Disability claim is governed by the POEA-SEC and relevant labor laws which are deemed written in the contract of employment where the CBA is found inapplicable.

Accordingly, the disability claim filed 141 days after repatriation is premature. Hence, the SC held in the case as follows:

Torillos vs. Eastgate Maritime Corporation, et al./Eastgate Maritime Corporation, et al. vs. Torillos
G.R. No. 215904/G.R. No. 216165, January 10, 2019


For a period of 15 years, Eastgate Maritime Corporation (Eastgate ), for and on behalf of its foreign principal, F.J. Lines, Inc., Panama, continuously hired Torillos under various contracts. His last contract of employment dated November 3, 2010 on board the vessel MV Corona Lions as Chief Cook was duly approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and was covered by the International Bargaining Forum All Japan Seamen’s Union/Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines-International Mariners Management Association of Japan (IBF JSU/AMOSUP-IMMAJ) Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Torillos underwent the requisite Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) and was found fit for sea duty.

Torillos boarded the vessel. However, sometime in November 2011, while in the performance of his duties, Torillos experienced pain in his right leg radiating to his lower extremities. He reported the matter to the Master of the vessel who, in turn, brought him to a hospital in Reihoku, Japan. There, he was diagnosed to be suffering from urinary stone in his right urinary tract and was prescribed pain reliever drugs. Due to persistent back and leg pains, he was again taken to a hospital in Newcastle, England where the doctor recommended his repatriation for further management and treatment.

Upon arrival in Manila on December 20, 2011, Torillos was referred to the company-designated physicians of NGC Medical Specialist Clinic, Inc., headed by Dr. Nicomedes G. Cruz (Dr. Cruz), for medical evaluation, examination and treatment. The MRI conducted on him revealed that he was suffering from Lumbar Spondylosis; L4-L5 Diffuse Bulge with Resultant Bilateral Neural Foraminal Stenosis; L5-Sl Diffuse Disc Bulge with Radial Tear; and L5-Sl Disc Desiccation. Upon recommendation of an orthopedic specialist, Torillos underwent knee X-ray which showed degenerative changes on his left knee. Thus, Torillos was referred to and evaluated by a rehabilitation specialist. He was advised to undergo physical therapy to address his medical condition.

On April 19, 2012, Dr. Cruz issued a Medical Report finding him to have a grade 8 disability. Torillos continued with his physical therapy as well as occupational therapy with the company-designated physicians. However, despite continued therapy sessions, he filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) against Eastgate for payment of permanent total disability benefits, medical expenses, sickness allowance, damages and attorney’s fees.

On July 9, 2012, Torillos consulted an independent orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Marcelino T. Cadag (Dr. Cadag), who declared him unfit for sea duty with the following diagnosis and findings where he was declared not fit for sea duty or work abroad in any seafaring vessel.

Torillos claimed for permanent total disability benefits in the sum of US$118,800.00 under the CBA since, according to him, his illness was a result of an accident that occurred while he was performing his duties as chief cook. He narrated that sometime in October 2011, he fell down on the floor after losing balance while carrying a sack of rice weighing 25 kilos. This caused his work-related injury that has rendered him incapable of returning to his sea duties, as confirmed and attested by the medical findings of his own physician, Dr. Cadag.

Eastgate, on the other hand, denied Torillos’ entitlement to permanent total disability benefits under the CBA as Torillos’ condition was not a result of an accident to be entitled to the benefits thereunder. Neither is Torillos entitled to the maximum disability benefits under the POEA-SEC since his condition was diagnosed to be pre-existing and degenerative by Dr. Cruz who made an extensive evaluation of his condition. At the most, Torillos is only entitled to the benefits corresponding to Grade 8 disability under the POEA-SEC, as assessed by Dr. Cruz.

LA Ruling:

The Labor Arbiter found Torillos entitled to permanent total disability benefits under the CBA amounting to US$118,800.00.

Eastgate appealed to the NLRC. In its Memorandum of Appeal, Eastgate, among others, emphasized that the case was decided based on facts and evidence pertaining to another case as revealed by the Labor Arbiter’s erroneous citation of the parties’ names in the dispositive portion of the decision.

Subsequently, the Labor Arbiter corrected the disparity by issuing a new Decision dated January 3, 2013, which reflected the correct names of the parties in the decretal portion thereof.

In its Comment, Eastgate moved for the denial of Torillos’ partial appeal, contending that it was filed out of time. It argued that the period for filing the appeal should be reckoned from the date of receipt of the October 29, 2012 Decision and not from the date of receipt of the January 3, 2013 Decision.

NLRC Ruling:

The NLRC dismissed Eastgate’s appeal and found Torillos’ appeal meritorious.

The NLRC agreed with the Labor Arbiter that Torillos indeed suffered an accident, holding that “the suddenness of the injury as well as the nature of his work convinces us that his medical condition was caused by his having slipped and fallen while carrying heavy provisions on board the vessel.”

The NLRC further ruled that while lumbar spondylosis may be degenerative, such illness can be aggravated by the nature of the work of the seafarer, as what happened in the case of Torillos. The NLRC then awarded Torillos’ claim for attorney’s fees, ruling that Eastgate’s refusal to settle the claims for disability compensation prompted Torillos to file a suit and incur expenses to protect his interest. It, thus, awarded Torillos permanent and total disability benefits in the amount ofUS$1l8,800.00 as stipulated by the parties in the CBA plus attorney’s fees.

Eastgate filed a motion for reconsideration. This motion was, however, denied by the NLRC. Eastgate filed a Petition for Certiorari with Urgent Application for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction to enjoin the enforcement of the NLRC Decision.

CA Ruling:

The CA rendered a Decision affirming, albeit with modification the Decision of the NLRC.

The CA disallowed the award of US$118,800.00 under the CBA and ruled that Torillos failed to prove that his disability was caused by an accident. The CA, nonetheless, held that Torillos can recover the maximum disability benefits under the POEA-SEC, finding that Torillos’ disability was work-related because his job as chief cook has exposed him to heavy manual labor that caused back strain and injury to his lumbar vertebrae.

The CA concluded that Torillos is considered permanently and totally disabled since his disability incapacitated him to perform his customary work as a cook. The CA then affirmed the award of attorney’s fees.

Both parties filed their respective motions for reconsideration. However, they were denied by the CA. Hence, both Torillos and Eastgate filed separate Petitions for Review on Certiorari, which were consolidated by the SC.


Whether or not the seafarer is entitled to disability benefit based on CBA that provides compensability for disability caused by accident although he failed to prove the accident

Whether or not a CBA provision invoked in another Court decision holding that disability, while not caused by an accident, is still compensable can be applied to the case where accident was not proven

Whether or not the filing of the complaint for disability 141 days after repatriation is premature and lacks cause of action

Whether or not attorney’s fees can be awarded where there was no unlauwful withholding of wages

Whether or not an appeal made beyond the reglementary period of the original decision but within the 10-day period of the amendment due to clerical error is filed out of time

SC Ruling:

The SC granted Eastgate’s petition and did not find merit in the petition of Torillo.

The SC ruled that the parties’ CBA is inapplicable holding that here was no evidence to show that Torillos met an accident on board the vessel that caused his injury. There was no accident report or any medical report issued indicating that Torillos figured in an accident while on board. Moreover, the Medical Report issued in England did not mention that his injury was caused by an accident on board but instead noted that the primary cause of the injury was: “Pain occurred at his right leg up to his pelvis during standing for a long period of time.” Hence, Torillos’ claim that he met an accident on board was based on pure allegations.

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It is basic that Torillos must prove his own assertions and his failure to discharge the burden of proving that he was covered by the CBA militates against his entitlement to any of its benefits.

Torillos’ reliance on the Court’s ruling in NFD Int’/ Manning Agents, lnc./Barber Ship Mgmt. Ltd. vs. lllescas is misplaced. In the Illescas case, the Court held that Illescas’ disability, while not caused by an accident, was still compensable under the CBA as the CBA contained a permanent medical unfitness clause which stated that a seafarer who becomes disabled as a result of any injury shall be entitled to compensation.

This is not the case here. As aptly observed by the CA, there was no similar provision in the IBF JSU/AMOSUP-IMMAJ, which is the CBA effective at the time of Torillos’ employment with Eastgate. The grant of disability benefits under the IBF JSU/AMOSUP-IMMAJ CBA is confined only to “xxx accident whilst in the employment of the Company regardless of fault, including accidents occurring while travelling to or from the ship, and whose ability to work as a seafarer is reduced as a result thereof but excluding permanent disability due to willful acts, xx x”.

Torillos failed to prove by substantial evidence that his disability was caused by an accident, hence, there is no basis in awarding him disability benefits under the CBA. Since the CBA is inapplicable, Torillos’ entitlement to disability benefits is therefore governed by the POEA-SEC and relevant labor laws which are deemed written in the contract of employment with Eastgate.

Eastgate anchors its claim against the compensability of the illness of Torillos on the finding of Dr. Cruz in his Medical Report that Torillos’ condition is degenerative and pre-existing. This argument is untenable. Such medical report did not make any categorical declaration and definite conclusion that Torillos’ medical condition is not work-related. Dr. Cruz merely opined that the illness, lumbar spondylosis, is “most likely pre-existing”. Dr. Cruz even gave an interim disability assessment of grade 8. If at all, this interim assessment bolstered the fact that Torillos suffered a work-related illness.

Torillos’ entitlement to disability benefits is governed not by the parties’ CBA but by the POEA-SEC and relevant labor laws.

The company-designated physician must arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or degree of disability within the period of 120 days, which was further extended to 240 days. In Vergara vs. Hammonia Maritime Services, lnc., the Court pronounced that a temporary total disability becomes permanent when so declared by the company-designated physician within the period allowed, or upon expiration of the maximum 240-day medical treatment period in case of absence of a declaration of fitness or permanent disability.

Upon his repatriation on December 19, 2011, Torillos was given medical attention by the company-designated physicians. He was subjected to rigorous medical examinations, was prescribed medications and was put on therapy to address his condition. On April 19, 2012, Dr. Cruz issued a medical opinion stating, among others, that Torillos’ lumbar spondylosis will require further treatment. As such, he gave an interim assessment of Grade 8.

Thereafter, Torillos continuously received medical treatment from the company-designated physicians. However, on May 8, 2012, or 141 days since repatriation, Torillos filed a complaint for total and permanent disability benefits. Evidently, it was premature for him at this time to invoke his claim for total and permanent disability inasmuch as the 240-day period had not yet lapsed. At the time he filed his complaint, he was still under temporary total disability. Instead of continuing his treatment which is still within the 240-day period allowed for the company-designated physician to evaluate his condition, he filed a case for total and permanent disability benefits despite the absence of a definite finding from the company-designated physician.

Torillos was armed only with the interim assessment of the company-designated physician which did not give him the cause of action for his claim. It was only after the filing of such complaint or on July 9, 2012 that he sought the opinion of his own physician, Dr. Cadag. As such, the complaint should have been dismissed for lack of cause of action.

From the foregoing, Torillos had no cause of action for total and permanent disability claim. At most, he is only qualified to claim partial permanent disability benefits equivalent to Grade 8 disability rating under the POEA-SEC, as reflected in Dr. Cruz’ last assessment report.

In labor cases, attorney’s fees are awarded when there is unlawful withholding of wages or benefits due, forcing the employee to litigate. In the present case, there was no unlawful withholding of benefits to speak of. As discussed, Torillos filed a case against Eastgate while he was still undergoing treatment and without yet a final disability assessment from the company-designated physician. His act was premature which stripped him of entitlement to attorney’s fees.

Besides, Torillos was already barred from claiming attorney’s fees for his failure to timely file an appeal from the October 29, 2012 Decision of the Labor Arbiter which did not award attorney’s fees in his favor. In his Memorandum of Partial Appeal, Torillos alleged that he timely filed his appeal within the prescriptive period from his receipt of the January 3, 2013 Decision of the Labor Arbiter. However, the reglementary period should be counted from the receipt of the October 29, 2012 Decision and not from the January 3, 2013 Decision. The January 3, 2013 Decision was only an amendment to the October 29, 2012 Decision to correct a mere clerical error, i.e., to correct the names of the parties in the dispositive portion of the decision, and thus, was not a new judgment. As such, the period for filing the appeal should still be counted from the receipt of the original judgment.

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