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




Assailed in this petition for review on certiorari1 are the Decision2 dated October 31, 2006 and Resolution3   dated June 25, 2007 of the Court of Appeals   (CA)   in  CA-G.R.  SP  No.  84769   which  granted  respondent Alexander  L. Moradas’s  (respondent)  claim to  permanent total disability benefits  in  the  amount  of  US$60,000.00,  or  its  peso  equivalent,  and attorney’s fees.

The Facts

On July 17, 2000, respondent was employed as wiper for the vessel MV Commander (vessel) by petitioner INC Shipmanagement, Inc. for its principal, petitioner Interorient Navigation, Ltd. (petitioners), for a period of I 0 months, with a basic monthly salary of US$360.00, plus benefits.4crallawlibrary

On October 13, 2000, respondent claimed that while he was disposing of the garbage in the incinerator room of the vessel, certain chemicals splashed all over his body because of an explosion.5 He was sent to the Burns Unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital on the same day wherein he was found to have suffered deep burns. Eventually, upon his own request, respondent was sent home.6crallawlibrary

On October 21, 2000, he was admitted to the St. Luke’s Medical Center.7 Subsequently, he was diagnosed to have sustained “thermal burns, upper  and  lower  extremities  and  abdomen,  2º-3º,  11%” 8  for  which  he underwent debridement. He was referred to a physical therapist for his subsequent debridement through hydrotherapy. On November 10, 2000, the attending physician, Dr. Natalio G. Alegre II, reported that the respondent’s thermal burns were healing well and that they were estimated to fully heal within a period of 3 to 4 months.9crallawlibrary

Claiming that the burns rendered him permanently incapable of working again as a seaman, respondent demanded10 for the payment of his full disability benefits under Section 20 (B) in relation to Sections 30 and 30-A of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC), in the amount of US$60,000.00, which petitioners refused to  heed. 11  Thus, respondent  filed  a complaint  against petitioners for the same, seeking as well moral and exemplary damages, including attorney’s fees. In  their  position  paper, 12   petitioners  denied  respondent’s  claims, contending that his injury was self-inflicted and, hence, not compensable under Section 20 (D) of the POEA-SEC. They denied that the vessel’s incinerator exploded and claimed that respondent burned himself by pouring paint thinner on his overalls and thereafter set himself on fire. They averred that he was led to commit such act after he was caught last October 10, 2000 13  stealing the vessel’s supplies during a routine security inspection conducted by Captain Bodo Wirth (Captain Wirth) where respondent was informed that he was to be dismissed.14 They also stated that just before they Based on the aforesaid statement, on October 10, 2000, while the vessel was docked in Hong Kong, Captain Wirth conducted a routine security inspection when he came across a large parcel which belonged to respondent lying on the crew passageway. Upon inspection, the box contained a television set, a day bed cover, several towels and some provisions, all belonging to the vessel. When asked why he was stealing the foregoing articles, respondent claimed that they were given to him as a present by the chief steward. However, when Captain Wirth asked the latter, he denied giving respondent the same.  As  a  result,  Captain  Wirth informed respondent that  his actions  warranted his immediate dismissal. discovered respondent to be burning, the vessel’s engine room became flooded.15 They ascribed the flooding incident to respondent, having been seen by fellow crew members standing at the railing around the portside seachest and looking at it16 and that when the bilge level alarm sounded, he was seen disappearing up to the boiler deck leaving small patches of water on the floor, on the steps, and on the deck where he had been.17 In support thereof, petitioners submitted the report of the ship captain on the flooding as extracted from the vessel’s deck logbook18 as well as the affidavits and statements executed by the vessel’s officers and crew members relative to the flooding and burning incidents. Based on the said affidavits and statements, the vessel’s bosun, Antonio Gile (Gile), attested that he saw respondent go to the paint room and there soak his hands in a can full of thinner. Respondent then proceeded to the incinerator door where he was set ablaze. Gile further pointed out that there was no fire in the incinerator at that time.19 Also, Chief Officer Antonino S. Bejada (Bejada) testified that prior to the burning incident, he had ordered an ordinary seaman who had been burning deck waste in the incinerator to extinguish the fire with water and close up the incinerator door because of bad weather conditions. Bejada then checked the incinerator after the burning incident and found unburnt cardboard cartons inside with no sign of explosion and that the steel plates surrounding it were cool to the touch. He also noticed that the respondent’s overalls had patches of green paint on the arms and body and smelled strongly of thinner. An open paint tin can was found near the place of the incident  and  a  cigarette  lighter  lying  beside  respondent 20   which  oiler Edgardo Israel confirmed was borrowed from him even though he knew that the former did not smoke.21 Finally, petitioners denied respondent’s claim for damages and attorney’s fees for lack of factual and legal bases.22crallawlibrary

In  his  Reply  to  the  position  paper, 23  respondent  denied  burning himself, contending that such act was contrary to human nature and logic and that there was no showing that he was mentally unfit. 24  Further, he posited that the affidavits and statements submitted by the vessel’s officers and crew members have no probative value for being mere hearsay and self- serving.25 He equally insisted on his claim for moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees.26crallawlibrary

Meanwhile, or on February 29, 2001, petitioner Captain Sigfredo E. Monterroyo filed a complaint27 for disciplinary action against respondent before the POEA for his various infractions committed on board the vessel, namely: (a) act of dishonesty for stealing the vessel’s supplies on October 10, 2000; (b) act of sabotage committed on October 13, 2000; and (c) grave misconduct for inflicting the injury to himself.28crallawlibrary

The LA Ruling

In a Decision29 dated April 15, 2003, the Labor Arbiter (LA) ruled in favor of petitioners, dismissing respondent’s complaint for lack of merit. The LA held that respondent’s injury was self-inflicted and that no incinerator explosion occurred that would have caused the latter ’s injuries.30 The LA gave more credence to the corroborating testimonies of the petitioners’ witnesses that respondent’s botched attempts to sabotage the vessel and steal its supplies may have motivated him to inflict injuries to himself.31 Lastly, the LA denied respondent’s claim for moral and exemplary damages as well as attorney’s fees since he failed to prove any evident bad faith or malice on petitioners’ part.32crallawlibrary

The NLRC Ruling

On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), in a Decision33 dated January 30, 2004, sustained the findings of the LA and held, inter alia, that while some of the statements and affidavits of the vessel’s officers and crew members were not notarized, the corroborating testimonial evidence must be taken as a whole. In this accord, it gave due credence to the  questioned  evidence  absent  any  showing  that  the  petitioners  were motivated  by ill  will. 34 Also,  it  pointed  out  that  respondent’s  mental or physical fitness was not at issue since he was motivated to inflict injury to himself for reasons related to his impending discharge and not because of his disposition.35crallawlibrary

Respondent  filed  a  motion  for  reconsideration  but  the  same  was denied  in  a  Resolution 36  dated  March  31, 2004.  Dissatisfied, he  filed  a petition for certiorari before the CA.

The CA Ruling

On  October  31,  2006,  the  CA  rendered  the  assailed  Decision, 37 holding that grave abuse of discretion tainted the NLRC ruling.

It found no logical and causal connection between the act of pilferage as well as the act of causing the flooding in the engine room and the conclusion that respondent’s injury was self-inflicted. It added that it was contrary to human nature and experience for respondent to burn himself.38 Further, the CA noted that the location of the burns on the different parts of respondent’s  body  was  more  consistent  with  respondent’s  assertion  that certain chemicals splashed all over his body rather than petitioners’ theory of self-inflicted  injury. 39   Moreover,  it  pointed  out  that  no  evidence  was presented to show that respondent had no business near the engine room.40 In the same vein, it observed that the mere finding of a cigarette lighter was inadequate to justify the conclusion that he burned himself.41 Consequently, for petitioners’ failure to discharge the burden of proving that respondent’s injury was directly attributable to him as required under Section 20 (D) of the POEA-SEC, the CA found that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion and, thus, held petitioners liable to pay respondent permanent total disability benefits in the amount of US$60,000.00, or its peso equivalent.42crallawlibrary

On the other hand, respondent’s claims for moral and exemplary damages were denied for lack of basis but the CA awarded him attorney’s fees in the amount of P50,000.00.43crallawlibrary

Aggrieved, petitioners moved for reconsideration which was, however, denied in a Resolution44 dated June 25, 2007. Hence, this petition.

The Issue Before The Court

The essential issue in this case is whether or not the CA erred in finding that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion when it denied respondent’s claim for disability benefits.

The Court’s Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

A.      Preliminary Matters: Framework of
         Review and Governing Rules

At the outset, the Court deems it proper to elucidate on the framework in which the review of this case had been conducted, in conjunction with the applicable governing rules to analyze its substantive merits.

The Court’s jurisdiction in cases brought before it from the CA via Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is generally limited to reviewing errors of law. The Court is not the proper venue to consider a factual issue as it is not a trier of facts. This rule, however, is not ironclad and a departure therefrom may be warranted where the findings of fact of the CA are contrary to the findings and conclusions of the NLRC and LA, as in this case. In this regard, there is therefore a need to review the records to determine which of them should be preferred as more conformable to evidentiary facts.45crallawlibrary

With respect to the applicable rules, it is doctrinal that the entitlement of seamen on overseas work to disability benefits “is a matter governed, not only by medical findings, but by law and by contract. The material statutory provisions are Articles 191 to 193 under Chapter VI (Disability Benefits) of the Labor Code, in relation [to] Rule X of the Rules and Regulations Implementing Book IV of the Labor Code. By contract, the POEA-SEC, as provided under Department Order No. 4, series of 2000 of the Department of Labor and Employment, and the parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreement bind the seaman and his employer to each other.”46crallawlibrary

In the foregoing light, the Court observes that respondent executed his contract of employment on July 17, 2000,47 incorporating therein the terms and conditions of the 2000 POEA-SEC which took effect on June 25, 2000. However, since the implementation of the provisions of the foregoing 2000 POEA-SEC was temporarily suspended 48 by the Court on September 11, 2000, particularly Section 20, paragraphs (A), (B), and (D) thereof, and was lifted only on June 5, 2002, through POEA Memorandum Circular No. 2, series  of  2002, 49  the  determination  of  respondent’s  entitlement  to  the disability  benefits  should  be  resolved  under  the  provisions  of  the  1996 POEA-SEC  as  it  was,  effectively,  the  governing  circular  at  the  time respondent’s employment contract was executed.

The prevailing rule under Section 20 (B) of the 1996 POEA-SEC on compensation and benefits for injury or illness was that an employer shall be liable for the injury or illness suffered by a seafarer during the term of his contract. There was no need to show that such injury was work-related except that it must be proven to have been contracted during the term of the contract. The rule, however, is not absolute and the employer may be exempt from liability if he can successfully prove that the cause of the seaman’s injury was directly attributable to his deliberate or willful act as provided under Section 20 (D) thereof, to wit:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

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

Hence, the onus probandi falls on the petitioners herein to establish or substantiate their claim that the respondent’s injury was caused by his willful act with the requisite quantum of evidence.

In   labor   cases,   as   in   other   administrative   proceedings,   only substantial  evidence  or  such  relevant  evidence  as   a  reasonable  mind might accept as sufficient to support a conclusion is required.50 To note, considering  that  substantial  evidence  is  an  evidentiary  threshold,  the Court, on exceptional cases, may assess the factual determinations made by the NLRC in a particular case. In Career Philippines Shipmanagement, Inc. v. Serna,51 the Court expressed the following view:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Accordingly, we do not re-examine conflicting evidence, re- evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or substitute the findings of fact of the NLRC, an administrative body that has expertise in its specialized field. Nor do we substitute our “own judgment for that of the tribunal in determining where the weight of evidence lies or what evidence is credible.” The factual findings of the NLRC, when affirmed by the CA, are generally conclusive on this Court.

Nevertheless, there are exceptional cases where we, in the exercise of our discretionary appellate jurisdiction may be urged to look into factual issues raised in a Rule 45 petition. For instance, when the   petitioner   persuasively alleges   that   there   is   insufficient   or insubstantial evidence on record to support the factual findings of the tribunal or court a quo, as Section 5, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court states in express terms that in cases filed before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, a  fact  may  be  deemed  established  only  if  supported  by substantial evidence.52 (Emphases supplied; citations omitted)

The evident conflict between the NLRC’s and CA’s factual findings as shown in the records of this case prompts the Court to sift through their respective  factual  determinations  if  only  to  determine  if  the  NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in reaching its disposition, keeping in mind  that  the  latter’s  assessment  should  only  meet  the  threshold  of substantial evidence.

B.      Application

In view of the above-discussed considerations and after a judicious scrutiny  of  the  facts  on  record,  the  Court  holds  that  the  CA  erred  in attributing grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NLRC in affirming the LA’s dismissal of respondent’s complaint. This is based on the Court’s observation  that  the  NLRC  had  cogent  legal  bases  to  conclude  that petitioners have successfully discharged the burden of proving by substantial evidence that respondent’s injury was directly attributable to himself. The reasons therefor are as follows:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

First, records bear out circumstances which all lead to the reasonable conclusion that respondent was responsible for the flooding and burning incidents.

Records show that the LA and NLRC gave credence to the corroborating testimonies of the crewmen pointing to respondent as the person who deliberately caused the flooding incident. In particular, respondent was seen alone in the vicinity of the portside seachest which cover was found to have been intentionally removed and thereby caused the flooding. He was also seen disappearing up to the boiler deck just when the bilge level alarm sounded with patches of water left on the floor plates and on the stairways. Respondent neither denied nor proffered any explanation on the foregoing claims especially when all of his fellow engine room staff, except him, responded to the alarm and helped pump out the water in the engine  room. 53   As  to  the  burning,  respondent  failed  to  successfully controvert Gile’s claim that he saw the former 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. In fact, respondent’s burnt overalls conform to the aforesaid claim as it had green paint on the arms and body and smelled strongly of thinner, while the open paint tin can that was found in the vicinity contained solvent which had the same green color found on the overalls.

Second, respondent’s version that the burning was caused by an accident is hardly supported by the evidence on record.

The purported explosion in the incinerator was belied by Gile who also claimed that there was no fire in the incinerator room at the time respondent  got  burned.  This  was  corroborated  by  Bejada  who  testified having ordered an ordinary seaman that was burning deck waste in the incinerator early that day to extinguish the fire with water and close up the incinerator door because of bad weather conditions. Accordingly, an inspection  of  the  incinerator  after  the  incident  showed  that  there  were unburnt cardboard cartons found inside with no sign of explosion and the steel plates surrounding it were cool to the touch. Further, as aptly discerned by the LA, if there was really an incinerator explosion, then respondent’s injury would have been more serious.54crallawlibrary

Respondent debunked Gile’s claim by merely asserting in his Answer and Rejoinder before the POEA that the latter could not have been in the room at the time he got burned as he was not the first person to rescue him and concluded that he could not have soaked his hands in a can full of thinner  considering  the  extent  of  damage  caused  to  his  hands. 55  This argument is riddled with serious flaws: Gile could have been the second man in,  and  still  personally  know  the  matters  he  has  alleged.  Also,  that respondent soaked his hands in thinner is not denied by the fact that the greatest damage was not caused to it since the fire could have started at some part of his body considering that his overalls also had flammable chemicals. Reason also dictates that he could have extinguished the fire on his hands sooner than the other parts of his body. In any event, the medical records of respondent, particularly the report56 issued by the Prince of Wales Hospital Burns Surgery, show that he suffered from “deep burn area” that was distributed over his left upper limb, right hand, left flank and both thighs.57 To assert that respondent’s hands should have suffered the greatest damage is plainly argumentative and records are bereft of showing as to the exact degree of burn suffered for each part.

To add, Bejada’s statement that respondent’s burnt overalls had patches of green paint on the arms and body and strongly smelled of thinner conforms with Gile’s claim that he soaked his hands in a can of thinner before approaching the incinerator (thinner may be found in a paint room). Such fact further fortifies petitioners’ assertion that his injury was self-inflicted as a prudent man would not dispose of garbage in the incinerator under such condition.

And if only to placate other doubts, the CA’s finding that “some chemicals splashed [on respondent’s] body”58 should not automatically mean that the “splashing” was caused by pure accident. It is equally reasonable to conclude that the “splashing” - as may be inferred from both the LA’s and NLRC”s findings - was a by-product of respondent’s botched sabotage attempt.

While respondent contended that the affidavits and statements of the vessel’s officers and his fellow crew members should not be given probative value as they were biased, self-serving, and mere hearsay, he nonetheless failed to present any evidence to substantiate his own theory. Besides, as correctly pointed out by the NLRC, the corroborating affidavits and statements of the vessel’s officers and crew members must be taken as a whole and cannot just be perfunctorily dismissed as self-serving absent any showing that they were lying when they made the statements therein.59crallawlibrary

Third, petitioners’ theory that respondent’s burns were self-inflicted gains credence through the existence of motive.

At this juncture, the Court finds it important to examine the existence of motive in this case since no one actually saw what transpired in the incinerator  room.   To  this  end,  the  confluence  of  the  circumstances antecedent  to  the  burning  should  be  examined  in  conjunction  with  the existing accounts of the crew members. That said, both the LA and the NLRC made a factual finding that prior to the burning incident, respondent was caught pilfering the vessel’s supplies for which he was told that he was to be relieved from his duties. This adequately supports the reasonable conclusion that respondent may have harbored a grudge against the captain and the chief steward who denied giving him the questioned items. At the very least, it was natural for him to brood over feelings of resentment considering his impending dismissal. These incidents shore up the theory that he was motivated to commit an act of sabotage which, however, backfired into his own burning.

In this relation, the Court observes that a definitive pronouncement on respondent’s mental unfitness need not be reached since the totality of the above-stated circumstances already figures into the rational inference that respondent’s burning was not a product of an impaired mental disposition but  rather  an  incident  which  sprung  from  his  own  volition.  Mental impairment connotes the lack of control over one’s action. If the actor is conscious of what he is doing, as respondent was in this case by sabotaging the ship, then a finding of mental unfitness is not needed. Differing from the CA’s take on the matter, it is not contrary to human experience or logic for a spumed  man  to  resort  to  tactics  of  desperation,  however  ludicrous  or extreme those tactics may be, or however untoward or unfortunate its consequences may tum out, as in this case.

All told, petitioners having established through substantial evidence that respondent’s injury was self-inflicted and, hence, not compensable pursuant to Section 20 (D) of the 1996 POEA-SEC, no grave abuse of discretion can be imputed against the NLRC in upholding the dismissal by the LA of his complaint for disability benefits. It is well-settled that an act of a court or tribunal can only be considered to be tainted with grave abuse of discretion when such act is done in a capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. 60 For the reasons herein detailed, the Court finds these qualities of capriciousness or whimsicality wanting in the case at bar and thus, holds that the CA erred in ruling that grave abuse of discretion exists.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED.    The Decision dated October  31,  2006  and  Resolution  dated  June  25,  2007  of  the  Court  of Appeals in CA-GR. SP No. 84769 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, the Decision dated January 30, 2004 of the National Labor Relation Commission dismissing respondent Alexander L. Moradas’s complaint for permanent total disability benefits and other money claims is hereby REINSTATED.


Carpio, J., (Chairperson),  Del Castillo, and Perez, JJ. concur.
Brion, J. see concurring/dissenting opinion


1Rollo, pp. 44-86.

2 Id. at 94-118.  Penned  by then Presiding  Justice  Ruben T. Reyes (now  retired Associate  Justice of the Supreme  Court), with Associate Justices Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. and Vicente S. E. Veloso, concurring.

3 Id. at 155-157.

4 Id. at 95. See also Contract of Employment dated July 17, 2000; id. at 165.

5 Id.

6 Id. at 96.

7 Id.

8 Id. at 249.

9 Id. at 250.

10 Id. at 181-182.

11 Id. at 96.

12 Id. at 232-245.

13 Id. at 234. Erroneously stated as “October 10, 2001” in the records.

14 Id. at 238. See also the statement dated December 7, 2000 signed by Captain Wirth; id. at 264-269.

15 Id. at 234.

16 Id. at 322-323. See Affidavit of Janito Subebe dated August 24, 2001. See also id. at 234.

17 Id. at 318-319. See Affidavit of Edgardo Israel dated August 27, 2001. See also id. at 234.

18 Id. at 258-260.

19 Id. at 320-321. See Sinumpaang Salaysay of Gile dated January 22, 2001.

20 Id. at 270-272. See Statement of Chief Officer Bejada dated December 7, 2000.

21 Id. at 318-319. See Affidavit of Edgardo Israel dated August 27, 2001.

22 Id. at 243-245.

23 Id. at 288-301.

24 Id. at 291.

25 Id. at 293-294.cralawred

26 Id. at 298-301.

27 Id. at 158-159.

28 Id. at 160-163. See Affidavit-Complaint dated February 21, 2001.

29 Id. at 400-408.   Docketed as NLRC NCR OFW Case No. (M) 01-07-1316-00. Penned by LA Fe Superiaso-Cellan.

30 Id. at 407.

31 Id. at 405-406.

32 Id. at 408.

33 Id. at 485-492. Docketed as NLRC NCR CA No. 035689-03. Penned by Presiding Commissioner Lourdes C. Javier, with Commissioners Ernesto C. Verceles and Tito F. Genilo, concurring.

34 Id. at 491.

35 Id.

36 Id. at 510-511.

37 Id. at 94-118.

38 Id. at 105.

39 Id. at 107-108.

40 Id. at 108.

41 Id. at 107.

42 Id. at 110-115 and 117.

43 Id. at 115-117.

44 Id. at 155-157.

45Dimagan v. Dacworks United, Incorporated, G.R. No. 191053, November 28, 2011, 661 SCRA 438, 445-446.

46 Magsaysay Maritime Corp. v. NLRC (Second Division), G.R. No. 186180, March 22, 2010, 616 SCRA 362, 372-373.

47Rollo, p. 165.

48 On September 12, 2000, POEA Administrator Reynaldo A. Regalado issued Memorandum Circular No. 11, series of 2000, declaring, inter alia, that Section 20 (A), (B), and (D) of the 1996 POEA-SEC (on Compensation and benefits for Death and for Injury or Illness) shall continue to be applied in view of the Temporary Restraining Order dated September 11, 2000 issued by the Court in G.R. No. 143476 entitled,  “Pedro  Linsangan  v.  Laguesma”  and  G.R.  No.  144479  entitled,  “MARINO,  Inc.  v. Laguesma,”  enjoining  certain  amendments  introduced  by  the  2000  POEA-SEC.  (See  POEA Memorandum Circular No. 11, series of 2000 and POEA Memorandum Circular No. 2, series of 2002. See also Coastal Safeway Marine Services, Inc. v. Delgado, G.R. No. 168210, June 17, 2008, 554

49 Through POEA Memorandum Circular No. 2, series of 2002 which states: SCRA 590).

In view of which POEA Memorandum Circular No. 11, series of 2000, issued on 12 September 2000 enforcing the Temporary restraining Order issued by the Supreme Court in a Resolution dated 11 September 2000, on the implementation of the abovementioned provision is hereby Rescinded.

x x x x
50Cootauco v. MMS Phil. Maritime Services, Inc., G.R. No. 184722, March 15, 2010, 615 SCRA 529, 544.

51 G.R. No. 172086, December 3, 2012, 686 SCRA 676.

52 Id. at 684-685.

53Rollo, p. 275. Statement of 2nd Engineer Alexander Pynikov dated December 7, 2000.

54Rollo, p. 407.

55 Id. at 324-332.

56 Id. at 740.

57 Id. at 95-96.

58 See CA Decision, rollo, p. 109.

59 See Progress Homes v. NLRC, 336 Phil. 265, 270 (1997).

60Yu v. Hon. Reyes-Carpio, GR. No. I89207, June I5, 20 II, 652 SCRA 34I, 348. (Citations omitted)



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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

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  as 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.5crallawlibrary

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.6   Certiorari 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),8the 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

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  65Without  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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

The  rule  is that  factual findings of quasi-judicial agencies  such as  the  NLRC  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  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.15crallawlibrary

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.16crallawlibrary

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 itself 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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

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.’21crallawlibrary

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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

  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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

  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 POEA-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 the 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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

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   [Moradasl   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 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 area  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 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, theCA 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 spumed 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.29crallawlibrary

bl. 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.31crallawlibrary

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.’32crallawlibrary

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)  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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

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. For  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. Natalia 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). 38crallawlibrary

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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

First. There was no assessment of the extent of Capoy’s disability by the company-designated physician, as required by Section 20(8)(3) of the POEA-SEC, which provides:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

x x x x

Considering that  Caoov 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 disability  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.:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

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 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 GRANT 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.


1 G.R. No. 183329, August 27,2009, 597 SCRA 334, reiterated  by the Court en banc 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 of review observed in labor cases.

3Scott 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.

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

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

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

8Secon 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.

9Career 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.

10Norkis Trading Corporation v. Buenavista, G.R. No. 182018, October 10, 2012, 683 SCRA 406, 423; Emcor Incorporatedv. 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:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
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 Blg. (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 fmal and executory ruling rendered by labor tribunals which are deemed to have acquired expertise in matters within their respective jurisdiction.

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

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

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

17Supra 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.

21Rollo, 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) I996 of the POEA Standard Employment Contract.

25 Section I, Rule l3I  of the Rules of Court reads:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Section I. 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. cralawred

26 This qualification on the definition of substantial evidence was first made in I97l  in In the Matter of the Petition for Habeas Corpus ofLansang, et al., 149 Phil. 547, 593 (1971), holding as follows:chanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
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 qua ntitative 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.

31Rollo, 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.



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

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.
36Vergara 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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