MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the grant of US$60,000 (around PHP3 million) in full permanent and total disability benefits to a Filipino seafarer who was found to have been no longer fit for work by his company's doctors following a medical condition in 2018.

In its 12-page decision dated December 29 and recently made available, the CA’s Ninth Division affirmed the arbitrator’s judgment dated November 4, 2020, in favor of seafarer Artemio G. Oberes Jr., and said parties may request a third opinion from a physician in such cases.

Among other things, the CA said Oberes’ employer Magsaysay Maritime Corp. (MMC) failed to refer his case to a third doctor despite a request from Oberes and said the assessment of the company-designated physician is not binding.

The CA noted that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC) does not require a specific period within which the parties may seek the opinion of a third doctor, and they may do so even during the mandatory conference before the labor tribunals.

“Accordingly, upon being notified of Oberes’ intent to dispute the company doctor’s findings, the burden to refer the case to a third doctor has shifted to MMC. This the company failed to do so, and Oberes can no longer be faulted for the non-referral. Consequently, the company-designated doctors’ assessment of Oberes’ disability is not binding,” the court said.

In January 2018, Oberes suffered multiple joint pain and was disembarked and admitted to a medical facility in Panama and he was eventually medically repatriated back to the country where he was diagnosed with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.

On August 28, 2018, he underwent medical examination where he was found by doctors to be unfit to work as a seafarer given his condition.

In November of that year, Oberes sought a grievance meeting regarding the payment of his disability benefits and the possibility of referring him to a third doctor for an independent medical assessment.

He then sued to be granted full disability benefits claiming his disability is work-related. (PNA)