Joemar Babiera Bacabac vs. NYK-FIL Shipmanagement Inc. and NYK Shipmanagement Pte ltd.

G.R. No. 228550. July 28, 2021

Private doctor; Valid certification of company physician; Final and definitive medical findings; An illness may be not listed as an occupational illness under Section 32-A but is reasonably linked to the work of the seafarer; an illness that is not listed is presumed work-related if it manifested or was discovered during the term of his contract; It becomes incumbent upon the employer to prove otherwise


On November 25, 2011, NYK-FIL Shipmanagement Inc., a  local manning agency acting for and in behalf of its principal NYK Shipmanagement Pte Ltd. (NYK, et al.), hired Joemar Babiera Bacabac (Joemar) as an oiler.

On December 8, 2011, the NYK, et al. deployed Joemar on board the vessel MV IKI for a period of nine months. On March 11, 2012, Joemar felt dizzy and suffered abdominal pain while performing his duties inside the engine room. Joemar reported the matter to the Second Officer and was given medicines, Yet, the symptoms persisted and Joemar lost his appetite. When the vessel arrived at the port in Chile, Joernar vomited blood and was brought to the nearest clinic.

Thereafter, Joemar was transferred to Clinica Sanatoric, Aleman. Thereat, it was found out that Joemar’s kidneys were not functioning well. Thus, Joemar had dialysis thrice to restore his normal kidney function. Joemar also underwent surgery to remove stones in his bile duct. Joemar was confined for more than two months or from March 15, 2012 to May 19, 2012.

On May 21, 2012, Joemar was medically repatriated and was immediately brought to Manila Doctor’s Hospital. The doctors performed duodenostomy, a surgical procedure to make an opening in Joemar’s small intestine, followed by an endoscopy. On May 23, 2012, the company-designated physician diagnosed Joemar with Severe Acute Cholangitis, which is an inflammation in the bile duct and declared his medical condition not work-related. On June 19, 2012, Joemar was discharged from the hospital. The NYK, et al. shouldered all the treatment costs.

On September 24, 2012, Joemar filed against the NYK, et al. a  complaint for total and permanent disability benefits, sickness allowance, reimbursement of medical and hospital expenses, as well as moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees before the labor arbiter. Joemar claimed that his health condition was not restored, and that he was not able to secure a gainful employment after his hospitalization.

On the other hand, the NYK, et al. countered that Joemar’s illness is not compensable as the company physician declared it not work-related

LA Ruling:

The Labor Arbiter (LA) awarded Joemar full disability benefits and sickness allowance because his illness is presumed to be work-related.

Dissatisfied, the NYK, et al. appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

NLRC Ruling:

The NLRC reversed the arbiter’s findings and dismissed Joemar’s complaint for lack of merit.

The NLRC noted that the company physician was categorical that Joemar’s ailment was not related to his employment. Further, Joemar failed to establish the reasonable connection between his illness and nature of work.

Unsuccessful at a  reconsideration, Joemar elevated the case to the Court of Appeals (CA) through a  Petition for Certiorari.

CA Ruling:

The CA affirmed the NLRC’s judgment.

According to the CA, Joemar as the burden to sufficiently show the causal connection between bis illness and the work which be bad been contracted for.

This is so especially because his illness is not one of those occupational illnesses under Section 32-A of the POEA-SEC. According to the CA, he failed to discharge such burden here.

Joemar sought reconsideration but ,was denied. Hence, the petition before the Supreme Court (SC).


Whether or not a company physician’s medical report that fails to explain the cause, gravity, and extent of seafarer’s ailment is final and definitive

Whether or not the seafarer has the duty to secure the opinion of his private doctor in the absence a  valid assessment by a company physician as to his fitness or unfitness to work before the expiration of the 120-day or 240-day periods

Whether or not when an illness that is not listed in the POEA-SEC the seafarer has the burden of labor hr double bundleproving work-relatedness if the company physician’s report states it is not work-related

SC Ruling:

The SC found the petition meritorious.

In resolving claims for disability benefits, it is imperative to integrate the POEA-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC) with every agreement between a  seafarer and his employer. Joemar’s employment contract with the NYK, et al. was executed on November 25, 2011 and is covered by the 2010 Amended Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Overseas En1ployment of Filipino Seafarers On-Board Ocean-Going Ships.

In Ventis Maritime Corporation vs. Salenga, the Court clarified that a  seafarer’s complaints for disability benefits arise from (1) Injury or illness that manifests or is discovered during the term of the seafarer’s contract, which is usually while the seafarer is on board the vessel or (2) illness that manifests or is discovered after the contract, which is usually after the seafarer has disembarked from the vessel.

The disputable presumption of work-relatedness provided in paragraph 4  of Section 20 of POEA-SEC arises only if or when the seafarer suffers from an illness or injury during the term of the contract and the resulting disability is not listed in Section 32 of the POEA-SEC. That paragraph 4  above provides for a  disputable presumption is because the injury or illness is suffered while working at the vessel. Thus, or stated differently, it is only when the illness or injury manifests itself during the voyage and the resulting disability is not listed in Section 32 of the POEA-SEC will the disputable presumption kick in.

This is, a reasonable reading inasmuch as, at the time for the illness or injury manifests itself, the seafarer is in the vessel, that is, under the direct supervision and control of the employer, through the ship captain.

ln instances where the illness manifests itself or is discovered after the term of the seafarer’s contract, the illness may either be (1) an occupational illness listed under Section 32-A of the POEA-SEC, in which case, it is categorized as a work-related illness if it complies with the conditions stated in Section 32-A, or (2) an illness not listed as an occupational illness under Section 32-A but is reasonably linked to the work of the seafarer.

For the first type, the POEA-SEC has clearly defined a  work-related illness as “any sickness as a result of an occupational disease listed under Section 32-A of this Contract with the conditions set therein satisfied.

In this case, Joemar’s employment contract is from December 8, 2011 to September 8, 2012 or for a  period of nine months. On March 11, 2012, Joemar suffered pain and symptoms while he is on board the vessel. On May 21, 2012, Joemar was medically repatriated and was diagnosed with Severe Acute Cholangitis two days after disembarkation.

Clearly, Joemar’s illness manifested or was discovered during the term of his contract. Applying the rules in Ventis case, Joemar’s medical condition is disputably presumed as work-related although not listed as an occupational disease. As such, it becomes incumbent upon the NYK, et al. to prove otherwise. Notably, the NYK, et al. relied on the company physician’s opinion that Joemar’s  illness was not work-related.

Yet, the Court finds that the company doctor’s medical report is inadequate to overcome the presumption. It  bears emphasis that the company physician’s assessment must be complete and definite for the purpose of ascertaining the degree of the seafarer’s disability benefits. The assessment must truly reflect the extent of the sickness or injuries of the seafarer and his or capacity to resume work as such.

Here, the company doctor’s report only indicated the diagnosis for Severe Acute Cholangitis — or the inflammation or swelling of the bile duct. Cholangitis is a type of liver disease. When the bile ducts get inflamed, bile can back up into the liver and this can lead to liver damage. Acute Cholangitis happens suddenly and can be caused by bacterial infection, gallstones, blockages, and tumor. There are also environmental causes like infections, smoking and exposure to chemicals.

Joemar’s Severe Acute Chotangitis suggests that he did not respond well to the initial medical treatment and have organ dysfunction in at least one of the following organs/systems: cardiovascular, nervous system, respiratory system, renal system, and hepatic system.

The Court, however, is  at a loss on the cause, gravity, and extent of Joemar’s ailment. The medical report did not contain any explanation how the company physician arrived at his conclusion that the illness is not work-related. There is no other document submitted to support such finding. Worse, the company doctor made such report only two days after Joemar was medically repatriated. More telling is Joemar’s continued hospital confinement for one whole month after such declaration.

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To reiterate, what the POEA-SEC requires is  for the company physician to justify the assessment using the medical findings he had gathered during his treatment of the seafarer. A bare claim that the illness is not work-related, or that the seafarer is fit for sea duties is insufficient. The Court will not hesitate to strike down an incomplete, and doubtful medical report of the company physician and disregard the improvidently issued assessment.

Considering that the company physician’s medical evaluation of the seafarer fell short of the parameters provided by law and jurisprudence, Joemar is deemed totally and permanently disabled as of the date of the expiration of the 120-day  period counted from his repatriation. There could no longer be any issue on whether his illness is work-related or not. Thus, Joemar properly filed his complaint for payment of permanent and total disability benefits against the NYK, et al. on September 24, 2012 or after the expiration of the 120-day period from his repatriation.

Corollarily, Joemar has no obligation to secure the opinion of his own doctor. A seafarer’s compliance with such procedure presupposes that the company physician came up with a  valid assessment as to his fitness or unfitness to work before the expiration of the 120-day or 240-day periods. Absent a valid certification from the company physician, the seafarer had nothing to contest and the law steps in to conclusively consider his disability as total and permanent.

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