G.R. No. 234711, March 2, 2020,
♦ Decision, Leonen, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, Gesmundo, [J]

[ G.R. No. 234711, March 02, 2020 ]




The undersigned most respectfully registers his dissent to the majority and the ponencia's collective opinion as regards the award of full death benefits in favor of seafarer Junlou H. Castillon's (Castillon) heirs.

The striking facts which call for a re-assessment of the majority's position are enumerated as follows:

1) Castillon was [onboard] M/V Amethyst Ace from February 23, 2009 to September 3, 2009 which translates to one hundred and ninety-two (192) days or roughly six (6) months and eleven (11) days.1

2) In June 2009, roughly four (4) months aboard the vessel, Castillon complained of intermittent mild stomach pains but he dismissed the same as an ordinary discomfort.2

3) After being repatriated, Castillon was diagnosed with "Sigmoid Colon Carcinoma Stage III.B" (colon cancer).3

4) Castillon signed a quitclaim and received a check for P888,340.00 or roughly US$20,000.00.4

Notwithstanding the aforementioned facts, the ponencia sided in favor of Castillon with the following findings and reasons:

1) Castillon's death during the pendency of his claim for compensation is compensable because it was work- related.5

2) Castillon's illness can be traced from his family history of malignancy as well as his working and living conditions while on board which contributed to his illness.6

3) Castillon's allegations—that he was given poor dietary provisions such as canned goods which are high in fat and cholesterol, that he worked for more than eight (8) hours a day, and that he was exposed to oil and fumes—were never disputed by the respondents.7

4) Castillon cannot be considered to have signed the quitclaim voluntarily as he was in desperate need of financial assistance for his chemotherapy and the amount given by respondent Magsaysay Mitsui OSK Marine, Inc. (Magsaysay) is hardly sufficient as he was legally entitled to US$65,000.00 instead of the US$20,000.00 that was given.8

The aforementioned reasons, with all due respect to the majority's position, appear to be inconsistent with some basic legal precepts and tend to present long-term problems for those who are contemplating of seeking employment in the maritime industry. 

I. Evidence is not substantial enough to establish the fact that Castillon's colon cancer was work-related.

It is an oft-repeated rule that the quantum of proof necessary in labor cases (as in other administrative and quasi-judicial proceedings) is substantial evidence, or such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.9 And in a situation where the word of another party is taken against the other, as in this case, the Court must rely on substantial evidence because a party alleging a critical fact must duly substantiate and support such allegation.10

Concomitantly, a reasonable proof of work-connection is sufficient to establish compensability of a non-occupational disease—a direct causal relation is not required.11 And while the degree of determining whether the illness is work-related requires only probability, the conclusions of the courts must still be based on real, and not just apparent, evidence.12

In the case at hand, the records barely show that Castillon's colon cancer was caused or aggravated by his work and stay in the confines of M/V Amethyst Ace for the following reasons:

FIRST, the probability of developing colorectal cancer and having the same progress from Stage I to Stage 3 in just 4-6 months is miniscule. Overall, only 5% of adenomas (precancerous colon polyps) progress to cancer and it can take seven (7) to ten (10) or more years for an adenoma to evolve into cancer—if it ever does.13 Additionally, medical bulletins show that colorectal cancer is often found after symptoms appear as most people with early colon or rectal cancer have no symptoms of the disease; accordingly, symptoms usually appear only at a more advanced stage of the disease.14 In other words, colorectal cancers are usually asymptomatic and can take years to manifest. Moreover, such medical consensus suggest that cancer progresses in different stages and does not occur or develop in a rapid manner. And as to how fast cancer develops, the current state of medical science has yet to give humanity specific answers or reasonable estimates to enable physicians to pinpoint, with reasonable certainty, the period of such illness' development or progression.

Even if it is to be assumed that the rate of development of Castillon's colon cancer was unusually rapid as a result of some unusual mutation, such possibility remains to be within the realm of conjecture or supposition. As such, the Court can neither reasonably rule that Castillon's cancer may have developed or progressed during such a short span of time. While it is enough that his employment as a seafarer contributed—even if only in a small degree—to the development of the disease,15 the existence of otherwise non-existent proof cannot be presumed.16 Evidence which would establish a reasonable connection between the nature or conditions of work and the illness suffered by a seafarer during employment should still be presented and should still satisfy the needed quantum of proof—such requirement cannot be dispensed or ignored completely.

SECOND, the probability that Castillon's colon cancer was aggravated by his diet while onboard the vessel is speculative at best. It is basic that whoever alleges a fact has the burden of proving it because a mere allegation is not evidence.17 While the facts show that the respondents failed to rebut the allegation that Castillon was given poor dietary provisions such as canned goods which are high in fat and cholesterol, such silence does not amount to substantial evidence. Self-serving allegations should still be substantiated by evidence if they are to be regarded as useful to establish a fact or inference.18

Moreover, one's predisposition to develop cancer is affected not only by one's work, but also by many factors outside of one's working environment.19 The factors leading to Castillon's colon cancer are so varied that substantial evidence is needed to prove that the same illness is work-related. Factors that increase a person's risk of colorectal cancer include high fat intake, a family history of colorectal cancer and polyps, the presence of polyps in the large intestine, and chronic ulcerative colitis.20 Accordingly, even if respondents' silence regarding M/V Amethyst Ace's poor dietary provisions are to be taken as an admission, the same falls short of the required quantum of proof required to establish work-relatedness because it is merely speculative as a probable factor of Castillon's colon cancer. Thus, the evidence is not substantial enough to prove that Castillon's diet onboard the vessel caused or contributed to the development of his colon cancer.

LAST, a pre-employment medical examination (PEME) is not exploratory and may not be relied upon to produce information regarding a seafarer's true state of health.21 It is not intended to be a totally in-depth and thorough examination of an applicant's medical condition.22 This jurisprudential observation applies to asymptomatic illnesses such as colon cancer which, as discussed earlier, usually appear only at a more advanced stage of the disease. An asymptomatic illness cannot reasonably be detected during a PEME as the same procedure is routinary. It is only when patients complain of discomfort or pain that routinary procedures, such as the PEME, can be extended by the examining physician through additional medical tests which may lead to the eventual diagnosis of an underlying illness.

However, the presumption of work-relatedness cannot be reasonably relied upon to support a claim of compensation just because the PEME is non-exploratory. At best, the inadequacy of the PEME in diagnosing or detecting a disease can only overcome an employer's defense that the illness suffered by a seafarer should not be considered as work-related as it was not found to be existing at the time of employment. Such presumption, even if sometimes supported by probability, cannot by itself be reasonably interpreted to automatically mean, establish or substantiate a claim of a seafarer's illness being work-related. At the very least, circumstantial evidence has to be offered to prove the "reasonable link" between the nature or conditions of work and the seafarer's purported resultant illness. 

II. General principles such as social justice cannot supplant the requirement of establishing facts or inferences by evidence.

Time and again, the Court has ruled that the social justice provisions of the Constitution are not self-executing principles ready for enforcement through the courts—they are merely statements of principles and policies.23 In other words, they are merely guidelines for legislation.24 As such, social justice principles need legislative enactments before they can be implemented.25

Conversely, the protective mantle of social justice cannot be utilized as an instrument to hoodwink courts of justice.26 In relation to the administration of justice, procedural rules are not to be belittled or dismissed simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party's substantive rights.27 Especially in the aspect of establishing facts, due process considerations require that judgments must conform to and be supported by the pleadings and evidence presented in court.28 Deciding based on evidence is an essential attribute of due process which properly informs (especially those who will be deprived of life, liberty or property) the reasons for the verdict which pronounced the rights and obligations of contending parties in litigation.

In this case, it has already been shown that the records lack substantial evidence to show that Castillon's colon cancer was work-related. To force the application of social justice principles by discarding evidentiary requirements just so an underprivileged party may benefit at the expense of the other is to betray the same principles. The constitutional commitment to the policy of social justice cannot be understood to mean that every labor dispute shall automatically be decided in favor of labor.29 Such constitutional and legal protection equally recognizes the employer's right and prerogative to manage its operation according to reasonable standards and norms of fair play.30 Accordingly, broad and generic principles—such as social justice—cannot be used as substitutes in place of the quantum of evidence required to establish a fact or inference. Doing so would violate the basic tenets of due process and would amount to the desecration of the principle of social justice itself. 

III. Drawing the line between applying social justice principles and sufficiency of evidence requires the Court to weigh the long-term effects of its decisions.

It was first declared by this Court in More Maritime Agencies, Inc., et al. v. National Labor Relations Commission, et al.31 that: "[e]very workman brings with him to his employment certain infirmities, and while the employer is not the insurer of the health of his employees, he takes them as he finds them, and assumes the risk of having a weakened condition aggravated by some injury which might not hurt or bother a perfectly normal, healthy person."32 Such ruling is consistent with the disposition in the instant case in favor of Castillon.

Here, the ponencia cited the case of Leonis Navigation Co., Inc., et al. v. Villamater, et al.33 which considered colon cancer as a compensable disease by reason of being work-related because, even if the NLRC and the Labor Arbiter found that seafarer Villamater's "dietary provisions while at sea increased his risk of contracting colon cancer because he had no choice of what to eat on board except those provided on the vessels and these consisted mainly of high-fat, high-cholesterol, and low-fiber foods," the employers "were silent when they argued that his affliction was brought about by diet and genetics." At this point, it is reasonable to conclude that the Court in Leonis did not give a clear explanation (aside from the fact that such illness is an interplay of age, hereditary, and dietary factors) why colon cancer is work-related considering that the "adenomatous polyps in the colon...are usually benign, but some develop into cancer over time." In other words, this Court's ruling that Villamater's colon cancer was probably work-related was due to the result of failing to raise an argument in a timely manner—not due to sufficiency of evidence. As earlier pointed out, the respondents' silence cannot be used in place of substantial evidence as it betrays the basic tenets of due process.

The ponencia's resolve to uphold and apply social justice principles in the case at hand is commendable. However, the undersigned merely wishes to voice out his concern in according benefits to a single seafarer in view of social justice at the expense of all other seafarers who are still applying for employment as well as others who still wish for overseas deployment. If the Court decides to indiscriminately apply social justice principles and to follow the jurisprudential path of compensating ailments or deaths with the slightest perceived connection to work despite insufficiency of evidence of a reasonable causal connection, the barriers to entry of employment for Filipino seafarers as well as potential seafarers will eventually become insurmountable. Pre-employment medical examination costs will skyrocket as a result of an exhaustive requirement from employers in order to mitigate their monetary liability of compensating illnesses existing at the time of the execution of employment contracts.

More importantly, the Court would be establishing a dangerous precedent if an evidentiary presumption of work-relatedness is considered to be an implication of the general principle of social justice. It would have the effect of dispensing the requirement of satisfying the required quantum of evidence in favor of upholding an interpretative rule used to settle doubts.

Finally, no explanation or concrete jurisprudential solution was offered or, at least, discussed by the majority to address the foregoing concern relative to the long-term effect of indiscriminately applying social justice principles despite the fact that current medical science has yet to conclusively show, with reasonable probability, that colon cancer may form, develop and worsen in such a short period of time as 3 to 4 months. As to the finding that Castillon's colon cancer was aggravated by his diet allegedly consisting of fatty foods, the same was only presumed without presentation of any scientific or medical evidence. Thus, while the Court adheres to the principle of liberality in favor of the seafarer in construing the POEA-SEC, it cannot allow claims for compensation based on conjectures and probabilities.34 

IV. An improperly obtained quitclaim will not result in the seafarer's entitlement to full benefits when the death or illness is not work-related.

Not all quitclaims are per se invalid or against public policy, except: (1) where there is clear proof that the waiver was wangled from an unsuspecting or gullible person, or (2) where the terms of settlement are unconscionable on their faces; in these cases, the law will step in to annul the questionable transactions.35 However, to allow the recovery of full disability or death benefits by virtue of an invalid quitclaim presupposes that there is a legal entitlement to such benefits in full.

Concomitantly, it is settled that no person should unjustly enrich himself or herself at the expense of another.36 Unjust enrichment exists "when a person unjustly retains a benefit from the loss of another, or when a person retains money or property of another against the fundamental principles of justice, equity and good conscience."37 As such, it must be shown that a party was unjustly enriched in the sense that the term unjustly could mean illegally or unlawfully.38

In this case, the respondents (especially Magsaysay) cannot be considered to have taken advantage of Castillon in the signing of the quitclaim as there was no clear proof that the latter was gullible or was defrauded. Moreover, the terms of the settlement, especially as to the amount of compensation cannot be considered as unconscionable. This is because Castillon cannot be considered as being entitled to death benefits in the first place for failure of his heirs to substantiate the existence of work-relatedness, a requirement for compensability.

Courts, as well as magistrates presiding over them, are not omniscient; they can only act on the facts and issues presented before them in appropriate pleadings.39 As such, evidence is needed to establish an approximate amount of monetary claim in the first place before one can conclude that the amount being offered by the employer in a given quitclaim is conscionable or unconscionable. Since no such monetary claim was established/proven with substantial evidence of work-relatedness, it reasonably follows that any sum provided in the succeeding quitclaim can never amount to anything unconscionable.

Relatedly, since the evidence on record hardly establishes any relationship between Castillon's colon cancer and his stay onboard M/V Amethyst Ace, it would be manifestly unjust to require Magsaysay to part with its funds in order to pay off an obligation which it never had. While the undersigned greatly sympathizes with the plight of Castillon's heirs, he cannot in good conscience concede to the fact that one party will be unduly benefited at the expense of another.


All told, the available records do not establish through substantial evidence that Castillon's colon cancer developed due to or was caused by his work as a seafarer onboard M/V Amethyst Ace. Castillon's short stint of six (6) months as a seafarer onboard the subject vessel, coupled with an unsubstantiated allegation of poor dietary provisions, are not enough to lead the mind of a reasonable person to accept that such facts are adequate to justify the conclusion that such colon cancer was work-related. Moreover, an interpretative rule in settling doubts such as social justice cannot be used in place of evidence. To do so would be to violate the basic constitutional principle of due process. Finally, an invalid quitclaim does not automatically mean that a claimant is entitled to recovery of full compensatory benefits under the law or contract. A claimant first has to establish that he or she is legally entitled to such benefits to begin with.

At this point, the undersigned takes this opportune time to reiterate his view that social justice principles involve a delicate balance between the interests of both capital and labor. Principles which will eventually lead to long-term benefits for both sides should be pursued. Since this Court's decisions (and signed extended resolutions) not only settle past controversies but also set precedents for factually similar cases which may arise in the future, great care has to be taken in order to ensure that legal principles are balanced and will work for the benefit of all.

In the case of the maritime industry, it would be unreasonable to require employers to gather large amounts of data regarding the hereditary history of all its applicants. Moreover, automatically awarding compensatory benefits to seafarers even if the same are not established by substantial evidence would set a dangerous precedent which is repugnant to the ideals of due process. Not only would these measures be time-consuming and costly, they would also discourage foreign employers from hiring Filipino seafarers. State policies should also be balanced so as not to prejudice the very persons that the Constitution and the law seek to protect.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the undersigned votes to DENY the Petition for Review on Certiorari and AFFIRM the September 30, 2015 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 06715 with no costs to the petitioners.


1 Ponencia, p. 2.

2 Id.

3 Id.

4 Id. at 2-4 and 18.

5 Id. at 10 and 13-14.

6 Id. at 14.

7 Id. at 16.

8 Id. at 18.

9 Tenazas, et al. v. R. Villegas Taxi Transport, et al. 731 Phil. 217, 229 (2014); citation omitted.

10 Nightowl Watchman & Security Agency, Inc. v. Lumahan, 111 Phil. 391, 404 (2015); citation omitted.

11 De Leon v. Maunlad Trans, Inc., et al., 805 Phil. 531, 540 (2017), citation omitted.

12 Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc., et al. v. De Leon, 804 Phil. 279, 291-292 (2017); citation omitted.

13 https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/they-found-colon-polyps-now-what (last visited: January 20, 2020).

14 Talosig v. United Philippine Lines, Inc., et al., 739 Phil. 774, 785 (2014); citation omitted.

15 Skippers United Pacific, Inc., et al. v. Lagne, G.R. No. 217036, August 20, 2018; citation omitted.

16 Raro v. Employees' Compensation Commission, et al., 254 Phil. 846, 852 (1989).

17 BP Oil and Chemicals International Philippines, Inc. v. Total Distribution & Logistic Systems, Inc., 805 Phil. 244, 260 (2017); citation omitted.

18 See Seacrest Maritime Management, Inc., et al. v. Roderos, 830 Phil. 750, 767 (2018).

19 Klaveness Maritime Agency, Inc., et al. v. Beneficiaries of the Late Second Officer Anthony S. Allas, 566 Phil. 579, 589 (2008).

20 Leonis Navigation Co., Inc., et al. v. Villamater, et al., 628 Phil. 81, 97 (2018); citation omitted.

21 Dayo v. Status Maritime Corporation, et al., 751 Phil. 778, 792 (2015).

22 Doroteo v. Philimare Incorporated, et al., 807 Phil. 164, 175 (2017); citation omitted.

23 Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Employees Union, Regional Office No. VII, Cebu City v. Commission on Audit, 584 Phil. 132, 137 (2008).

24 See Manila Prince Hotel v. Government Service Insurance System, et al., 335 Phil. 82, 106 (1997).

25 See Tondo Medical Center Employees Association, et at. v. Court of Appeals, et al., 554 Phil. 609, 625 (2007); citation omitted.

26 Nib v. Court of Appeals, et al., 213 Phil. 460, 475 (1984).

27 Spouses Bergonia v. Court of Appeals, et al., 680 Phil. 334, 344 (2012).

28 See Diona v. Dalangue, et al., 701 Phil. 19, 31 (2013); emphases supplied.

29 Imasen Philippine Manufacturing Corporation v. Alcon, et al., 746 Phil. 172, 179 (2014); citation omitted.

30 PJ Lhuillier, Inc. v. Camacho, 806 Phil. 413, 424 (2017).

31 366 Phil. 646 (1999).

32 Id. at 654-655.

33 Supra note 20, at 98-99.

34 Crew and Ship Management International Inc., et al. v. Soria, 700 Phil. 598, 613 (2012); cf. Roy, III v. Herbosa, et al., 800 Phil. 459, 493 (2016).

35 Mindoro Lumber and Hardware v. Bacay, et al., 498 Phil. 752, 760 (2005); citation omitted.

36 Loria v. Muñoz, Jr., 745 Phil. 506, 508 (2014).

37 Filinvest Land, Inc., et al. v. Backy, et al., 697 Phil. 403, 412 (2012); citation omitted.

38 Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Salaried Employees Union (MMPSEU) v. Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation, 711 Phil. 286, 303 (2013); citation omitted.

39 De Castro v. Liberty Broadcasting Network, Inc., et al., 643 Phil. 304, 313 (2010).

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