G.R. No. 186289. June 29, 2010 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title: Oriental Shipmanagement Co., Inc. vs. Romy B. Bastol

### Facts:
Oriental Shipmanagement Co., Inc. (OSCI) hired Romy B. Bastol as bosun in 1995 for deployment aboard MV Felicita, owned and operated by Paterco Shipping Ltd. (PSL) and insured by Protection & Indemnity Club (PIC), with Pandiman Philippines, Inc. (PPI) as the local representative. Bastol suffered a heart attack aboard in February 1997, leading to his repatriation and subsequent treatments, which concluded with him being found “Unfit for Sea Duty.”

Bastol sought further opinion from Dr. Efren R. Vicaldo, who assessed his disability as Grade 1 (120%). When settlement attempts with OSCI failed, Bastol filed a complaint with the Labor Arbiter in 1998 for disability benefits, medical expenses, and moral damages, among others. OSCI countered, arguing Bastol’s non-entitlement due to non-compliance with the 1994 revised Standard Employment Contract (SEC).

The Labor Arbiter awarded Bastol USD 60,000 for disability. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) initially vacated this decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Labor Arbiter, upon rehearing and despite a procedural hiccup involving late evidentiary submission, reiterated the award. The NLRC then reversed this decision, dismissing the case. Bastol appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA), which reinstated the Labor Arbiter’s initial decision. OSCI then appealed to the Supreme Court.

### Issues:
1. The procedure and legality of the Court of Appeals’ decision to reinstate the Labor Arbiter’s initial decision which had been vacated.
2. The validity of evidentiary submissions and procedural compliance in adjudicating disability benefits.
3. Whether the 120-day rule for declaring disability applies, and the role of the company-designated physician versus an independent physician’s findings.

### Court’s Decision:
The Supreme Court denied OSCI’s appeal, affirming the CA’s decision with modification – reinstating the January 31, 2003 decision of Labor Arbiter. The Court ruled that procedural issues raised did not merit the dismissal of Bastol’s claim and that the CA did not err in its judgment. Furthermore, the decision underscored the adherence to the 120-day rule for assessing disability, recognizing the seafarer’s entitlement to disability benefits after being unable to perform his usual duties beyond this period, regardless of the company-designated physician’s assessment.

### Doctrine:
The case reaffirmed the doctrine that a seafarer’s inability to perform his usual sea duties for more than 120 days, despite ongoing medical treatment, constitutes permanent total disability thereby entitling him to disability benefits as stipulated in the employment contract, in accordance with the POEA-SEC guidelines.

### Class Notes:
– Importance of adherence to the procedural requirements in labor cases, particularly in the filing of complaints and submission of evidence.
– The doctrine of “120-day rule” in determining permanent total disability, emphasizing the seafarer’s right to benefits if unable to work beyond this period.
– Distinguishing company-designated physician’s assessments from independent or third-party doctors’ opinions in resolving disability claims.
– Interpretation of employment contracts and POEA-SEC guidelines towards protecting seafarer’s rights and welfare.

### Historical Background:
This case provides insight into the legal struggles of Filipino seafarers seeking disability benefits, illustrating the challenges faced in navigating employer-insurer mechanisms, and affirming legal protections within the maritime sector.


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