647 Phil. 675
While it is true that labor contracts are impressed with public interest and the provisions of the POEA Standard Employment Contract must be construed logically and liberally in favor of Filipino seamen in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels, absent substantial evidence from which reasonable basis for the grant of benefits prayed for can be drawn, We are left with no choice but to deny the claims of the employee, lest We cause injustice to the employer. We must always remember that justice is in every case for the deserving, to be dispensed with in the light of established facts, the applicable law, and existing jurisprudence.
The claim for total and permanent disability benefits is resolved in favor of complainant. Respondents have stated that the cause of complainant's illness, brief psychotic disorder, is largely unknown. This being the case, it is not therefore right to bluntly claim that the same is not work-related because it is also possible that the illness may be caused by or aggravated by his employment. As alleged by respondents, there are certain factors which may bring about brief psychotic disorder such as "biological or psychological vulnerability toward the development of psychotic symptoms." Complainant, and all seamen for that matter, are subjected to stress because of the rigorous and strenuous demands of being at sea for prolonged periods of time, causing sensory deprivation and continuous isolation, to borrow the words of complainant's attending psychiatrist. As correctly argued by complainant, while all seamen may be subjected to the same or greater degree of stress, their respective abilities to cope with these factors are different. There is therefore the risk that seamen, not only complainant, are prone to contract brief psychotic disorder since they are most of the time at sea and away from their loved ones.
As early as 27 June 2006, respondents' designated physicians have declared that complainant's condition does not appear to be work-related. With this declaration, respondents are bound to deny complainant's claim for disability benefits. He cannot therefore be faulted for filing the instant case in October 2006 without waiting for the evaluation of his disability impediment by the company designated doctors. Moreover, the 120 days period lapsed without the latter having declared the degree of complainant's disability, if any.
Complainant is thus considered to be totally and permanently disabled as he is no longer capable of earning wages in the same kind of work, or work of similar nature that he was trained for or accustomed to perform. He is now incapacitated to work, hence, his earning capacity is impaired. Jurisprudence has declared that disability should not be understood more on its medical significance but on loss of earning capacity.
With the foregoing, complainant is awarded total and permanent disability benefits in the amount of US$ 60,000.00 or its equivalent in Philippine Currency at the time of payment.
Complainant cannot however be awarded his claim for medical and hospitalization expenses. He did not anymore pursue this charge in his pleadings, hence, the same remained unsubstantiated. The same holds true with his claim for moral and exemplary damages. Complainant failed to prove bad faith or malice on respondents' part in denying his claims.
Complainant is entitled to attorney's fees as he sought the assistance of his counsel in pursuing his claims against respondents for his total and permanent disability benefits. He is thus awarded an equivalent of ten percent (10%) of his total claims as and by way of attorney's fees.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, respondents Tara Trading Shipmanagement, Inc. and/or Shinline SDN. BHD, are hereby ordered to pay complainant Edgardo M. Panganiban his total and permanent disability benefit in the amount of US$60,000.00 plus US$6,000.00 attorney's fees, in Philippine Currency, at the prevailing rate of exchange at the time of payment.
All other claims are denied.
A. Public respondent gravely abused its discretion and committed serious error in ruling that the petitioners are liable to private respondent for the payment of disability compensation in the amount of US$ 60,000.00 considering the facts as borne out by the evidence on record and the applicable laws.
- Public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in arriving at the findings of fact which are not substantiated by the evidence on record.
- Public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion when it failed to consider the evidence which proves the illness is not work related, thereby violating petitioners' right to procedural due process.
- Public respondent erred in not finding in favor of the expert opinion of the company-designated doctor on the nature of the illness as against that of complainant's doctor in utter disregard of rules on evidence.
Without concrete proof that his assessment is biased and self-serving, the medical opinion of the company-designate physician should be accorded probative value and not discarded merely on the basis of unfounded allegation.
- Public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion when it affirmed the award of attorney's fees.
B. Public respondent committed grave abuse of discretion when it affirmed the award of attorney's fees.
We find that the NLRC (Sixth Division) committed grave abuse of discretion in affirming the Decision of Labor Arbiter Cellan which awarded US$60,000.00 total and permanent disability benefits and US$6,000.00 attorney's fees in favor of private respondent, as the findings of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC (Sixth Division) are not anchored on substantial evidence.
It is basic that a contract is the law between the parties. Obligations arising from contracts have the force of law between the contracting parties and should be complied with in good faith. Unless the stipulations in a contract are contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy, the same are binding as between the parties.
A seafarer is a contractual, not a regular employee, and his employment is contractually fixed for a certain period of time. His employment, including claims for death or illness compensations, is governed by the contract he signs every time he is hired, and is not rooted from the provisions of the Labor Code.
The Contract of Employment entered into by petitioners and private respondent, and approved by the POEA on 25 October 2005, provides:"The herein terms and conditions in accordance with Department Order No. 4 and Memorandum Circular No. 09, both Series of 2000, shall be strictly and faithfully observed.
x x x Upon approval, the same shall be deemed an integral part of the: Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers On Board Ocean-Going Vessels."
Section 20-B of the POEA Amended Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers on Board Ocean Going Vessels ("POEA-SEC" for brevity) provides that "COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS FOR INJURY OR ILLNESS. The liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract: x x x"
Under the Definition of Terms found in the Standard Contract, a work related illness is defined as "any sickness resulting to disability or death as a result of an occupational disease listed under Section 32-A of this contract with the conditions set therein satisfied." In the instant case, the illness "brief psychotic disorder" is not listed as an occupational disease.
In the instant case, it is an undisputed fact that private respondent's illness occurred during the term of his contract. The remaining issue to be determined is whether or not private respondent's illness of "brief psychotic disorder" is work-related.
We find that private respondent's brief psychotic disorder was not contracted as a result of or caused by the seafarer's work as an Oiler on board the vessel M.V. Thailine 5.
A review of the evidence shows that the company-designated physician Dr. Mylene Cruz-Balbon ("Dr. Balbon," for brevity) issued a certification dated 26 June 2006 certifying that private respondent has undergone medical evaluation treatment at Robert D. Lim, M.D. Marine Medical Services, Metropolitan Medical Center from 26 May 2006 up to the date of the certification, due to "Brief Psychotic Disorder." x x x.x x x x x x x x x
On the psychological test done on 30 May 2006 on private respondent, Dr. Raymond L. Rosales ("Dr. Rosales," for brevity) Diplomate in Neurology and Psychiatry and Associate Professor of the University of Santo Tomas Hospital, who is the specialist to whom private respondent was referred by the company-designated physician, commented that private respondent suffered from hallucinations, persecutory delusions and paranoia; at present, he does not exhibit these symptoms; no definite mood disturbance; no suicidal intent; fair judgment and insight; the working diagnosis is brief psychotic disorder; at this point, his condition does not appear to be work-related since he claims to have no significant stressor at work and his symptoms were most likely triggered by personal family problems; and he needs to be followed up for atleast 3 months with regular intake of medications.
As to the question of which findings should prevail, that of the company-designated physician or the private respondent's personal physician, Section 20-B of the POEA-SEC provides:`2. x x x x x x
However, if after repatriation, the seafarer still requires medical attention arising from said injury or illness, he shall be so provided at cost to the employer until such time he is declared fit or the degree of his disability has been established by the company-designated physician.
3. 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 post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return except when he is physically incapacitated to do so, in which case, a written notice to the agency within the same period is deemed as 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.' (Emphasis supplied)
In order to claim disability benefits under the Standard Employment Contract, it is the "company-designated" physician who must proclaim that the seaman suffered a permanent disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of the latter's employment. It is a cardinal rule in the interpretation of contracts that if the terms of a contract are clear and leave no doubt upon the intention of the contracting parties, the literal meaning of its stipulation shall control. There is no ambiguity in the wording of the Standard Employment Contract - the only qualification prescribed for the physician entrusted with the task of assessing the seaman's disability is that he be "company-designated."x x x x x x x x x
[E]ven private respondent's co-employee Oiler Henry Santos stated in his letter to the Master of the vessel that private respondent could not eat and sleep because of a family problem. X x x.
x x x x x x x x x
From the foregoing disquisitions, private respondent is neither entitled to a total and permanent disability of US$60,000.00 nor to attorney's fees of US$6,000.00. Petitioners did not act with gross or evident bad faith in denying the claim of private respondent. Thus, We find that the NLRC (Sixth Division) acted with grave abuse of discretion in dismissing petitioner's appeal, affirming the Decision of Labor Arbiter Cellan, and denying petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration.
While it is true that labor contracts are impressed with public interest and the provisions of the POEA Standard Employment Contract must be construed fairly, reasonably and liberally in favor of Filipino seamen in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels, we should always be mindful that justice is in every case for the deserving, to be dispensed with in the light of established facts, the applicable law, and existing jurisprudence. x x x.x x x x x x x x x
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated 25 March 2008 and Resolution dated 30 April 2008 of the National Labor Relations Commission (Sixth Division) in NLRC LAC NO. 11-000311-07; NLRC NCR OFW (M) CASE NO. 06-10-03278-00 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE and private respondent's complaint is hereby DISMISSED.
However, solely for humanitarian considerations, petitioners are hereby ORDERED to grant private respondent the amount of Php50,000.00 by way of financial assistance, and to continue, at their expense, the medical treatment of private respondent until the final evaluation or assessment could be made, with regard to private respondent's medical condition.
THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR OF LAW IN IGNORING THE OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE THAT SUPPORTS PETITIONER'S ENTITLEMENT TO MAXIMUM DISABILITY BENEFITS IN THE AMOUNT OF USD60,000.00
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DENYING THE COMPLAINANT'S DISABILITY BENEFITS SOLELY BECAUSE THE COMPANY-DESIGNATED PHYSICIAN HAS DECLARED PETITIONER'S ILLNESS AS NOT WORK-RELATED
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN NOT CONSIDERING THAT COMPLAINANT COULD NO LONGER RETURN TO ACTIVE SEA DUTIES, A JOB HE WAS TRAINED AND ACCUSTOMED TO PERFORM WITHOUT ENDANGERING HIS HEALTH AND LIFE
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN DISMISSING PETITONER'S SEPARATE CLAIMS FOR DAMAGES AND ATTORNEY'S FEES.
[In] order to claim disability benefits under the Standard Employment Contract, it is the "company-designated" physician who must proclaim that the seaman suffered a permanent disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of the latter's employment. There is no provision requiring accreditation by the POEA of such physician. In fact, aside from their own gratuitous allegations, petitioners are unable to cite a single provision in the said contract in support of their assertions or to offer any credible evidence to substantiate their claim. If accreditation of the company-designated physician was contemplated by the POEA, it would have expressly provided for such a qualification, by specifically using the term "accreditation" in the Standard Employment Contract, to denote its intention. For instance, under the Labor Code, it is expressly provided that physicians and hospitals providing medical care to an injured or sick employee covered by the Social Security System or the Government Service Insurance System must be accredited by the Employees Compensation Commission. It is a cardinal rule in the interpretation of contracts that if the terms of a contract are clear and leave no doubt upon the intention of the contracting parties, the literal meaning of its stipulation shall control. There is no ambiguity in the wording of the Standard Employment Contract - the only qualification prescribed for the physician entrusted with the task of assessing the seaman's disability is that he be `company-designated.' When the language of the contract is explicit, as in the case at bar, leaving no doubt as to the intention of the drafters thereof, the courts may not read into it any other intention that would contradict its plain import. [Emphasis supplied]