A seafarer’s non-compliance with the mandated procedure under the POEA-SEC and the CBA militates against his claims.

“… the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), through the POEA, has simplified the determination of liability for work-related death, illness or injury in the case of Filipino seamen working on foreign ocean-going vessels. Every seaman and the vessel owner (directly or represented by a local manning agency) are required to execute the POEA Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC) as a condition sine qua non prior to the deployment of the seaman for overseas work. The POEA-SEC is supplemented by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the owner of the vessel and the covered seaman. 

“In this case, the parties entered into a contract of employment in accordance with the POEA-SEC and they agreed to be bound by the CBA. Thus, in resolving petitioner’s claim for disability compensation, the Court will be guided by the procedures laid down in the POEA-SEC and in the CBA. On this point, Section 20(B)(3) of the POEA-SEC provides:

“Upon sign-off from the vessel for medical treatment, the seafarer is entitled to sickness allowance equivalent to his basic wage until he is declared fit to work or the degree of permanent disability has been assessed by the company-designated physician but in no case shall this period exceed one hundred twenty (120) days.

“For this purpose, the seafarer shall submit himself to a postemployment medical examination by a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return except when he is physically incapacitated to so, in which case, a written notice to the agency within the same period is deemed a compliance. Failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the above benefits.

If a doctor appointed by the seafarer disagrees with the assessment, a third doctor may be agreed jointly between the Employer and the seafarer. The third doctor’s decision shall be final and binding on both parties. 

“On the other hand, the CBA between petitioner and the respondents states that:

“20.1.3.2 The degree of disability which the employer, subject to this Agreement, is liable to pay shall be determined by a doctor appointed by the Employer. If a doctor appointed by the seafarer and his Union disagrees with the assessment, a third doctor may be agreed jointly between the Employer and the Seafarer and his Union, and the third doctor’s decision shall be final and binding on both parties. The copy/ies of the medical certificate and other relevant medical reports shall be made available by the Company to the seafarer.”

It has been repeatedly held “that a seafarer’s non-compliance with the mandated procedure under the POEA-SEC and the CBA militates against his claims.”

In the case at bar, “[the employee-seafarer] failed to observe the prescribed procedure of having the conflicting assessments on his disability referred to a third doctor for a binding opinion. Considering that [the employee] failed to observe the procedures laid down in the POEA-SEC and CBA,  the Court is left without a choice but to uphold the certification issued by the respondents’ physicians with respect to his fitness or disability.”

The Employee’s Claim for Benefits was Premature

“… [the employee’s] filing of his claim was premature. The Court has held that a seafarer may have basis to pursue an action for total and permanent disability benefits, if any of the following conditions are present:

“(a) The company-designated physician failed to issue a declaration as to his fitness to engage in sea duty or disability even after the lapse of the 120-day period and there is no indication that further medical treatment would address his temporary total disability, hence, justify an extension of the period to 240 days;

“(b) 240 days had lapsed without any certification issued by the company designated physician;

(c) The company-designated physician declared that he is fit for sea duty within the 120-day or 240-day period, as the case may be, but his physician of choice and the doctor chosen under Section 20-B(3) of the POEA-SEC are of a contrary opinion;

“(d) The company-designated physician acknowledged that he is partially permanently disabled but other doctors who he consulted, on his own and jointly with his employer, believed that his disability is not only permanent but total as well;

“(e) The company-designated physician recognized that he is totally and permanently disabled but there is a dispute on the disability grading;

“(f) The company-designated physician determined that his medical condition is not compensable or work-related under the POEA-SEC but his doctor-of-choice and the third doctor selected under Section 20-B(3) of the POEA-SEC found otherwise and declared him unfit to work;

“(g) The company-designated physician declared him totally and permanently disabled but the employer refuses to pay him the corresponding benefits; and

“(h) The company-designated physician declared him partially and permanently disabled within the 120-day or 240-day period but he remains incapacitated to perform his usual sea duties after the lapse of said periods.

 

“… when [the employee] filed his complaint with the arbitration office on April 5, 2010, he had yet to consult his own physician, Dr. Jacinto. It means that, at that time, he was simply armed with: 1] the medical findings of the company-designated physician that he was fit to work; and 2] his Affidavit Complaint where he made his own conclusion that his right leg was again fractured because of the incident that occurred in the M/V Ibis Arrow…”

The Employee’s Findings Cannot be Accorded More Weight Over Those of the Company-Designated Physician

“Moreover, in Dumadag, the seafarer consulted his own physician on four (4) dates. The [employee] in the case at bench was examined by his own doctor for only one (1) day, that is, on April 13, 2010, almost four (4) months after he was declared fit to work by the company-designated doctors. Even worse, the medical certificate of Dr. Jacinto failed to state the reasons on which he based his conclusion. Thus, the Court finds that the conclusions of Dr. Jacinto cannot prevail over the findings of the respondents’ physicians.”

The Employee is Fit to Work

“Aside from the finding of the company-designated physicians, it is worthy to note that the evidence on record indubitably shows that [the employee] continued to work as a seaman under another employer. As aptly pointed out by the [the employers], [the employee] was able to acquire gainful employment with Imperial and was able to fully serve two (2) separate employment contracts with them. Several medical certifications from his pre-employment examinations were even issued attesting to his overall fitness. Certainly, the Court cannot ignore these facts.”

The Employee is Not Entitled to His Monetary Claims

“In view of the foregoing, [the employee] is not entitled to his monetary claims. It should be remembered that permanent total disability means disablement of an employee to earn wages in the same kind of work, or work of similar nature, that he was trained for or accustomed to perform, or any kind of work which a person of his mentality and attainment could do. In disability compensation, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of one’s earning capacity. As [the employee] was never actually incapacitated, it would be highly unjust if he would be awarded the disability benefits which the law accords only to the deserving and utterly unfair to the respondents if they would be made to pay.”

Citation: G.R. No. 211211, January 14, 2015

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