A seafarer was repatriated due to chest pains. He reported to his own physician within two days of his repatriation, but did not report to the company-designated physician within three days, as is required by the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract (POEA SEC). The seafarer alleged that his manning agent had failed to refer him to the company-designated physician.
The Supreme Court refused the seafarer's claim.(1) It held that, under the contract, it was mandatory for him to be examined by a company-designated physician within three days of his repatriation. By failing to comply without justifiable cause, he forfeited his right to claim for compensation and disability benefits under the POEA SEC.
The court explained:
"The foregoing provision [on the three-day mandatory reporting requirement] has been interpreted to mean it is the company-designated physician who is entrusted with the task of assessing the seaman's disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of the latter's employment... this does not mean that the assessment of said physician is final, binding or conclusive on the claimant, the labor tribunal or the courts. Should he be so minded, the seafarer has the prerogative to request a second opinion and to consult a physician of his choice regarding his ailment or injury, in which case, the medical report issued by the latter shall be evaluated by the labor tribunal and the court, based on its inherent merit. For the seaman's claim to prosper, however, it is mandatory that he should be examined by the company-designated physician within three days of his repatriation. Failure to comply with this mandatory reporting requirement without justifiable cause shall result in forfeiture of the right to claim the compensation and disability benefits under the POEA SEC."
Regarding the seafarer's allegation that his manning agent failed to refer him to the company-designated physician, the court ruled that the seafarer had failed to present evidence to justify his inability to submit himself to post-employment medical examination by the company-designated physician. If a written notice is required of a seafarer who is physically incapacitated for purposes of compliance with the aforementioned requirement, the court held, it is difficult to see why more tangible proof should not likewise have been expected of the seafarer in this case who, after his repatriation on July 7 2003, appears to have been well enough to consult his own physicians on July 9 2003.
The court explained that:
"indeed, self-serving and unsubstantiated declarations are insufficient to establish a case before quasi-judicial bodies where the quantum of evidence required to establish a fact is substantial evidence. Often described as more than a mere scintilla, 'substantial evidence' is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other equally reasonable minds might conceivably opine otherwise."
The court concluded:
"We are well aware of the principle that, consistent with the purposes underlying the formulation of the POEA SEC, its provisions must be applied fairly, reasonably and liberally in favour of seafarers, for it is only then that its beneficent provisions can be fully carried into effect. This exhortation cannot, however, be taken to sanction the award of disability benefits and sickness allowance based on flimsy evidence and/or even in the face of an unjustified non-compliance with the mandatory reporting requirement under the POEA SEC. When the language of the contract is explicit and leaves no doubt as to the intention of its drafters, the rule is settled that courts may not read into it any other intention that would contradict its plain import. While we sympathise with [the seafarer's] plight, we are, therefore, constrained to deny his claims for disability benefits and sickness allowance absent proof of compliance with the requirements set forth in Section 20(B)(3) of the POEA SEC."
For further information on this topic please contact Ruben T Del Rosario at Del Rosario & Del Rosario law Offices by telephone (+63 2 810 1791), fax (+63 2 817 1740) or email ([email protected]).
(1) Coastal Safeway Marine Services Inc v Elmer T Esguerra; GR No 18352; Second Division; August 10 2011; Associate Justice Jose Portugal Perez, Ponente.