Unfit to Work as a Seaman

Feliciano was hired by a foreign employer, Barker Hill Enterprises (Barker Hill), through its agent, Pacific Ocean Manning, Inc. (Pacific Ocean Manning) to work as a fitter on board the vessel MT Tequila under a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract (POEA Standard Employment Contract) and a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Feliciano boarded the vessel on May 9, 2012.

Feliciano alleged that in July 2012, he figured in an accident when he bumped his right knee on the step of the stairs while on board the ship. On October 25, 2012, Feliciano consulted the on-board doctor due to pain in his right knee. The on-board doctor diagnosed Feliciano with “Damage of the Meniscus of the Right Knee.” He was then referred to a doctor in Poland, who made the same diagnosis. On October 28, 2012 he was medically repatriated to the Philippines.

Upon arrival in Manila, Feliciano reported to Pacific Ocean Manning’s office and was referred to the company-designated physician. On October 30, 2012, Feliciano was diagnosed with chondromalacia patella, right or patellofemoral syndrome. He was prescribed medications and advised to undergo physical rehabilitation. Feliciano had follow-up consultations on December 4, 2012, as well as January 9, February 8, and March 7, 2013.

On March 27, 2013, Feliciano consulted his personal doctor, who issued a medical report which stated that Feliciano was unfit for sea duties as he was suffering from partial permanent disability with a disability rating of Grade 10.

On April 11, 2013, Feliciano had a check-up with the company-designated physician, who issued an interim disability assessment also of Grade 10 and advised Feliciano to continue physiotherapy. Feliciano had another check-up on May 8, 2013, after which, Feliciano’s condition was declared by the company-designated physician to be work-related with a final disability rating of Grade 10. Feliciano had follow-up check-ups on June 10, July 19, and August 2, 2013. During the last consultation on August 2, 2013, the company-designated physician advised that Feliciano’s physiotherapy be stopped and for Feliciano to continue on a home exercise program.

On October 2, 2013, Feliciano consulted a different personally-appointed doctor, who gave a disability rating of Grade 6.

Thereafter, Feliciano filed a complaint before the Office of the Labor Arbiter for total and permanent disability compensation. During the preliminary conference, the parties agreed to refer Feliciano to a third and independent doctor, who diagnosed Feliciano with valgus knee 2º to moderate-severe degenerative osteoarthritis and declared him unfit to work as a seaman, with a disability rating of Grade 7.

Should Feliciano be granted total and permanent disability compensation?

The Supreme Court ruled that Feliciano is only entitled to partial permanent disability compensation of Grade 7.

The Court cited the last paragraph of Section 20 (A) (3) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract providing for the mandatory conflict resolution procedure when the findings of the company-designated physician and the seafarer’s appointed physician are different. The provision states: “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.”

In the present case, the Court found that the company-designated physician and Feliciano’s personal doctor were consistent in their diagnoses that Feliciano was suffering from partial permanent disability and that they differed only as to the disability rating. On the one hand, the company-designated physician issued a disability rating of Grade 10. On the other hand, Feliciano’s personal doctor gave a disability rating of Grade 6. The Court noted that in any event, the parties agreed to refer Feliciano’s condition to a third doctor in compliance with the mandatory conflict resolution procedure under the POEA Standard Employment Contract. Said doctor issued a medical report which rated Feliciano’s disability as Grade 7 which is a partial permanent disability under the POEA Standard Employment Contract.

The Court explained that Section 32 of the POEA Standard Employment Contract provides a schedule of disability from Grade 1 to Grade 14 and only disabilities classified as Grade 1 are considered total and permanent disability. Disabilities with a rating from Grade 2 to Grade 14 are classified as partial permanent disability.

The Court stressed that the third doctor’s medical report must be viewed and upheld in its entirety. Said medical report did not indicate that Feliciano was suffering from total and permanent disability. According to the Court, were it so, the third doctor would have rated Feliciano’s disability as Grade 1. The phrase “unfit to work as a seaman”, said the Court, should be understood in the context of the third doctor having also given a Grade 7 rating. Thus, the rational understanding of this phrase “unfit to work as a seaman” was that it merely indicated that Feliciano was suffering from a disability which rendered him physically incapable for sea duties. The report clearly did not declare that Feliciano was suffering from total and permanent disability but rather, that he was suffering only from Grade 7 partial permanent disability.

Furthermore, the Court considered the company-designated physician’s medical report as a final and conclusive assessment of Feliciano’s condition because although treatment of Feliciano continued after he was found to be suffering from disability, the same did not automatically negate the finality of the third doctor’s diagnosis, since there may be illnesses, injuries, or other health conditions which require regular treatment, follow-up consultations, rehabilitation, and maintenance medication.

Also, the Court stated that the fact that Feliciano had not been redeployed within 240 days from repatriation did not mean that his disability could be deemed total and permanent. This is because Section 20 (A) (6) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract expressly states that the disability shall be based exclusively on the disability ratings under Section 32 and shall not be measured or determined by the number of days a seafarer is under treatment or the number of days in which sickness allowance is paid.

Finally, the Court no longer gave credence to Feliciano’s assertion of entitlement to total and permanent disability by operation of law in view of the claim that he was not furnished with a copy of the company-designated physician’s medical report. According to the Court, such was a novel allegation that was never raised before the labor tribunals. The Court reiterated the principle that points of law, theories, issues, and arguments not previously raised before the lower court or quasi-judicial tribunal cannot be raised for the first time on appeal or review. Parties are not permitted to belatedly raise new issues or arguments which had not been previously determined by the lower courts or tribunals. To allow parties to do so would be offensive to the tenets of fair play and due process.1Pioneer Insurance & Surety Corp. v. Tan, G.R. No. 239989, July 13, 2020.

In sum, the Court upheld the final and binding medical report of the third doctor and affirmed the finding that Feliciano was suffering from a Grade 7 disability or partial permanent disability.

Further reading:

  • Pacific Ocean Manning, Inc. v. Castillo, G.R. No. 230527, June 14, 2021.
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