CD: Continental Steel v. Montaño

August 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm (2009, Case Digests) (, , )

Continental Steel v. Montaño
G.R. No. 182836 October 13, 2009
Chico-Nazario, J.

Doctrines:
Life is not synonymous with civil personality. One need not acquire civil personality first before he/she could die. Even a child inside the womb already has life.

In case of doubt in the interpretation of any law or provision affecting labor, such should be interpreted in favor of labor.

Facts:
Hortillano, an employee of petitioner Continental Steel Manufacturing Corporation (Continental Steel) filed a claim for Paternity Leave, Bereavement Leave and Death and Accident Insurance for dependent, pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The claim was based on the death of Hortillano’s unborn child. Hortillano’s wife had a premature delivery while she was in the 38th week of pregnancy. The female fetus died during labor due to fetal Anoxia secondary to uteroplacental insufficiency.

Petitioner immediately granted Hortillano’s claim for paternity leave but denied his claims for bereavement leave and other death benefits.

It was maintained by Hortillano, through the Labor Union, that the provisions of the CBA did not specifically state that the dependent should have first been born alive or must have acquired juridical personality so that his/her subsequent death could be covered by the CBA death benefits.

Petitioner argued that the express provision of the CBA did not contemplate the death of an unborn child, a fetus, without legal personality. It claimed that there are two elements for the entitlement to the benefits, namely: (1) death and (2) status as legitimate dependent, none of which existed in Hortillano’s case. Continental Steel contended that only one with civil personality could die, relying on Articles 40, 41 and 42 of the Civil Code which provides:

Article 40. Birth determines personality; but the conceived child shall be considered born for all purposes that are favorable to it, provided it be born later with the conditions specified in the following article.

Article 41. For civil purposes, the fetus is considered born if it is alive at the time it is completely delivered from the mother’s womb. However, if the fetus had an intra-uterine life of less than seven months, it is not deemed born if it dies within twenty-four hours after its complete delivery from the maternal womb.

Article 42. Civil personality is extinguished by death. The effect of death upon the rights and obligations of the deceased is determined by law, by contract and by will.

Hence according to the petitioner, the unborn child never died because it never acquired juridical personality. Proceeding from the same line of thought, Continental Steel reasoned that a fetus that was dead from the moment of delivery was not a person at all. Hence, the term dependent could not be applied to a fetus that never acquired juridical personality.

Labor arbiter Montaño argued that the fetus had the right to be supported by the parents from the very moment he/she was conceived. The fetus had to rely on another for support; he/she could not have existed or sustained himself/herself without the power or aid of someone else, specifically, his/her mother.

Petitioner appealed with the CA, who affirmed the Labor Arbiter’s resolution. Hence this petition.

Issues:
1. Whether or not only one with juridical personality can die
2. Whether or not a fetus can be considered as a dependent
3. Whether or not any ambiguity in CBA provisions shall be settled in favor of the employee

Held:
1. No. The reliance of Continental Steel on Articles 40, 41 and 42 of the Civil Code for the legal definition of death is misplaced. Article 40 provides that a conceived child acquires personality only when it is born, and Article 41 defines when a child is considered born. Article 42 plainly states that civil personality is extinguished by death. The issue of civil personality is not relevant in this case.

The above provisions of the Civil Code do not provide at all a definition of death. Moreover, while the Civil Code expressly provides that civil personality may be extinguished by death, it does not explicitly state that only those who have acquired juridical personality could die.

Life is not synonymous with civil personality. One need not acquire civil personality first before he/she could die. Even a child inside the womb already has life.

No less than the Constitution recognizes the life of the unborn from conception, that the State must protect equally with the life of the mother. If the unborn already has life, then the cessation thereof even prior to the child being delivered, qualifies as death.

2. Yes. Even an unborn child is a dependent of its parents. Hortillano’s child could not have reached 38-39 weeks of its gestational life without depending upon its mother, Hortillano’s wife, for sustenance. The CBA did not provide a qualification for the child dependent, such that the child must have been born or must have acquired civil personality. Without such qualification, then child shall be understood in its more general sense, which includes the unborn fetus in the mother’s womb.

3. Time and again, the Labor Code is specific in enunciating that in case of doubt in the interpretation of any law or provision affecting labor, such should be interpreted in favor of labor. In the same way, the CBA and CBA provisions should be interpreted in favor of labor. As decided by this Court, any doubt concerning the rights of labor should be resolved in its favor pursuant to the social justice policy. (Terminal Facilities and Services Corporation v. NLRC [199 SCRA 265 (1991)])

Bereavement leave and other death benefits are granted to an employee to give aid to, and if possible, lessen the grief of, the said employee and his family who suffered the loss of a loved one. It cannot be said that the parents’ grief and sense of loss arising from the death of their unborn child, who, in this case, had a gestational life of 38-39 weeks but died during delivery, is any less than that of parents whose child was born alive but died subsequently.

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