May 4, 2023
SC Sets Guidelines in Cases Where Seafarer Claiming Disability Benefits Requests Third Doctor Referral
Consistent with the Court’s constitutional mandate to afford full protection to labor, the Court laid down guidelines to govern disability benefit claims where the seafarer requests for a third doctor referral. In a Decision penned by Justice Samuel H. Gaerlan, the Supreme Court En Banc dismissed the Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by Teodoro B. Bunayog challenging the rulings of the Labor Arbiter (LA), the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), and the Court of Appeals (CA). The LA, NLRC, and CA all denied Bunayog’s complaint for total and permanent disability benefits against his employer, Foscon Shipmanagement, Inc. (Foscon). In 2016, Bunayog, a chief cook onboard the vessel M/T Morning, was diagnosed with pneumonia. After treatment and evaluation, the company-designated physician declared Bunayog fit to work. Bunayog, however, presented a conflicting evaluation from his physician of choice, who declared him unfit for sea duty. Bunayog also requested another medical examination to confirm his permanent disability, but his employer, through Foscon president Evelyn M. Defensor, failed to respond to his request. Bunayog was thus prompted to file a complaint before the LA for total and permanent disability benefits, among others. However, the LA dismissed his complaint. The NLRC and CA subsequently upheld the LA’s ruling.