Regardless of the Cause of Repatriation

Reynaldo entered into a three-month employment contract to work as an oiler with Maritime Management Services (Maritime Management), through its agent, Southeast Asia Shipping Corp. (SEASCORP). Before deployment, he underwent his pre-employment medical examination and was certified to be fit for sea duty. On January 30, 2010, Reynaldo boarded the M/V BP Pioneer.

Reynaldo narrated that on March 29, 2010, he was carrying spare parts needed for his repair of the ship’s generators when the ship swayed due to big waves. This caused him to bend and nearly fall to his knees.

Reynaldo claimed that he soon felt excruciating pain in his scrotal/inguinal area, including pain and numbness in his left leg to his foot. Despite this, he continued to carry the parts and repaired the generator until he was relieved by another oiler. After his duty, Reynaldo went to his cabin and took a pain reliever. He then went to the ship’s clinic to have himself checked by the doctor on board. In the Report of Illness by the ship’s doctor, the latter diagnosed Reynaldo to have epididymorchitis and advised him to rest until further observation since it may just be due to tiredness. The doctor also ruled out hernia and trauma.

On May 19, 2010, Reynaldo visited the ship’s doctor and informed the latter that he still feels pain during prolonged standing or while walking, with numbness of his lower extremity. However, the doctor concluded that this was normal considering his age and just advised to take pain relievers.

Upon the expiration of his contract on May 25, 2010, Reynaldo disembarked the vessel at the port of Takoradi, Ghana and was repatriated back to the Philippines. Believing that the pain in his scrotal/inguinal area was normal and, as the doctor had advised, Reynaldo took a complete rest for about a month.

Eventually, SEASCORP called him for possible deployment. He was sent to Merita Diagnostic Clinic (Merita), the company-accredited clinic, for his pre-employment medical examination.

During his examination, Reynaldo informed the doctor about the injury sustained while on board the M/V BP Pioneer. Thus, the doctor asked him to get an x-ray of his scrotal/inguinal area and lumbar spine.

On July 30, 2010, Reynaldo also underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Lumbo-Sacral Spine. It was found that Reynaldo had spondylolisthesis, among others.

On August 26, 2010, Reynaldo consulted two doctors who advised him to have surgery for his spondylolisthesis. Reynaldo found the procedure costly.

Reynaldo approached SEASCORP to request for financial assistance. However, his request was denied.

Reynaldo thus filed a complaint against his employer before the National Labor Relations Commission and claimed for permanent total disability benefits, moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees.

The Office of the Labor Arbiter found that Reynaldo suffered an injury while performing his duties as an oiler. Being a work-related injury, it held that it must be compensable.

On the other hand, the said Office found that the mandatory three-day reporting requirement for a post-employment examination under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract (POEA SEC) did not apply in the case of Reynaldo because he was repatriated not because of a medical condition but due to the expiration of his contract.

The Office of the Labor Arbiter thus ruled in favor of Reynaldo and required the employer to pay Reynaldo his permanent total disability compensation plus attorney’s fees.

The National Labor Relations Commission reversed and set aside the Decision of the Office of the Labor Arbiter and dismissed Reynaldo’s complaint for lack of merit.

According to the Commission, the injury suffered by Reynaldo that was reflected on record was the discomfort on his scrotal and inguinal area. His assertion that he suffered an injury while on board and felt pain on his left leg to his foot was unsupported by evidence.

The Commission added that a seafarer who claims to be medically infirm must be examined by the company-designated physician within three days from repatriation. The failure of Reynaldo to report within the mandatory period without justifiable cause resulted in the forfeiture of his right to claim compensation and disability benefits under the POEA-SEC.

The Court of Appeals denied Reynaldo’s petition in view of his failure to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement under the POEA-SEC. Such failure resulted in the forfeiture of his right to claim compensation and benefits.

Reynaldo elevated his case to the Supreme Court.

Was Reynaldo entitled to permanent total disability benefits?

The Supreme Court ruled in the negative.

The Court reiterated settled jurisprudence that in order to claim compensability under the POEA-SEC, it is required that the seafarer must have:

  • suffered a work-related illness or injury during the term of his contract; and
  • submitted himself to a mandatory post-employment medical examination within three (3) working days upon his arrival.

The purpose of the three-day mandatory reporting requirement is to enable the company-designated physician to ascertain if the seafarer’s injury or illness is work-related. After that period, there would be difficulty in ascertaining the real cause of the illness. To ignore the rule would set a precedent with negative repercussions because it would open the floodgates to a limitless number of seafarers claiming disability benefits. It would certainly be unfair to the employer who would have difficulty determining the cause of a claimant’s illness considering the passage of time. In such a case, the employers would have no protection against unrelated disability claims.

In the present case, the Court found that Reynaldo was repatriated due to the expiration of his contract. The Court stated that regardless of the cause of his repatriation, he was required to submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by the company-designated physician within three working days upon his return in order to ascertain if he was really suffering from a work-related injury or illness. Reynaldo may only be excused from such requirement if he was physically incapacitated to do so. The Court stressed that this was not Reynaldo’s situation.

The Court equally found that Reynaldo complained of pain in the scrotal/inguinal area while on board which is why the initial diagnosis by the ship doctor was epididymorchitis.

On the other hand, the Court noted that aside from his bare assertion, Reynaldo proffered no evidence establishing that he felt pain or numbness on his lower extremities while on board or that the ship doctor concluded that he contracted spondylolisthesis. According to the Court, it was only in July 2010, or after his repatriation, that the said findings were made by a doctor, which was well-beyond the three-day mandatory reporting period.

The Court stated that while it commiserated with Reynaldo’s plight, non-compliance with the requirements set forth in the POEA-SEC had rendered it difficult to ascertain if his injury or illness was work-related.

The Court accordingly denied Reynaldo’s claim for permanent total disability benefits.

Further reading:

  • Cabatan v. Southeast Asia Shipping Corp., G.R. No. 219495, February 28, 2022.