The seafarer’s non-compliance with the conflict-resolution procedure results in the affirmance of the fit-to-work certification of the company-designated physician.

G.R. No. 204699, 12 November 2014

Complainant Joel P. Hipe filed a Labor Complaint for payment of permanent disability compensation, among others. Previously, complainant “had been continuously hired by petitioner Bahia Shipping Services, Inc. (Bahia) for its foreign principal, Fred Olsen Cruise Line (Olsen), and deployed to the latter’s various vessels under seven (7) consecutive contracts. He was last employed by Bahia as plumber for the vessel M/S Braemar (vessel) under a six-month contract6 commencing on the day of his embarkation on December 6, 2007, with a basic monthly salary of US$708.007 exclusive of overtime and other benefits.”

Even after the lapse of his six months contract on 06 June 2008, “Hipe continued to work aboard the vessel without any new contract. On June 22, 2008, in the course of the performance of his duties as plumber, he sustained a back injury while carrying heavy equipment for use in his plumbing job. He was advised to rest and perform only light jobs, and was given the assurance that he will be repatriated at the next convenient port. After one (1) month, however, he claimed that his condition worsened and, upon his request, he was repatriated to Manila on August 5, 2008.”

Upon his arrival in the Philippines, he was examined by a company-physician who diagnosed him as having “Lumbosacral Strain with right L5 Radiculopathy.” After undergoing therapy, he was declared fit to work and thus a Certificate of Fitness of Work was issued.

Complainant sought for a second opinion from a doctor of the UP-PGH Medical Center who opined that he was not fit to work as seaman-plumber and recommended his disability rating at Grade 5.

HELD: The complaint was dismissed. In claims for disability, “two (2) elements must concur for an injury or illness of a seafarer to be compensable: (a) the injury or illness must be work-related; and (b) that the work-related injury or illness must have existed during the term of the seafarer’s employment contract.”

Here, Hipe was made “to continuously perform work aboard the vessel beyond his six-month contract without the benefit of a formal contract. Considering that any extension of his employment is discretionary on the part of respondents and that the latter offered no explanation why Hipe was not repatriated when his contract expired on June 5, 2008, the CA correctly ruled that he was still under the employ of respondents when he sustained an injury on June 22, 2008. Consequently, the injury suffered by Hipe was a work-related injury and his eventual repatriation on August 5, 2008, for which he was treated/rehabilitated can only be considered as a medical repatriation.”

Notwithstanding, “Hipe was subsequently declared fit to work by the company-designated physician on October 9, 2008, or merely 65 days after his repatriation, thus negating the existence of any permanent disability for which compensability is sought.” This fit-to-work certification stands for two (2) reasons: (1) Hipe’s doctor made his medical opinion which “was not supported by any diagnostic tests and/or procedures as would adequately refute the fit-to-work assessment, but merely relied on a review of Hipe’s medical history and his physical examination”; and (2) “Hipe failed to comply with the procedure laid down under Section 20 (B) (3) of the 2000 POEA-SEC with regard to the joint appointment by the parties of a third doctor whose decision shall be final and binding on them in case the seafarer’s personal doctor disagrees with the company-designated physician’s fit-to-work assessment.”

As provided for in jurisprudence, “the seafarer’s non-compliance with the said conflict-resolution procedure results in the affirmance of the fit-to-work certification of the company-designated physician.”