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G.R. No. 178564, January 15, 2014 : CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION - Brion, J. : INC. SHIPMANAGEMENT, INC., CAPTAIN SIGFREDO E. MONTERROYO AND/OR INTERORIENT NAVIGATION LIMITED, Petitioners, v. ALEXANDER L. MORADAS, Respondent.

G.R. No. 178564, January 15, 2014 : CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION - Brion, J. : INC. SHIPMANAGEMENT, INC., CAPTAIN SIGFREDO E. MONTERROYO AND/OR INTERORIENT NAVIGATION LIMITED, Petitioners, v. ALEXANDER L. MORADAS, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 178564, January 15, 2014

INC. SHIPMANAGEMENT, INC., CAPTAIN SIGFREDO E. MONTERROYO AND/OR INTERORIENT NAVIGATION LIMITED, Petitioners, v. ALEXANDER L. MORADAS, Respondent.

CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION

BRION, J.:

I concur with the Ponencia’s conclusion that Alexander L. Moradas complaint for total and permanent disability benefits must be dismissed and consequently, the Court of Appeals (CA) ruling must be reversed and set aside. However, I strongly disagree with the legal framework of review it adopted in arriving at this conclusion. Due to its adoption of an erroneous framework of review, its basis for reversing the assailed CA ruling is necessarily tainted with serious legal error. In this Opinion, I submit that the proper and legal framework of review of a CA decision in a labor case is that laid down by the Court in Montoya v. Transmed Manila Corporation.1 I also submit that while Moradas is not entitled to total and permanent disability benefits, he is entitled to an income benefit.

I. The proper and legal
framework of review of a Rule
65 CA decision in a labor case
a. The transfer of a labor case from
the quasi-judicial sphere to the
judicial sphere entails a specific
mode of limited review

When a labor case decided by quasi-judicial tribunals -the Labor Arbiter (LA) and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) - finds its way into the judicial sphere, the court must proceed and act on the petition on the basic premise that the assailed ruling is a final and executory ruling. This premise, in turn, is based on two facts: first, labor cases that reach the CA (and eventually the Supreme Court) are already rulings on the merits that finally dispose of the case; and, second, after the labor tribunals have rendered judgment, substantive law no longer provides any remedy of appeal to the losing party.

Notwithstanding the absence of appeal, the aggrieved party is not without any legal remedy. As the legal battle is transferred from the quasi-judicial sphere to the strictly judicial sphere, the aggrieved party must contend with the fact that the new avenue for legal advocacy becomes narrower. The review allowed is limited to jurisdictional grounds under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court (Rule 65).2 As early as 1975, the Court had the occasion to state:

While an appeal does not lie, it is available whenever a jurisdictional issue is raised or one of grave abuse of discretion amounting to a lack of excess thereof. x x x This excerpt, from the opinion of Justice Aquino in San Miguel Corporation v. Secretary of Labor, is in point: "Yanglay raised a jurisdictional question which was not brought up by respondent public officials. He contends that this Court has no jurisdiction to review the decisions of the NLRC and the Secretary of Labor 'under the principle of separation of powers' and that judicial review is not provided for in Presidential Decree No. 21. That contention is a flagrant error. It is generally understood that as to administrative agencies exercising quasi-judicial or legislative power there is an underlying power in the courts to scrutinize the acts of such agencies on questions of law and jurisdiction even though no right of review is given by statute' x x x. Judicial review is proper in case of lack of jurisdiction, grave abuse of discretion, error of law, fraud or collusion."3 (emphases ours, citations omitted)

A certiorari proceeding is limited in scope and narrow in character. The special civil action for certiorari lies only to correct acts rendered without jurisdiction, in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion. Certiorari will issue only to correct errors of jurisdiction and not mere errors of judgment, particularly in the findings or conclusions of the quasi-judicial tribunals or lower courts. For errors of judgment, appeal, if provided for by law, is the proper remedy and not certiorari.4 Accordingly, when a petition for certiorari is filed, the judicial inquiry should be limited to the issue of whether the NLRC acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction.5

The supervisory jurisdiction of a court over the issuance of a writ of certiorari cannot be exercised for the purpose of reviewing the intrinsic correctness of a judgment. Even if the findings of the lower court or tribunal are incorrect, as long as it has jurisdiction over the case, such correction is normally beyond the province of certiorari.6Certiorari jurisdiction is not to be equated with appellate jurisdiction.7 To depart from this well-established scope and breadth of certiorari by reviewing, and worse overturning, the assailed ruling (in the guise of correcting errors of jurisdiction even if they are plainly errors of judgment) plainly amounts to unwarranted judicial legislation, by indirectly creating a non-existing right of appeal.

Nevertheless, while a certiorari proceeding does not strictly include an inquiry as to the correctness of the evaluation of evidence (that was the basis of the labor tribunals in determining their conclusion),8 the incorrectness of its evidentiary evaluation should not result in negating the requirement of substantial evidence.9 Indeed, when there is a showing that the findings or conclusions, drawn from the same pieces of evidence, were arrived at arbitrarily or in disregard of the evidence on record, they may be reviewed by the courts. In particular, the CA can grant the petition for certiorari if it finds that the NLRC, in its assailed decision or resolution, made a factual finding not supported by substantial evidence.10 A decision that is not supported by substantial evidence is definitely a decision tainted with grave abuse of discretion.

b. The court’s limited certiorari
jurisdiction as applied in
jurisprudence

Unfortunately, the clear limits of a certiorari jurisdiction are somewhat a murky area in our jurisprudence. More often than not, the Court actively engages in reviewing the NLRC ruling without fully considering the absence of a statutory right to appeal. In fact, a survey of the Court s rulings will not be beneficial in determining the scope and breadth of the Court s supervisory power under a Rule 65 petition as distinguished from the Court s discretionary review power under a Rule 45 petition in labor cases. In effect, the supposedly final and executory character of the NLRC ruling was, more often than not, sidestepped as a non-essential legal consideration. The result was a deluge of labor cases before the Highest Court.

To put an end to this, the Court, in St. Martin Funeral Homes v. NLRC (St. Martin),11 opted to change the procedure of review of labor cases, taking into account the judicial hierarchy of courts. Thus, the Court decreed that the proper recourse from the NLRC s final and executory ruling is to assail the ruling before the CA under Rule 65. Without altering the unappealable character of the NLRC ruling that substantive law provides,12 the Court thereby sought to improve the process by which labor cases -most of which are highly factual in character -can reach the Highest Court of the land, whose time is better devoted to matters within its exclusive jurisdiction and to issues that significantly impact on the nation as a whole.

Under St. Martin, a party who loses in the CA or is dissatisfied with the CA ruling, is given the further option to file an appeal with the Supreme Court through a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (Rule 45). Expressly stated under Rule 45 is that the review it provides is not a matter of right but of sound judicial discretion. Too, this mode of appeal limits the review to questions of law.

Obviously, the Court did not intend this discretion to be an unbridled discretion one.13 The approximate metes and bounds of the express limitations under Rule 45–that only questions of law may be raised and that the Court may entertain the petition and exceptionally undertake a review of factual questions based on "sound judicial discretion"–are, however, not clearly defined in St. Martin. In fact, cases decided before or after St. Martin almost uniformly hold that:

The rule is that factual findings of quasi-judicial agencies such as the NLR are generally accorded not only respect, but at times, even finality because of the special knowledge and expertise gained by these agencies from handling matters falling under their specialized jurisdiction. It is also settled that this Court is not a trier of facts and does not normally embark in the evaluation of evidence adduced during trial. This rule, however, allows for exceptions. One of these exceptions covers instances when the findings of fact of the trial court, or of the quasi-judicial agencies concerned, are conflicting or contradictory with those of the CA. When there is a variance in the factual in findings it is incumbent upon the Court to re-examine the facts once again.14 (emphases and underscores ours, citations omitted)

In other words, the existence of conflict in the factual findings and/or conclusions at any stage of the case, from the LA to the CA, makes it incumbent upon the Court to conduct a review of the records to determine which of them should be preferred as more conformable to evidentiary facts. This is what the ponencia expressly relied upon in undertaking an independent review. With this approach, the Court obviously considered the Rule 65 petition route to the CA only in light of the doctrine of hierarchy of courts and disregarded the final and unappealable character of the NLRC decision. If the CA’s certiorari jurisdiction has a limited scope and breadth, the Court, under a Rule 45 petition to review the CA decision, could not have a more expanded jurisdiction than what Rule 45 expressly provides, i.e., that the issue is limited to pure question of law.

Without a definite guideline on the scope of this question of law before the Court, more often than not, the rule (that factual findings of labor tribunals are binding on the Court) became the exception (with the Court effectively becoming a trier of facts) and the exception became the rule. Notably, when one traces in jurisprudence the justification for the invoked exception, it will invariably point to cases where the Supreme Court departed from the rule -that the jurisdiction of the Court in cases brought to it from the CA is limited to the review of errors of law, as its findings of fact are deemed conclusive -when, among others, the findings of facts by the trial court and the appellate court are conflicting.15

The indiscriminate adoption of this remedial law principle into labor cases stands on shaky legal grounds. To begin with, certiorari is different from appeal. In an appellate proceeding, the original suit is continued on appeal. In a certiorari proceeding, the certiorari petition is an original and independent action that was not part of the trial that had resulted in the rendition of the judgment or order complained of. The higher court uses its original jurisdiction in accordance with its power of control and supervision over the proceedings of lower courts.16

Put more bluntly, when the Court undertakes a review of the factual findings made by the lower courts, it does so on the premise that the recourse to the CA is part of the appellate process authorized by law. Hence, when the trier of facts at the trial and appellate level reach divergent factual findings, even if the same pieces of evidence are before them, the Court is constrained to set aside the rule that only questions of law may be raised under a Rule 45 petition in order to arrive at a correct and just decision. The same situation does not apply in labor cases because statutory law does not provide for an appellate process, and thus, the mere existence of a conflict in the factual findings at any stage of the proceedings does not by its lf warrant the Court to undertake an independent review.

c. The case of Montoya v. Transmed Manila Corporation

In Montoya v. Transmed Manila Corporation,17 the Court had the occasion to lay down the proper interpretation of the question of law that the Court must resolve in a Rule 45 petition assailing a CA decision on a Rule 65 petition:

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?18 (emphases and italics supplied; citations omitted)

In concrete terms, the Court's review of a CA ruling is limited to: (i) ascertaining the correctness of the CA s decision in finding the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion; and (ii) deciding any other jurisdictional error that attended the CA s interpretation or application of the law.19 In determining the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion, the Court may examine, on the basis of the parties' presentations, whether the CA correctly determined that at the NLRC level, all the adduced pieces of evidence were considered; no evidence which should not have been considered was considered; and the evidence presented supports the NLRC findings.

In this kind of limited review, the Court avoids reviewing a labor case by re-weighing the evidence or re-evaluating its sufficiency; the task of weighing or evaluation, as a rule, lies within the NLRC's jurisdiction as an administrative appellate body.

If the NLRC ruling has basis in the evidence and the applicable law and jurisprudence, then no grave abuse of discretion exists and the CA should so declare and, accordingly, dismiss the petition. If grave abuse of discretion exists, then the CA must grant the petition and nullify the NLRC ruling, entering at the same time the ruling that is justified under the evidence and the governing law, rules and jurisprudence. In our Rule 45 review, this Court must deny the petition if it finds that the CA correctly acted.20

The point I am driving at is this: Given the absence of the right to appeal from the decision of the NLRC, the Court should observe the rule on the limitation of its own scope of review under the Rules and recognize the exception–i.e., the Court can undertake an independent factual review–only if there is a jurisdictional error. Unfortunately, this petition is demonstrably not the case to bend the rule and act based on the exception.

In this case, the NLRC sustained the factual findings of the LA. Thus, these findings are generally binding on the CA, unless there was a showing that these findings were arrived at arbitrarily or in disregard of the evidence on record. On Moradas' certiorari petition, what the CA primarily re-examined is the conclusion reached by the labor tribunals from its factual findings (i.e., that Moradas committed the acts of pilferage, sabotage and self-burning). The CA reversed the labor tribunals' conclusion on the ground that there was "no logical and causal connection between the act of pilferage and the act of causing the flood in the engine room sufficient to make a conclusion that [Moradas] willfully burned himself."21

In this case, the ponencia saw the need "to review the records to determine which of [these factual findings and conclusions] should be preferred as more conformable to evidentiary facts"22 just because there is a conflict between the findings of the LA and of the NLRC. As previously discussed, this approach does not have strong legal mooring.

While the Court really has to undertake a review of the records before it, for emphasis, its evaluation of the evidence on record is limited to ascertaining the correctness of the CA’s decision in finding the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion. In the present case, in determining the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion, the Court may examine, on the basis of the parties presentations, whether the CA correctly determined that, at the NLRC level, the petitioners, Inc Shipmanagement Inc., Captain Sigfredo Monterroto and/or Interorient Navigation Limited failed to present substantial evidence to prove their claim of a self-inflicted injury. Just because the LA and the NLRC, on one hand, and the CA, on the other hand, arrived at conflicting conclusions from the same pieces of evidence does not warrant the Court to unilaterally substitute its judgment based on its unbridled preference of the parties’ evidence.

II. Reviewing the present CA decision Under Rule 45

a. The parties’ respective burdens

In ruling that the CA legally erred in finding that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion, the ponencia correctly stated that the petitioners must prove by substantial evidence that Moradas’ injury was self-inflicted. According to the ponencia, the NLRC had cogent legal bases to conclude that the petitioners have proven by substantial evidence that Moradas’ injuries were self-inflicted, on the following grounds:

1. Moradas was responsible for the flooding and burning incidents;

2. Moradas claim that the burning was caused by the explosion in the incinerator is not supported by the evidence on record; and

3. The petitioners theory that Moradas bums were self-inflicted is bolstered by the existence of motive; thereby, a finding on his mental fitness may be dispensed with.

I strongly disagree.

While technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly observed before the NLRC,23 this does not mean that the rules on proving allegations are entirely dispensed with. The basic rule in evidence that each party must prove his affirmative allegation still applies. Insofar as Moradas is concerned, he must establish the following:

1. That the illness/injury was suffered during the term of employment;

2. That the seafarer report to the company-designated physician for a post-employment medical examination and evaluation within three (3) working days from the time of his return;

3. That any disability should be assessed by the company-designated physician on the basis of the Schedule of Disability Grades as provided under the PO EA-SEC.24

Except as to the third requisite (which shall be subject of a later discussion), the existence of the first two requisites is not seriously disputed: Moradas suffered his injuries during the term of his contract and he underwent a medical evaluation from the company-designated physician. At this juncture, I emphasize that Moradas is not required to prove that his injury was not due to his own wilful act. That burden falls on the petitioners as part of their defense,25 after invoking Section 20(D) of the POEA Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Seafarers On-Board Ocean Going Vessels.

No compensation shall be payable in respect of any injury, incapacity, disability or death of the seafarer resulting from his wilful or criminal act, provided however that the employer can prove that such injury, incapacity, disability or death is directly attributable to seafarer.

This provision expressly requires the employer to prove that the injury is directly attributable to the seafarer. As in other administrative proceedings, substantial evidence will suffice for the petitioners to avoid liability under this provision.

Substantial evidence is defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds equally reasonable might conceivably opine otherwise.26 If the employer is able to establish by substantial evidence its defense, then that is the only time that the burden of evidence shifts to the seafarer to overcome the employer s case.

Hence, the rule that factual findings of the LA and of the NLRC are binding on the courts applies only if these are supported by substantial evidence. If substantial evidence supports the factual findings, and the legal conclusions are in accord with prevailing law and jurisprudence, the courts would have no option but to dismiss the petition.

b. The present case and the CA’s
finding that the NLRC gravely
abused its discretion ultimately
for lack of substantial evidence

For emphasis, the ponencia could not have reached its conclusion that the NLRC did not commit grave abuse of discretion if he correct standard of review was used at the outset. At this point, my disagreement is mainly with the unreasonableness–resulting from the unbridled power of review under the legal framework it adopted–of the ponencia’s holding that the CA legally erred in finding that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion.

To recall, the CA found that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion in dismissing Moradas complaint on the basis of the following:

We tried to link these two incidents alluded to by the NLRC over its findings and that of the labor arbiter that [Moradas] wilfully burned himself. But we found no logical and causal connection between the act of pilferage and the act of causing the flood in the engine room sufficient to make a conclusion that [Moradas] wilfully burned himself.

Human nature and common experience dictate that no person in his right mind would wilfully burn himself. Only a person of unsound mind would resort to this horrible act. The moral and legal and presumption is that every person is presumed to be of sound mind.

x x x

x x x While it may be true that [Moradas] did not smoke, it is not a gauge and a determining factor to adequately sustain a conclusion that he used the cigarette lighter in burning himself. He must be out of his mind in doing so. Even the presence of the lighter near the place where [Moradas] was burned was not enough to justify the conclusion that he intentionally burned himself. It is not incredible to find the lighter within the vicinity of the incident because it is probable that it fell during petitioner s struggle when he was caught by fire.

It is significant to note that the location of the burns on the different parts of his body is inconsistent with the allegation of self-inflicted injury. On the contrary, the location of the burns conforms with [Moradas] assertion that certain chemicals splashed all over his body while he was disposing garbage in the incinerator room. The deep burn re was distributed over his left upper limb, right hand, left flank and both thighs as found by the Burns Unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital.

x x x

Chief Officer Bejada claimed that when he checked the incinerator room, no sign of any explosion having occurred xxx. He also noticed that [Moradas] had patches of green paint on his arms and body and there was a green paint tin nearby.

Between the claim of [Moradas] and the self-serving testimony of Chief Officer Bejada, we find [Moradas] to be more credible and convincing. The green paint on his arms and body is consistent with [Moradas] assertion that some chemicals splashed all over his body. Whereas, other than the Chief Officer Bejada s denial, no other evidence was presented to prove that there was no such explosion.27

After finding the lack of causal connection between the alleged acts of pilfering and sabotaging the ship, on one hand, and a self-inflicted injury, on the other hand, the CA then raised doubts as to Moradas complicity in the flooding of the engine room.

Too, the presence of [Moradas] in the vicinity of the engine room is not sufficient to warrant a conclusion that he was the one who caused the flood in that room. It should be noted that the flood occurred because the valve of the port sea chest was open. The possibility that someone negligently left it open or intentionally opened it is not remote.

Likewise, no evidence was presented to show that [Moradas] had no business to be within the premises or near the engine room or inside the engine room itself. His presence in the area is not sufficient to impute suspicion that the entire engine room was flooded with water because of him. On the contrary, [Moradas] had every right to be at the engine room.28

The question that invites scrutiny is whether the LA and the NLRC s conclusion (that Moradas acts of allegedly pilfering and causing the flood in the engine room prompted him to commit an act of sabotage which backfired into his own burning) is by itself an adequate conclusion of a reasonable mind. According to the ponencia, it is not contrary to human experience or logic for a spurned man to resort to tactics of desperation, however ludicrous or extreme those tactics may be, as in this case.

I am completely at a loss on how the ponencia could have disagreed with the CA. In the natural order of things, man follows the instinct of self-preservation. The Court may take judicial notice of the fact that our seafarers endure the hardships of sea work not only for their own survival, but of the family or families they left behind. Hence, the conclusion that one not only injured himself but actually willfully set himself ablaze must stand out from the evidence presented.

As the CA did, I do not see any logical or causal connection between the charges of stealing and the acts of sabotage, on one hand and the self-inflicted burning that Moradas allegedly committed, on the other hand. It is simply contrary to human nature and experience for Moradas to set himself ablaze because he was caught stealing the ship s supplies.29

b1. The lack of causal connection,
aggravated by flimsy reliance on the
alleged prior acts of pilfering and
sabotaging the ship

Unsurprisingly, the ponencia had to pin down Moradas first for his alleged acts of pilfering and causing the flooding in the engine room in order to create a makeshift anchorage for a finding of self-inflicted injury. Unfortunately, even its findings on these points are riddled with inconsistencies that the supposed causal connection the ponencia relied upon similarly suffers. We must not lose sight of the fact that the core issue before the labor tribunals is whether Moradas injury is self-inflicted. The issues as to whether Moradas stole the ship s properties and committed an act of sabotaging the ship are issues that are appropriately before the POEA Adjudication Office. The records show that sometime in February 2001 (or several weeks after Moradas, through counsel, sent a demand letter to the petitioners), the petitioners filed an administrative complaint against Moradas for dishonesty and grave misconduct. A finding by that body that indeed Moradas committed the acts imputed to him would have provided sufficient starting basis for the logic of the ponencia’s view that a causal connection existed. Unfortunately, the petitioners, who have the burden of proving that the injury was self-inflicted, submitted nothing on this point.

While a reference to these incidents may be justified as circumstantial evidence to prove that Moradas’ injury was self-inflicted, I find it highly disturbing that the ponencia made a conclusive factual finding that "Moradas was caught pilfering the ship's supplies"30 and effectively implied that he committed the act of sabotaging the ship, notwithstanding Moradas’ categorical denial of these accusations, with an explanation of his own account of the facts–denials which the petitioners themselves never bothered to address in any of their pleadings.

On the other hand, I cannot also understand why Moradas' categorical denials were disregarded but the similar negative statements of Bosun Antonio Gile and Chief Officer Antonio Bejada (that there was no fire in the incinerator) were believed to defeat Moradas' claim that the burning was caused by the explosion. If the Court would be allowed to make such a first–hand preference of evidence, by what standard of "sound judicial discretion" is it based?

Also, according to the ponencia, Moradas failed to rebut Bosun Gile' s claim that he saw Moradas go to the paint room, soak his hands in a can full of thinner and proceed to the incinerator door where he was set ablaze. Contrary to the ponencia’s holding, Moradas even made a specific denial of Bosun Gile's claim in his Position Paper before the LA.31

The logical inconsistency created by the ponencia’s observation is even more alarming. As observed by Moradas himself, if he indeed soaked his hands in a can full of thinner, then his hands must have sustained the injuries, if not the most severe damage. I also find it amusing that Bosun Gile never asked or approached Moradas after seeing him soak his hands in a can full of thinner considering that, as the ponencia observed, that act is certainly ludicrous in itself.

The ponencia turned a blind eye on these logical inconsistencies and simply held that Bosun Giles' claim conforms with that of Chief Officer Bejada. According to Chief Officer Bejada, he noticed that Moradas had patches of green paint on the arms and body of his overalls. He also stated that there was an open paint tin nearby that had the same green color as the marks on Moradas' overalls; that he ordered an ordinary seaman to extinguish the fire and close the incinerator doors just before Moradas got burned; and that he personally checked the incinerator and found that it contained cardboard cartons which were intact and unburnt [and that] [t]here was no sign of any explosion having occurred and the steel plates which made up the incinerator box were cool to the touch."32

The ponencia also explained that the corroborating affidavits of the other crew members and officers cannot be dismissed as self-serving in the absence of any showing that they were lying when they made their statements. The problem with this explanation is that the other crew members who executed their own affidavits have no personal knowledge about the burning itself.

With Bosun Gile' s statement bearing logical inconsistency with Moradas' own injury, Chief Officer Bejada's statement would assume crucial importance in establishing the petitioners' case of a self-inflicted injury. Chief Officer Bejada's un-notarized written statement establishes the following facts: (i) that he saw Moradas while burning; and (ii) that there was no fire in the incinerator whose steel plates were cool to the touch. His bare statements, however, do not in any way prove that Moradas' injury was self inflicted. The ponencia merely deduced that Moradas either burned himself or wanted to sabotage the ship. Whichever of these deductions, however, have been earlier shown to be logically inconsistent and contrary to human nature.

We must not fail to consider that substantiality of evidence depends not only on its quantitative, but also on its qualitative, aspects.33 (We have earlier discussed that the "corroborating affidavits" are immaterial insofar as Moradas' burning itself and that Bosun Giles' testimony is too incredible to be believed.) However, the substantiality of the petitioners' evidence–supposedly through the "circumstantial evidence," i.e. the smell of Moradas' overalls, the location of the thinner can and the lighter in relation to the place where Moradas was found burning," and the borrowing of Chief Officer Bejada's lighter -supporting Chief Officer Bejada's statements is itself negated by the clear evidence on record. As the CA correctly observed, "the green paint on [Moradas'] arms and body is consistent with [his] assertion that some chemicals splashed over all his body."34 Even the location of the thinner hardly adds up to the substantiality required to support Chief Officer Bejada' s statement since the incinerator room is not shown to be far from the paint room, where paint chemicals would obviously be located.

While Moradas' act of borrowing a lighter from someone, even though he does not smoke, may have led the petitioners to conclude that he must have intended to commit a wrong, this line of thinking does not substantially establish a defense of self-inflicted injury. Note that while Chief Officer Bejada stated that he ordered an ordinary seaman to extinguish the fire in the incinerator, the petitioners did not even bother to present the crucial testimony of this supposed seaman to substantially corroborate Chief Officer Bejada’s claim.

In these lights, I cannot also agree with the ponencia that a finding on Moradas' mental disposition is dispensable. The ponencia’s reasoning that a sane person who "harbors a grudge" and "is brooding over feelings of resentment" because he was caught stealing can be driven to set himself ablaze is tenuously speculative to say the least. Moradas’ mental disposition would have also established the substantial evidence requirement lacking in this case which the ponencia obviously, but unsuccessfully, tries to fill up.

In short, there are a lot of crucial lapses and inconsistencies, logical and factual, in the petitioners' case that even brushing aside, for the sake of argument, the lack of causal connection (between the acts imputed against Moradas, on one hand, and his alleged self-inflicted injury, on the other hand), the substantial evidence can hardly be said to have been met.

III. Moradas is entitled only to income benefit

This is not say, however, that the CA’s conclusion on Moradas' entitlement to permanent and total disability is also legally correct. Moradas' inability to return to the same line of work does not by itself legally entitle him to permanent and total disability benefits.

Entitlement to disability benefits by seamen on overseas work is a matter governed, not only by medical findings, but by law and by contract. The material statutory provisions are Articles 191 to 193, Chapter VI (Disability Benefits) of the Labor Code, in relation with Rule X of the Rules and Regulations Implementing Book IV of the Labor Code. By contract, (presently) Department Order No. 4, series of 2000 of the Department of Labor and Employment (the POEA Standard Employment Contract)35 and the parties CBA bind the seaman and his employer to each other.36 As to how these provisions operate, Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc. (Vergara)37 discussed:

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. or 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.

In the present case, Moradas was repatriated on October 20, 2000. The following day, he was admitted at the St. Luke s Medical Center under the care of the company-designated physician, Dr. Natalio G. Alegre. On November 22, 2000, Dr. Alegre found that Moradas burns were already healing and recommended his out-patient treatment. However, on August 1, 2001, Dr. Alegre reported that Moradas discontinued receiving medical treatment from him after April 7, 2001, the last time that Moradas went to him for medical treatment. On July 2001, Moradas filed his complaint with the LA.

Clearly, from the time Moradas was repatriated until the last time he underwent treatment, only 169 days had elapsed. While the 120-day period under Section 20(B) of the POEA-Standard Employment Contract and Article 192 of the Labor Code has already been exceeded, per Section 2, Rule X of the Rules and Regulations Implementing Book IV of the Labor Code, since no fit-to-work declaration or declaration of disability is made because Dr. Alegre required Moradas to undergo further medical treatment, Moradas' temporary total disability period may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days or until June 17, 2001. Until this date, the companydesignated physician can make a finding on a seafarer's fitness for further sea duties or degree of disability. However, for reasons known only to him, Moradas did not anymore submit himself for medical treatment after April 7, 2001. His failure to do so is fatal to his cause of action for total and permanent disability benefits. Moradas' case is very much similar to the seafarer in Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, et al v National Labor Relations Commission, etc., et al (Magsaysay).38

In Magsaysay, the seafarer discontinued his therapy sessions even if it appears "to be yielding positive results" and demanded the payment of total and permanent disability benefits soon after the expiration of the 120-day period. In denying his claim, the Court capitalized on the absence of an assessment from the company-designated physician, thus:

First. There was no assessment of the extent of Capoy's disability by the company-designated physician, as required by Section 20(B)(3) of the POEA-SEC, which provides:

x x x

Considering that Capov was still undergoing medical treatment, particularly through therapy sessions under the care of the company-designated specialists, Dr. Salvador (the lead company doctor) cannot be faulted for not issuing an assessment of Capoy's disabilitv or fitness for work at that time. In fact, as Dr. Salvador's progress report of March 17, 2006 showed that Capoy was expected to return on April 6, 2006 for re-evaluation by the orthopedic surgeon. This aspect of the POEA-SEC and Capoy's compliance totally escaped the labor tribunals and the CA. [emphasis and underscore ours]

Applying Vergara, Magsaysay also squarely rejected the argument that a seafarer's disability for more than 120 days automatically entitles him to total and permanent disability, viz.:

As matters stood on March 17, 2006, when Dr. Salvador issued her last progress report, 197 days from Capoy's repatriation on August 31, 2005, Capoy was legally under temporary total disability since the 240-day period under Section 2 Rule X of the Rules and Regulations implementing Book IV of the Labor Code had not yet lapsed. The LA, the NLRC and the CA, therefore, grossly misappreciated the facts and the applicable law when they ruled that because Capoy was unable to perform his work as a fitter for more than 120 days, he became entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The CA cited in support of its challenged ruling Dr. Salvador's failure to make a disability assessment or a fit-to-work declaration for Capoy after 197 days from his repatriation. This is a misappreciation of the underlying reason for the absence of Dr. Salvador's assessment. There was no assessment yet because Capoy was still undergoing treatment and evaluation by the company doctors, especially the orthopedic surgeon, within the 240-day maximum period provided under the above-cited rule. To reiterate, Capoy was supposed to see the orthopedic surgeon for re-evaluation, but he did not honor the appointment.

x x x

Capoy, needless to say, prevented Dr. Salvador from determining his fitness or unfitness for sea duty when he did not return on April 6, 2006 for re-evaluation. [emphasis and underscore ours]

As we did in Magsaysay the Court must necessarily reject Moradas claim for permanent total disability benefits. However, since it is undisputed that Moradas still needed medical treatment beyond the initial 120 days from his repatriation, he is entitled, under the rules,39 to the income benefit for temporary total disability during the extended period from the time he was repatriated on October 20, 2000 up to the time he last underwent medical treatment on April 7, 2001 or for 169 days. This is the monetary benefit that must be paid to him.

In light of the foregoing, I vote to partially GR NT the petition. The October 31, 2006 decision and the June 25, 2007 resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 84769 should be MODIFIED to reflect that respondent Alexander L. Moradas is entitled to the income benefit for temporary total disability during the extended period or for 169 days.

ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice




Endnotes:


1 G.R. No. 183329, August 27, 2009, 597 SCRA 334, reiterated by the Court en bane in Holy Child Catholic School v. Hon. Patricia Sto. Tomas, etc., et al., G.R. No. 179146, July 23, 2013.

2 See San Miguel Corp. v. Sec. of Labor, 159-A Phil. 346, 350-351 (1975). Since the Labor Code took effect in November 1974, this has been the mode ofreview observed in labor cases.

3 Scott v. Hon. Inciong, 160-A Phil. 1107, 1112-1113 (1975).

4 Winston F. Garcia, etc. v. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 169005, January 28, 2013; VMC Rural Electric Service Cooperative, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 153144, October 16 2006, 504 SCRA 336, 351; Beluso v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 180711, June 22, 2010, 621 SCRA 450, 457; Madrigal Transport, Inc. v. Lapanday Holdings Corporation, G.R. No. 156067, August 11 2004, 436 SCRA 123, 134, citing Pure Foods Corporation v. NLRC, G.R. No. 78591, March 21, 1989, 171 SCRA 415; and Leynes v. Former Tenth Division of the Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 154462, January 19 2011, 640 SCRA 25, 38-40.

5 Empire Insurance Company v. NLRC, G.R. No. 121879, August 14 1998, 294 SCRA 263, 269-270.

6 Tagle v. Equitable PC Bank, G.R. No. 172299, April 22, 2008, 552 SCRA 424, 440-441, citing Madrigal Transport, Inc. v. Lapanday Holdings Corporation, supra note 4.

7 Palomado v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 96520, June 28, 1996, 257 SCRA 680, 689-690.

8 Secon Philippines, Ltd. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 97399, December 3, 1999, 319 SCRA 685, 688; and Leonis Navigation Co., Inc. v. Villamater, G.R. No. 179169, March 3, 2010, 614 SCRA 182, 192.

9 Career Philippines Shipmanagement, Inc. v. Serna, G.R. No. 172086, December 3, 2012, 686 SCRA 676, 684-685; and St. Mary s College (Tagum, Davao) v. NLRC, G.R. No. 76752, January 12 1990, 181 SCRA 62, 66.

10 Norkis Trading Corporation v. Buenavista, G.R. No. 182018, October 10, 2012, 683 SCRA 406, 423; Emcor Incorporated v. Sienes, G.R. No. 152101, September 8, 2009, 598 SCRA 617, 631-632; and Leonis Navigation Co. Inc. v. Villamater, supra note 8, at 192.

11 356 Phil. 811, 814-815 (1998). The Court said:

Before proceeding further into the merits of the case at bar, the Court feels that it is now exigent and opportune to reexamine the functional validity and systemic practicability of the mode of judicial review it has long adopted and still follows with respect to decisions of the NLRC. The increasing number of labor disputes that find their way to this Court and the legislative changes introduced over the years into the provisions of Presidential Decree P.D.) No. 442 (The Labor Code of the Philippines and Batas Pambansa Big. B.P. No.) 129 (The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980) now stridently call for and warrant a reassessment of that procedural aspect. [underscore ours, italics supplied]

12 See Section 223 of the Labor Code.

13 The reasons why the Supreme Court does not routinely undertake the re-examination of the evidence presented by the contending parties during the trial of the case are: one, it is not really a trier of facts; two, since the Court is not a trier of facts, factual findings of the labor tribunals are generally accorded not only respect, but even finality, and are binding upon the Court when supported by substantial evidence; and three, the ruling that is brought in for judicial review is already a final and executory ruling rendered by labor tribunals which are deemed to have acquired expertise in matters within their respective jurisdiction.

14 General Milling Corporation v. Viajar, G.R. No. 181738, January 30, 2013, 689 SCRA 598, 606-607.

15 Reyes v. Court of Appeals Ninth Division), G.R. No. 110207, July 11, 1996, 258 SCRA 651, 659.

16 Madrigal Transport, Inc. v. Lapanday Holdings Corporation, supra note 4, at 134-135.

17 Supra note 1.

18 Id. at 342-343.

19 See Dissenting Opinion of Justice Arturo Brion in Abbott Laboratories Philippines et Al. v. Pearlie Ann F. Alcaraz G.R. No. 192571, July 23, 2013.

20 Ibid.

21 Rollo, p. 105.

22 Decision, p. 6.

23 LABOR CODE, Article 221; 2011 NLRC RULES OF PROCEDURE, Rule VII, Section 10.

24 See Section 20(B) 1996 of he POEA Standard Employment Contract.

25 Section 1 Rule 131 of the Rules of Court reads:

Section 1. Burden of proof.–Burden of proof is the duty of a party to present evidence on the facts in issue necessary to establish his claim or defense by the amount of evidence required by law.

26 This qualification on the definition of substantial evidence was first made in 1971 in In the Matter of the Petition for Habeas Corpus of Lansang, et al., 149 Phil. 547, 593 (1971), holding as follows:

Under the principle of separation of powers and the system of checks and balances, the judicial authority to review decisions of administrative bodies or agencies is much more limited, as regards findings of fact made in said decisions. Under the English law, the reviewing court determines only whether there is some evidentiary basis for the contested administrative finding; no quantitative examination of the supporting evidence is undertaken. The administrative finding can be interfered with only if there is no evidence whatsoever in support thereof, and said finding is, accordingly, arbitrary, capricious and obviously unauthorized. This view has been adopted by some American courts. It has, likewise, been adhered to in a number of Philippine cases. Other cases, in both jurisdictions, have applied the substantial evidence rule, which has been construed to mean more than a mere scintilla or relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds equally reasonable might conceivably opine otherwise. [italics supplied]

27 CA Decision, pp. 12-16.

28 Id. at 15-16.

29 There is no standard by which the weight of conflicting evidence can be ascertained. We have no test of the truth of human testimony except its conformity to our knowledge, observation, and experience (Frondarina v. Malazarte, G.R. No. 148423, December 6, 2006, 510 SCRA 223, 225, citing III V. Francisco, Criminal Evidence 146 [1947], in turn citing I Moore on Facts 35).

30 Decision, p. 9.

31 Rollo, pp. 196, 212-214.

32 Id. at 270-272.

33 Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. Employees Association-Natu v. Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd. No. L-25291, March 10, 1977, 76 SCRA 50, 53.

34 CA Decision, p. 16.

35 SECTION 20. COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS

x x x

B. COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS FOR INWRY OR ILLNESS

The liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract are as follows:

1. The employer shall continue to pay the seafarer his wages during the time he is on board the vessel;

2. If the injury or illness requires medical and/or dental treatment in a foreign port, the employer shall be liable for the full cost of such medical, serious dental, surgical and hospital treatment as well as board and lodging until the seafarer is declared fit to work or to [be] repatriated. However, if after repatriation, the seafarer still requires medical attention arising from said injury or illness, he shall be so provided at cost to the employer until such time he is declared fit or the degree of his disability has been established by the company-designated physician.

3. Upon sign-off from the vessel for medical treatment, the seafarer is entitled to sickness allowance equivalent to his basic wage until he is declared fit to work or the degree of permanent disability has been assessed by the company-designated physician, but in no case shall this period exceed one hundred twenty (120) days. For this purpose, the seafarer shall submit himself to a. post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return except when he is physically incapacitated to do so, in which case, a written notice to the agency within the same period is deemed as compliance. Failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the above benefits.

4. Upon sign-off of the seafarer from the vessel for medical treatment, the employer shall bear the full cost of repatriation in the event that the seafarer is declared (1) fit for repatriation; or (2) fit to work but the employer is unable to find employment for the seafarer on board his former vessel or another vessel of the employer despite earnest efforts.

5. In case of permanent total or partial disability of the seafarer during the term of employment caused by either injury or illness, the seafarer shall be compensated in accordance with the schedule of benefits enumerated in Section 30 of his Contract. Computation of his benefits arising from an illness or disease shall be governed by the rates and the rules of compensation applicable at the time the illness or disease was contracted.

36 Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, G.R. No. 172933, October 6, 2008.

37 G.R. No. 172933, October 6 2008, 567 SCRA 610, 628; emphases, underscore and italics ours.

38 G.R. No. 191903, June 19, 2013.

39 Rules and Regulations implementing Book IV of the Labor Code, Section 2, Rule X.


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