CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0075


“No ship sails without a human crew. Consequently, the crew’s quality of skills and state of health significantly determine the efficiency of the shipping business. Taking responsibility for the health of all human souls on their ships also defines the shipowners’ sense of humanity and justice.


CASE: Oscar M. Paringit vs. Global Gateway Crewing Services, Inc., Mid-South Ship and Crew Management, Inc., and/or Captain Simeon Flores [G.R. No. 217123, February 06, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Mario Victor F. Leonen

SUBJECT:
A.       LABOR LAW:
          a.       Seafarer’s claim for disability benefits; Requisites
          b.       “Work-related illnesses” under the POEA Rules
          c.       Rules and period for reckoning a seafarer’s permanent disability for entitlement to disability benefits

B.       REMEDIAL LAW:
          a.       Rule 45 of the Rules of Court
                   – Legal parameters of judicial review for labor case under Rule 45

FACTS:
In 2010, Paringit entered into a six (6)-month employment contract with Mid-South Ship and Crew Management, Inc. He was employed as Chief Mate of the Panaman vessel Tsavliris Hellas. Prior to his deployment, Paringit underwent a pre­-employment medical examination, where he disclosed that he had high blood pressure. Still, he was declared fit for duty.

A few months later, Paringit began to feel constantly fatigued and stressed. He also noticed blood in his feces.

 Hence, when the vessel docked at the port of Las Palmas, Spain, Paringit was rushed to the intensive care unit of a hospital, where he underwent blood transfusion.

He was transferred to a regular room for further treatment and monitoring and was discharged from the hospital on February 2, 2012. He was soon medically repatriated and arrived in Manila on February 9, 2012.

On February 13, 2012, Paringit was admitted to the YGEIA Medical Center for evaluation and he again underwent blood transfusion.

 On February 20, 2012, Paringit was discharged from the hospital with a working diagnosis of: “Congestive Heart Failure; Hypertensive Cardio Vascular Disease[;] Valvular Heart Disease; Anemia Secondary to Upper GI Bleeding Secondary to Bleeding Peptic Ulcer Disease[.]”

Dr. Maria Lourdes A. Quetulio (Dr. Quetulio), the company-designated physician, prescribed Paringit’s medication and advised him to return to the hospital on February 29, 2012 for his check-up.

On February 29, 2012, after his check-up, Dr. Quetulio advised Paringit to continue his prescribed medication and referred him to a valvular heart specialist for further management. She also advised him to return for his follow-up check-up on March 5, 2012.

 On March 2, 2012, Paringit consulted a valvular heart specialist at the Philippine Heart Center who advised him to have a repeat 2D echocardiogram and coronary angiography.

On March 5, 2012, Dr. Quetulio noted that Paringit was a candidate for open heart surgery. She also advised him to continue his medication while waiting for his employer’s go signal on his recommended procedures.

Paringit underwent repeat 2D echocardiogram, which showed that he had a severe valvular problem. The cardiologist who examined him recommended that he undergo open heart surgery for valve replacement or repair, with possible coronary bypass graft.

On March 22, 2012, Paringit underwent a coronary angiography. While the procedure revealed that he had no blocked coronary vessels, the attending cardiologist opined that he still had to undergo open heart surgery for valve replacement or repair. Dr. Quetulio again advised him to continue his medication while awaiting his employer’s approval of the recommended open-heart surgery.

By April 30, 2012, Paringit was still waiting for his employer’s decision on his open-heart surgery.

On May 18, 2012, Dr. Quetulio noted that Paringit hesitated to undergo the recommended open-heart surgery and wanted to undergo a herbal treatment instead.

On June 4, 2012, Paringit consulted Dr. May S. Donato-Tan (Dr. Donato-Tan), a cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center. After evaluating Paringit and reviewing the results of his laboratory examinations, Dr. Donato­-Tan concluded that with his heart condition, he would need regular medication, further laboratory procedures, and periodic check-ups with a cardiologist to prevent any aggravation of his illness. She declared him to be permanently disabled and unfit for duty as a seaman.

On June 11, 2012, Paringit filed a Complaintfor medical expenses and other money claims before the Labor Arbiter.

On June 18, 2012, Dr. Quetulio informed Global Gateway that Paringit seemed hesitant to undergo the recommended operation and instead opted for herbal treatment. She also stated that Paringit’s heart condition was pre­existing, not work-related.

The Labor Arbiter granted Paringit’s Complaint. She found that his various illnesses were work-related or work-aggravated, brought about by the type of food served and the stressful nature of his job aboard the ship.

Global Gateway and Captain Flores appealed Labor Arbiter Savari’s Decision before the National Labor Relations Commission.

 The National Labor Relations Commission dismissed the Appeal and affirmed Labor Arbiter’s Decision.

Global Gateway and Captain Flores moved for reconsideration, but their Motion was denied.

They then filed a Petition for Certiorari before the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appealsgranted their Petition.

In reversing the labor tribunals’ rulings, the Court of Appeals held that Paringit failed to prove the causal connection between his heart disease and work aboard the vessel as Chief Mate. It noted that Pariquit’s valvular heart disease was mostly a result of poor lifestyle choices and health habits. Hence, it was not indicative of work-relatedness.

The Court of Appeals faulted Paringit for choosing an alternative treatment, then demanding permanent and total disability benefits based on his doctor’s assessment on his unfitness for sea duty, rather than consulting a third physician as required by law.

Further, the Court of Appeals noted that Paringit filed his Complaint 124 days after his medical repatriation, which was still well within the 240-day medical treatment period granted to his employer. Thus, the Complaint was premature since he had no cause of action for his claim of total and permanent disability benefits.

Paringit moved for reconsideration, but the Court of Appeals deniedhis Motion.

Paringit filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari (under Rule 65) before the Supreme Court (this Court) assailing the Court of Appeals’ reversal of the labor tribunals’ uniform factual findings that he was entitled to disability benefits due to his permanent and total disability.

Paringit asserts that his ailment was work-related and aggravated by the nature of his job aboard the vessel.


ISSUES:
A.       What are the parameters of judicial review for labor case under Rule 45?
B.       What are the requisites to grant a seafarer’s claim for disability benefits?
          a.       What are work-related illnesses under the POEA Rules?
          b.       Whether Paringit complied with the requisites.
C.       Is the CA correct in ruling that the illness of Paringit was not work-related?
D.      What are the rules and period for reckoning a seafarer’s permanent disability for entitlement to disability benefits?
E.       Whether the CA is correct in faulting Paringit for filing a Complaint prematurely or before Dr. Quetulio could issue a disability assessment.


RULING:
A.      
In reviewing the Court of Appeals’ decision, this Court determines its legal correctness “from the prism of whether it correctly determined the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion in the [National Labor Relations Commission] decision before it.”

Montoya v. Transmed Manila Corporation[613 Phil. 696 (2009)], laid down the parameters of judicial review for a labor case under Rule 45:

In a Rule 45 review, we consider the correctness of the assailed CA decision, in contrast with the review for jurisdictional error that we undertake under Rule 65. Furthermore, Rule 45 limits us to the review of questions of law raised against the assailed CA decision. In ruling for legal correctness, we have to view the CA decision in the same context that the petition for certiorari it ruled upon was presented to it; we have to examine the CA decision from the prism of whether it correctly determined the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC decision before it, not on the basis of whether the NLRC decision on the merits of the case was correct. In other words, we have to be keenly aware that the CA undertook a Rule 65 review, not a review on appeal, of the NLRC decision challenged before it. This is the approach that should be basic in a Rule 45 review of a CA ruling in a labor case. In question form, the question to ask is: Did the CA correctly determine whether the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in ruling on the case?

A review of the records convinces this Court that the findings of the National Labor Relations Commission were amply supported by substantial evidence.


B.
To grant a seafarer’s claim for disability benefits, the following requisites must be present:

(1) He suffered an illness; (2) he suffered this illness during the term of his employment contract; (3) he complied with the procedures prescribed under Section 20-B; (4) his illness is one of the enumerated occupational disease[s] or that his illness or injury is otherwise work-related; and (5) he complied with the four conditions enumerated under Section 32-A (of POEA Standard Employment Contract) for an occupational disease or a disputably-presumed work-related disease to be compensable [Jebsen Maritime, Inc., et al. v. Ravena, 743 Phil. 371, (2014)].

It is not disputed that Paringit was initially diagnosed with heart disease, anemia, renal dysfunction, and that he fell ill while he was aboard the ship. This resulted in his medical repatriation and arrival in Manila on February 9, 2012.

 Likewise, Paringit submitted himself to a post-employment medical examination conducted by a company-designated physician. On February 14, 2012, Dr. Quetulio, the company-designated physician, directed admitting Paringit to a hospital to undergo blood transfusion and further tests to rule out coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathy.

On March 19, 2012, after Paringit underwent more laboratory tests and consulted with a cardiologist, Dr. Quetulio informed respondent Global Gateway that he had to undergo open-heart surgery. Dr. Quetulio awaited several months for respondent Global Gateway’s permission to push through with Paringit’s needed open-heart surgery.

On June 18, 2012, Dr. Quetulio diagnosed Paringit with “Congestive Heart Failure; Hypertensive Cardiovascular Disease; Valvular Heart Disease; Anemia Secondary to Upper GI Bleeding Secondary to Bleeding Peptic Ulcer Disease.” Her diagnosis was consistent with the findings of Dr. Donato­-Tan, Paringit’s private physician, who confirmed that he had a heart ailment.

 The POEA Standard Employment Contract defines 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.” The conditions under Section 32-A are:

SECTION 32-A. Occupational Diseases. –

For an occupational disease and the resulting disability or death to be compensable, all of the following conditions must be satisfied:

  1. The seafarer’s work must involve the risks described herein;
  2. The disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer’s exposure to the described risks;
  3. The disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it; and
  4. There was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer.

Paringit’s heart ailments are classified under a cardiovascular event, as defined in Section 32-A(11) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract:

Section 32-A. Occupational Diseases. –
….
The following diseases are considered as occupational when contracted under working conditions involving the risks described herein:

Occupational Disease
….
11. Cardio-vascular events – to include heart attack, chest pain (angina), heart failure or sudden death. Any of the following conditions must be met:

a. If the heart disease was known to have been present during employment, there must be proof that an acute exacerbation was clearly precipitated by an unusual strain by reasons of the nature of his work

b. the strain of work that brings about an acute attack must be sufficient severity and must be followed within 24 hours by the clinical signs of a cardiac insult to constitute causal relationship

c. if a person who was apparently asymptomatic before being subjected to strain at work showed signs and symptoms of cardiac injury during the performance of his work and such symptoms and signs persisted, it is reasonable to claim a causal relationship

d. if a person is a known hypertensive or diabetic, he should show compliance with prescribed maintenance medications and doctor­ recommended lifestyle changes. The employer shall provide a workplace conducive for such compliance in accordance with Section 1(A) paragraph 5

e. in a patient not known to have hypertension or diabetes, as indicated on his last PEME


C.      
In reversing the labor tribunals’ rulings, the Court of Appeals held that Paringit’s valvular heart disease was mostly a result of poor lifestyle choices and health habits. Hence, it was not indicative of work-relatedness.

The Court of Appeals is mistaken.

Paringit took medication to normalize his high blood pressure, but the working conditions and mandatory diet aboard the vessel made it difficult and nearly impossible for him to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He stressed that he and the other seafarers were served mostly high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber food aboard the vessel. Furthermore, his work as Chief Mate carried considerable stress and required him to stay up for long stretches of time, up to the early hours of the morning. The Labor Arbiter noted:

This Office takes judicial notice that ocean going vessels are in the high seas for a considerable length of time and that the seafarers on board are not free to choose their diet as they must content with the provisions on board which are usually frozen, preserved, smoked, salted and canned meats and vegetable products as these foods are not easily perishable while fresh fruits and vegetables cannot last long in the high seas. Therefore, with this kind of diet plus the stress of the job on board if only to keep the safety of the vessel, its crew and cargoes have their toll even upon a healthy person. Seafarers have to brave storms, typhoons and high waves during the vessel’s journey plus the sudden change of climate and temperature as the vessel crossed territories. These are the factors sufficient to make a person ill.

The Labor Arbiter also found that Paringit, despite being hypertensive, was declared fit to work in his pre-employment medical examination. Moreover, the poor food choices in his workplace led or contributed to his heart disease:

Complainant was declared fit to work prior to embarkation, hence, there is no other conclusion than that he developed or his illnesses were triggered or aggravated on board and his working conditions precipitated his unknown illnesses.

Hence, Complainant’s diseases which are congestive heart failure, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, valvular heart disease are work-related or aggravated because the fats and chemicals in frozen and preserved meats congested his arteries. His stress caused peptic ulcer to the Complainant. Clearly, Complainant’s illnesses are work-related/aggravated.

Magsaysay Maritime Services, et al. v. Laurel [707 Phil. 210 (2013)], emphasized that in determining the compensability of an illness, it is not necessary that the nature of the employment be the sole reason for the seafarer’s illness. A reasonable connection between the disease and work undertaken already suffices:

Settled is the rule that for illness to be compensable, it is not necessary that the nature of the employment be the sole and only reason for the illness suffered by the seafarer. It is sufficient that there is a reasonable linkage between the disease suffered by the employee and his work to lead a rational mind to conclude that his work may have contributed to the establishment or, at the very least, aggravation of any pre-existing condition he might have had.


D.     
Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc., et al., [588 Phil. 895 (2008)] explained the relevant rules and period for reckoning a seafarer’s permanent disability for entitlement to disability benefits:

As these provisions operate, the seafarer, upon sign-off from his vessel, must report to the company-designated physician within three (3) days from arrival for diagnosis and treatment. For the duration of the treatment but in no case to exceed 120 days, the seaman is on temporary total disability as he is totally unable to work. He receives his basic wage during this period until he is declared fit to work or his temporary disability is acknowledged by the company to be permanent, either partially or totally, as his condition is defined under the POEA Standard Employment Contract and by applicable Philippine laws. If the 120 days initial period is exceeded and no such declaration is made because the seafarer requires further medical attention, then the temporary total disability period may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days, subject to the right of the employer to declare within this period that a permanent partial or total disability already exists. The seaman may of course also be declared fit to work at any time such declaration is justified by his medical condition.
….
As we outlined above, a temporary total disability only becomes permanent when so declared by the company physician within the periods he is allowed to do so, or upon the expiration of the maximum 240-day medical treatment period without a declaration of either fitness to work or the existence of a permanent disability.

Kestrel Shipping Co., Inc., et al. v. Munar [702 Phil. 717 (2013)], then summarized the rules for entitlement to disability benefits discussed in Vergara:

In Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc., this Court read the POEA-SEC in harmony with the Labor Code and the AREC in interpreting in holding that: (a) the 120 days provided under Section 20-B (3) of the POEA-SEC is the period given to the employer to determine fitness to work and when the seafarer is deemed to be in a state of total and temporary disability; (b) the 120 days of total and temporary disability may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days should the seafarer require further medical treatment; and (c) a total and temporary disability becomes permanent when so declared by the company-designated physician within 120 or 240 days, as the case may be, or upon the expiration of the said periods without a declaration of either fitness to work or permanent disability and the seafarer is still unable to resume his regular seafaring duties.


E.      
The records show that Dr. Quetulio recommended Paringit to undergo open-heart surgery, but respondent Global Gateway failed or refused to act on this. Dr. Quetulio first broached the possibility of open-heart surgery on March 5, 2012, about a month after Paringit’s medical repatriation. The succeeding weeks led to her formally advising respondent Global Gateway of Paringit’s need for open-heart surgery, yet the company failed or refused to respond to her request, despite repeated follow-ups.

The Court of Appeals faulted Paringit for filing a Complaint before Dr. Quetulio could issue a disability assessment, and declared that she had 240 days to do so since Paringit needed additional treatment and evaluation. However, with respondent Global Gateway’s deafening silence over the requested operation, stretching beyond the mandated 120 days within which Dr. Quetulio could give her assessment, it cannot be said that she needed additional time to assess Paringit’s condition.

The facts show that Paringit had to undergo an open-heart surgery before Dr. Quetulio could properly assess his condition and issue a disability assessment. Unfortunately, Dr. Quetulio had reached an impasse with her management of Paringit’s case. Respondent Global Gateway’s silence meant that she could neither issue the required disability assessment within the 120-day period nor extend the period to 240 days to further evaluate and treat Paringit.

Dr. Quetulio’s failure to timely issue a disability assessment was due to respondent Global Gateway, not because Paringit impliedly refused treatment due to his supposed inclination toward an alternative treatment, as the Court of Appeals held.

Shipowners who avail of Filipino hands on their decks take on the obligations of their contracts. Their crew members risk their lives and spend inordinate amounts of time attending to their businesses. Here, it would have been a measure of good business practice and a show of justice for respondents to have promptly attended to the people that make their businesses possible.

Related Case Briefs:
a.       Montoya v. Transmed Manila Corporation [613 Phil. 696 (2009)]
b.       Jebsen Maritime, Inc., et al. v. Ravena, [743 Phil. 371, (2014)]
c.       Magsaysay Maritime Services, et al. v. Laurel [707 Phil. 210 (2013)]
d.       Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc., et al., [588 Phil. 895 (2008)]
e.       Kestrel Shipping Co., Inc., et al. v. Munar [702 Phil. 717 (2013)]
————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       In reviewing the Court of Appeals’ decision, this Court determines its legal correctness “from the prism of whether it correctly determined the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion in the [National Labor Relations Commission] decision before it.”


B.       Montoya v. Transmed Manila Corporation[613 Phil. 696 (2009)], laid down the parameters of judicial review for a labor case under Rule 45:
In a Rule 45 review, we consider the correctness of the assailed CA decision, in contrast with the review for jurisdictional error that we undertake under Rule 65. Furthermore, Rule 45 limits us to the review of questions of law raised against the assailed CA decision. In ruling for legal correctness, we have to view the CA decision in the same context that the petition for certiorari it ruled upon was presented to it; we have to examine the CA decision from the prism of whether it correctly determined the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC decision before it, not on the basis of whether the NLRC decision on the merits of the case was correct. In other words, we have to be keenly aware that the CA undertook a Rule 65 review, not a review on appeal, of the NLRC decision challenged before it. This is the approach that should be basic in a Rule 45 review of a CA ruling in a labor case. In question form, the question to ask is: Did the CA correctly determine whether the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in ruling on the case?

C.       To grant a seafarer’s claim for disability benefits, the following requisites must be present:

(1) He suffered an illness; (2) he suffered this illness during the term of his employment contract; (3) he complied with the procedures prescribed under Section 20-B; (4) his illness is one of the enumerated occupational disease[s] or that his illness or injury is otherwise work-related; and (5) he complied with the four conditions enumerated under Section 32-A for an occupational disease or a disputably-presumed work-related disease to be compensable [Jebsen Maritime, Inc., et al. v. Ravena, 743 Phil. 371, (2014)].

D.      Magsaysay Maritime Services, et al. v. Laurel[707 Phil. 210 (2013)], emphasized that in determining the compensability of an illness, it is not necessary that the nature of the employment be the sole reason for the seafarer’s illness. A reasonable connection between the disease and work undertaken already suffices.

E.       Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc., et al., [588 Phil. 895 (2008)] explained the relevant rules and period for reckoning a seafarer’s permanent disability for entitlement to disability benefits:

As these provisions operate, the seafarer, upon sign-off from his vessel, must report to the company-designated physician within three (3) days from arrival for diagnosis and treatment. For the duration of the treatment but in no case to exceed 120 days, the seaman is on temporary total disability as he is totally unable to work. He receives his basic wage during this period until he is declared fit to work or his temporary disability is acknowledged by the company to be permanent, either partially or totally, as his condition is defined under the POEA Standard Employment Contract and by applicable Philippine laws. If the 120 days initial period is exceeded and no such declaration is made because the seafarer requires further medical attention, then the temporary total disability period may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days, subject to the right of the employer to declare within this period that a permanent partial or total disability already exists. The seaman may of course also be declared fit to work at any time such declaration is justified by his medical condition.

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