A seafarer was employed as a messman on different contracts by a company since 1992. His last assignment was from November 1999 to July 2000. The seafarer finished his last contract and took his vacation. On March 2001 he reapplied with the company and was made to undergo a pre-employment medical examination. During the examination he was found to be suffering from varicose veins and was declared unfit for sea duty. Because of this, the seafarer filed a claim for permanent disability benefits.
The labour arbiter dismissed the complaint for lack of merit. On appeal, the National Labour Relations Commission reversed the labour arbiter's decision and ordered the company to pay the seafarer disability compensation amounting to $60,000. The company filed a petition with the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the company, holding that the seafarer was not entitled to disability compensation since he failed to show that his medical condition was work-related.
When the matter reached the Supreme Court, the seafarer's claim was again denied.(1) The court based its decision on three points. Firstly, the seafarer failed to present necessary evidence – even though his illness may be disputably presumed to be work-related:
"At any rate, granting that the provisions of the 2000 POEA-SEC [Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract] apply, the disputable presumption provision in Section 20 (B) does not allow him to just sit down and wait for respondent company to present evidence to overcome the disputable presumption of work-relatedness of the illness. Contrary to his position, he still has to substantiate his claim in order to be entitled to disability compensation. He has to prove that the illness he suffered was work-related and that it must have existed during the term of his employment contract. He cannot simply argue that the burden of proof belongs to respondent company."(2)
Secondly, the fact that the seafarer was continually re-hired did not mean that the illness was acquired during employment:
"Thus, [the] respondent company can argue that petitioner's eight (8) years of service with it did not automatically mean that he acquired his varicose veins by reason of such employment. His sea service was not an unbroken service. The fact that he never applied for a job with any other employer is of no moment. He enjoyed month-long 'sign-off' vacations when his contract expired. It is possible that he acquired his condition during one of his 'sign-off' periods."
Thirdly, the fact that the seafarer had failed the medical examination was not indicative of permanent disability:
"Lastly, there is also no proof that [the] petitioner's varicose veins caused him to suffer total and permanent disability. The Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) he underwent cannot serve as enough basis to justify a finding of a total and permanent disability because of its non-exploratory nature.
Besides, it was not expressly stated in his medical diagnosis that his illness was equivalent to a total and permanent disability. Absent any indication, the Court cannot accommodate him."
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(1) Gilbert Quizora v Denholm Crew Management (Philippines), Inc. GR 185412, Third Division, November 16 2011, Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, Ponente.
(2) A side issue in this case was which POEA contract should be applied – the 1996 contract or the 2000 contract. The Supreme Court held that the 1996 POEA contract would apply. However, even if the disputable presumption clause in the 2000 POEA contract (which is not present in the 1996 POEA contract) had been applied, the seafarer's claim would still have been denied.