BERNARDINA P. BARTOLOME vs. SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM and SCANMAR MARITIME SERVICES, INC., G.R. No. 192531, November 12, 2014
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In attempting to cure the glaring constitutional violation of the adverted rule, the ECC extended illegitimate parents an opportunity to file claims for and receive death benefits by equating dependency and legitimacy to the exercise of parental authority. Thus, as insinuated by the ECC in its assailed Decision, had petitioner not given up John for adoption, she could have still claimed death benefits under the law.
To begin with, nowhere in the law nor in the rules does it say that "legitimate parents" pertain to those who exercise parental authority over the employee enrolled under the ECP. It was only in the assailed Decision wherein such qualification was made. In addition, assuming arguendo that the ECC did not overstep its boundaries in limiting the adverted Labor Code provision to the deceased’s legitimate parents, and that the commission properly equated legitimacy to parental authority, petitioner can still qualify as John’s secondary beneficiary.
True, when Cornelio, in 1985, adopted John, then about two (2) years old, petitioner’s parental authority over John was severed. However, lest it be overlooked, one key detail the ECC missed, aside from Cornelio’s death, was that when the adoptive parent died less than three (3) years after the adoption decree, John was still a minor, at about four (4) years of age.
John’s minority at the time of his adopter’s death is a significant factor in the case at bar. Under such circumstance, parental authority should be deemed to have reverted in favor of the biological parents. Otherwise, taking into account Our consistent ruling that adoption is a personal relationship and that there are no collateral relatives by virtue of adoption,21 who was then left to care for the minor adopted child if the adopter passed away?
To be sure, reversion of parental authority and legal custody in favor of the biological parents is not a novel concept. Section 20 of Republic Act No. 855222 (RA 8552), otherwise known as the Domestic Adoption Act, provides:
Section 20. Effects of Rescission.– If the petition [for rescission of adoption] is granted, the parental authority of the adoptee's biological parent(s), if known, or the legal custody of the Department shall be restored if the adoptee is still a minor or incapacitated. The reciprocal rights and obligations of the adopter(s) and the adoptee to each other shall be extinguished. (emphasis added)
The provision adverted to is applicable herein by analogy insofar as the restoration of custody is concerned.1âwphi1 The manner herein of terminating the adopter’s parental authority, unlike the grounds for rescission,23 justifies the retention of vested rights and obligations between the adopter and the adoptee, while the consequent restoration of parental authority in favor of the biological parents, simultaneously, ensures that the adoptee, who is still a minor, is not left to fend for himself at such a tender age.
To emphasize, We can only apply the rule by analogy, especially since RA 8552 was enacted after Cornelio’s death. Truth be told, there is a lacuna in the law as to which provision shall govern contingencies in all fours with the factual milieu of the instant petition. Nevertheless, We are guided by the catena of cases and the state policies behind RA 855224 wherein the paramount consideration is the best interest of the child, which We invoke to justify this disposition. It is, after all, for the best interest of the child that someone will remain charged for his welfare and upbringing should his or her adopter fail or is rendered incapacitated to perform his duties as a parent at a time the adoptee isstill in his formative years, and, to Our mind, in the absence or, as in this case, death of the adopter, no one else could reasonably be expected to perform the role of a parent other than the adoptee’s biological one.
Moreover, this ruling finds support on the fact that even though parental authority is severed by virtue of adoption, the ties between the adoptee and the biological parents are not entirely eliminated. To demonstrate, the biological parents, in some instances, are able to inherit from the adopted, as can be gleaned from Art. 190 of the Family Code:
Art. 190. Legal or intestate succession to the estate of the adopted shall be governed by the following rules:
(2) When the parents, legitimate or illegitimate, or the legitimate ascendants of the adopted concur with the adopter, they shall divide the entire estate, one-half to be inherited by the parents or ascendants and the other half, by the adopters;
(6) When only collateral blood relatives of the adopted survive, then the ordinary rules of legal or intestate succession shall apply.
Similarly, at the time of Cornelio Colcol’s death, which was prior to the effectivity of the Family Code, the governing provision is Art. 984 of the New Civil Code, which provides:
Art. 984. In case of the death of an adopted child, leaving no children or descendants, his parents and relatives by consanguinity and not by adoption, shall be his legal heirs.
From the foregoing, it is apparent that the biological parents retain their rights of succession to the estate of their child who was the subject of adoption. While the benefits arising from the death of an SSS covered employee do not form part of the estate of the adopted child, the pertinent provision on legal or intestate succession at least reveals the policy on the rights of the biological parents and those by adoption vis-à-vis the right to receive benefits from the adopted. In the same way that certain rights still attach by virtue of the blood relation, so too should certain obligations, which, We rule, include the exercise of parental authority, in the event of the untimely passing of their minor offspring’s adoptive parent. We cannot leave undetermined the fate of a minor child whose second chance ata better life under the care of the adoptive parents was snatched from him by death’s cruel grasp. Otherwise, the adopted child’s quality of life might have been better off not being adopted at all if he would only find himself orphaned in the end. Thus, We hold that Cornelio’s death at the time of John’sminority resulted in the restoration of petitioner’s parental authority over the adopted child.
On top of this restoration of parental authority, the fact of petitioner’s dependence on John can be established from the documentary evidence submitted to the ECC. As it appears in the records, petitioner, prior to John’s adoption, was a housekeeper. Her late husband died in 1984, leaving her to care for their seven (7) children. But since she was unable to "give a bright future to her growing children" as a housekeeper, she consented to Cornelio’s adoption of Johnand Elizabeth in 1985.
Following Cornelio’s death in 1987, so records reveal, both petitioner and John repeatedly reported "Brgy. Capurictan, Solsona, Ilocos Norte" as their residence. In fact, this veryaddress was used in John’s Death Certificate25 executed in Brazil, and in the Report of Personal Injury or Loss of Life accomplished by the master of the vessel boarded by John.26 Likewise, this is John’s known address as per the ECC’s assailed Decision.27 Similarly, this same address was used by petitioner in filing her claim before the SSS La Union branch and, thereafter, in her appeal with the ECC. Hence, it can be assumed that aside from having been restored parental authority over John, petitioner indeed actually execised the same, and that they lived together under one roof.
Moreover, John, in his SSS application,28 named petitioner as one of his beneficiaries for his benefits under RA 8282, otherwise known as the "Social Security Law." While RA 8282 does not cover compensation for work-related deaths or injury and expressly allows the designation of beneficiaries who are not related by blood to the member unlike in PD 626, John’s deliberate act of indicating petitioner as his beneficiary at least evinces that he, in a way, considered petitioner as his dependent. Consequently, the confluence of circumstances – from Cornelio’s death during John’s minority, the restoration ofpetitioner’s parental authority, the documents showing singularity of address, and John’s clear intention to designate petitioner as a beneficiary - effectively made petitioner, to Our mind, entitled to death benefit claims as a secondary beneficiary under PD 626 as a dependent parent.
All told, the Decision of the ECC dated March 17, 2010 is bereft of legal basis. Cornelio’s adoption of John, without more, does not deprive petitioner of the right to receive the benefits stemming from John’s death as a dependent parent given Cornelio’s untimely demise during John’s minority. Since the parent by adoption already died, then the death benefits under the Employees' Compensation Program shall accrue solely to herein petitioner, John's sole remaining beneficiary.
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