BERNARDINA P. BARTOLOME vs. SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM and SCANMAR MARITIME SERVICES, INC., G.R. No. 192531, November 12, 2014
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The rule limiting death benefits claims to the legitimate parents is contrary to law
This brings us to the question of whether or not petitioner is entitled to the death benefits claim in view of John’s work-related demise. The pertinent provision, in this regard, is Article 167 (j) of the Labor Code, as amended, which reads:
ART. 167. Definition of terms. – As used in this Title unless the context indicates otherwise:
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(j) 'Beneficiaries' means the dependent spouse until he remarries and dependent children, who are the primary beneficiaries. In their absence, the dependent parents and subject to the restrictions imposed on dependent children, the illegitimate children and legitimate descendants who are the secondary beneficiaries; Provided, that the dependent acknowledged natural child shall be considered as a primary beneficiary when there are no other dependent children who are qualified and eligible for monthly income benefit. (Emphasis supplied)
Concurrently, pursuant to the succeeding Article 177(c) supervising the ECC "[T]o approve rules and regulations governing the processing of claims and the settlement of disputes arising therefrom as prescribed by the System," the ECC has issued the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation, interpreting the above-cited provision as follows:
RULE XV – BENEFICIARIES
SECTION 1. Definition. (a) Beneficiaries shall be either primary or secondary, and determined atthe time of employee’s death.
(b) The following beneficiaries shall be considered primary:
(1) The legitimate spouse living with the employee at the time of the employee’s death until he remarries; and
(2) Legitimate, legitimated, legally adopted or acknowledged natural children, who are unmarried not gainfully employed, not over 21 years of age, or over 21 years of age provided that he is incapacitated and incapable of self - support due to physicalor mental defect which is congenital or acquired during minority; Provided, further, that a dependent acknowledged natural child shall be considered as a primary beneficiary only when there are no other dependent children who are qualified and eligible for monthly income benefit; provided finally, that if there are two or more acknowledged natural children, they shall be counted from the youngest and without substitution, but not exceeding five.
(c) The following beneficiaries shall be considered secondary:
(1) The legitimate parents wholly dependent upon the employee for regular support;
(2) The legitimate descendants and illegitimate children who are unmarried, not gainfully employed, and not over 21 years of age, or over 21 years of age providedthat he is incapacitated and incapable of self - support dueto physical or mental defect which is congenital or acquired during minority. (Emphasis supplied)
Guilty of reiteration, the ECC denied petitioner’s claim on the ground that she is no longer the deceased’s legitimate parent, as required by the implementing rules. As held by the ECC, the adoption decree severed the relation between John and petitioner, effectively divesting her of the status of a legitimate parent, and, consequently, that of being a secondary beneficiary.
a. Rule XV, Sec. 1(c)(1) of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation deviates from the clear language of Art. 167 (j) of the Labor Code, as amended
Examining the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation in light of the Labor Code, as amended, it is at once apparent that the ECC indulged in an unauthorized administrative legislation. In net effect, the ECC read into Art. 167 of the Code an interpretation not contemplated by the provision. Pertinent in elucidating on this point is Article 7 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which reads:
Article 7. Laws are repealed only by subsequent ones, and their violation or non-observance shall not be excused by disuse, or custom or practice to the contrary.
When the courts declared a law to be inconsistent with the Constitution, the former shall be void and the latter shall govern.
Administrative or executive acts, orders and regulations shall be valid only when they are not contrary to the laws or the Constitution.(Emphasis supplied)
As applied, this Court held in Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Fortune Tobacco Corporation16 that:
As we have previously declared, rule-making power must be confined to details for regulating the mode or proceedings in order to carry into effect the law as it has been enacted, and it cannot be extended to amend or expand the statutory requirements or to embrace matters not covered by the statute. Administrative regulations must always be in harmony with the provisions of the law because any resulting discrepancy between the two will always be resolved in favor of the basic law. (Emphasis supplied)
Guided by this doctrine, We find that Rule XV of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation is patently a wayward restriction of and a substantial deviation from Article 167 (j) of the Labor Code when it interpreted the phrase "dependent parents" to refer to "legitimate parents."
It bears stressing that a similar issue in statutory construction was resolved by this Court in Diaz v. Intermediate Appellate Court17 in this wise:
It is Our shared view that the word "relatives" should be construed in its general acceptation. Amicus curiae Prof. Ruben Balane has this to say:
The term relatives, although used many times in the Code, is not defined by it. In accordance therefore with the canons of statutory interpretation, it should be understood to have a general and inclusive scope, inasmuch as the term is a general one. Generalia verba sunt generaliter intelligenda. That the law does not make a distinction prevents us from making one: Ubi lex non distinguit, nec nos distinguera debemus. xxx
According to Prof. Balane, to interpret the term relatives in Article 992 in a more restrictive sense than it is used and intended is not warranted by any rule of interpretation. Besides, he further states that when the law intends to use the term in a more restrictive sense, it qualifies the term with the wuleord collateral, as in Articles 1003 and 1009 of the New Civil Code.
Thus, the word "relatives" is a general term and when used in a statute it embraces not only collateral relatives but also all the kindred of the person spoken of, unless the context indicates that it was used in a more restrictive or limited sense — which as already discussed earlier, is not so in the case at bar. (Emphasis supplied)
In the same vein, the term "parents" in the phrase "dependent parents" in the afore-quoted Article 167 (j) of the Labor Code is used and ought to be taken in its general sense and cannot be unduly limited to "legitimate parents" as what the ECC did. The phrase "dependent parents" should, therefore, include all parents, whether legitimate or illegitimate and whether by nature or by adoption. When the law does not distinguish, one should not distinguish. Plainly, "dependent parents" are parents, whether legitimate or illegitimate, biological or by adoption, who are in need of support or assistance.
Moreover, the same Article 167 (j),as couched, clearly shows that Congress did not intend to limit the phrase "dependent parents" to solely legitimate parents. At the risk of being repetitive, Article 167 provides that "in their absence, the dependent parents and subject to the restrictions imposed on dependent children, the illegitimate children and legitimate descendants who are secondary beneficiaries." Had the lawmakers contemplated "dependent parents" to mean legitimate parents, then it would have simply said descendants and not "legitimate descendants." The manner by which the provision in question was crafted undeniably show that the phrase "dependent parents" was intended to cover all parents – legitimate, illegitimate or parents by nature or adoption.
b. Rule XV, Section 1(c)(1) of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation is in contravention of the equal protection clause
To insist that the ECC validly interpreted the Labor Code provision is an affront to the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the laws for the rule, as worded, prevents the parents of an illegitimate child from claiming benefits under Art. 167 (j) of the Labor Code, as amended by PD 626. To Our mind, such postulation cannot be countenanced.
As jurisprudence elucidates, equal protection simply requires that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed. It requires public bodies and institutions to treat similarly situated individuals in a similar manner.18 In other words, the concept of equal justice under the law requires the state to govern impartially, and it may not draw distinctions between individuals solely on differences that are irrelevant to a legitimate governmental objective.19
The concept of equal protection, however, does not require the universal application of the laws to all persons or things without distinction. What it simply requires is equality among equals as determined according to a valid classification. Indeed, the equal protection clause permits classification. Such classification, however, to be valid must pass the test of reasonableness. The test has four requisites: (1) The classification rests on substantial distinctions; (2) It is germane to the purpose of the law; (3) It is not limited to existing conditions only; and (4) It applies equally to all members of the same class. "Superficial differences do not make for a valid classification."20
In the instant case, there is no compelling reasonable basis to discriminate against illegitimate parents. Simply put, the above-cited rule promulgated by the ECC that limits the claim of benefits to the legitimate parents miserably failed the test of reasonableness since the classification is not germane to the law being implemented. We see no pressing government concern or interest that requires protection so as to warrant balancing the rights of unmarried parents on one hand and the rationale behind the law on the other. On the contrary, the SSS can better fulfill its mandate, and the policy of PD 626 – that employees and their dependents may promptly secure adequate benefits in the event of work-connected disability or death - will be better served if Article 167 (j) of the Labor Code is not so narrowly interpreted.
There being no justification for limiting secondary parent beneficiaries to the legitimate ones, there can be no other course of action to take other than to strike down as unconstitutional the phrase "illegitimate" as appearing in Rule XV, Section 1(c)(1) of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation.
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