Almirante: Seafarer's permanent total disability

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By Dominador Almirante

Labor case Digest

Friday, August 1, 2014


LAST Sept. 21, 2006, respondent Eleno A. Babol was rehired through petitioner Jebsens Maritime, Inc., a manning agent, as reefer fitter for a term of six months. Last Oct. 23, 2006, he boarded MV Glasgow Express, an ocean-going vessel flying the German flag.

Sometime in February 2007, he noticed the swelling of his neck. Last March 8, 2007, he was sent to Health Watch Clinics in Fremantle, West Australia to undergo medical evaluation. With the discovery of a large recurrent left neck mass, a recommendation was issued for his repatriation.

Last March 14, 2007, respondent arrived in the Philippines. He was then placed in the Metropolitan Medical Center for treatment and management under the care of Dr. Robert D. Lim, the company-designated physician.

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Last May 20, 2007, the petitioners requested from the company-designated physicians the determination of whether respondent’s condition could be considered as work-related or not. Responding to the request, Dr. Christopher Co Peña, the company-designated oncologist, made a report addressed to Dr. Robert Lim, stating respondent’s cancer as “likely not work-related.”

Both the labor arbiter (LA) and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) found that respondent is entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The finding was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). Did the CA err?

The Supreme Court (Third Division) ruling: No.

In this case, records reveal that the medical report issued by the company-designated oncologist was bereft of any certification that respondent remained fit to work as a seafarer despite his cancer. This is important since the certification is the document that contains the assessment of his disability which can be questioned in case of disagreement as provided for under Section 20 (B) (3).of the POEA-SEC.

In the absence of any certification, the law presumes that the employee remains in a state of temporary disability. Should no certification be issued within the 240 day maximum period, as in this case, the pertinent disability becomes permanent in nature.

Considering that respondent has suffered for more than the maximum period of 240 days in light of the uncompleted process of evaluation, and the fact that he has never been certified to work again or otherwise, the Court affirms his entitlement to the permanent total disability benefits awarded him by the CA, the NLRC and the LA.

In the same way that the seafarer has the duty to faithfully comply with and observe the terms and conditions of the POEA-SEC, including the provisions governing the procedure for claiming disability benefit, the employer also has the duty to provide proof that the procedures were also complied with, including the issuance of the fit/unfit to work certification. Failure to do so will necessarily cast doubt on the true nature of the seafarer’s condition.

When such doubts exist, the scales of justice must tilt in his favor (Jebsens Maritime, Inc., et. al. vs. Eleno A. Babol, G.R. No. 204076, Dec. 04, 2013).

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 02, 2014.

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