hypothesis on which the workmen’s claim is based is probable since probability, not certainty is the touchstone.
While the mandatory reporting requirement obliges the seafarer to be present for the post-employment medical examination, which must be conducted within three (3) working days upon the seafarer’s return, it also poses the employer the implied obligation to conduct a meaningful and timely examination of the seafarer.”
Thus, in view of such reciprocal obligation, between the positive assertion of Magat that he was able to comply with the 3-day obligation to report but it was Interorient who failed to refer him to a company-designated physician and the plain denial of Interorient, evidentiary rules provide that the former is generally entitled to more weight.
The absence of a medical assessment issued by the company physician within three days from the arrival of Magat would result only to the forfeiture of his sickness allowance and nothing more. The law that requires the 3-day mandatory period recognizes the right of a seafarer to seek a second medical opinion and the prerogative to consult a physician of his choice.
The provision should not be construed that it is only the company-designated physician who could assess the condition and declare the disability of seamen. The provision does not serve as a limitation but rather a guarantee of protection to overseas workers.