Like us on Facebook

Please wait..10 Seconds Cancel

Jurisprudence: G.R. No. 165546 February 27, 2006

Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 165546             February 27, 2006
ROSANNA H. AGUAS, JANET H. AGUAS, and minor JEYLNN H. AGUAS, represented by her Legal Guardian, ROSANNA H. AGUAS, Respondents.
Before us is a petition for review on certiorari of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 66531 and its Resolution denying the motion for reconsideration thereof.
The antecedents are as follows:
Pablo Aguas, a member of the Social Security System (SSS) and a pensioner, died on December 8, 1996. Pablo’s surviving spouse, Rosanna H. Aguas, filed a claim with the SSS for death benefits on December 13, 1996. Rosanna indicated in her claim that Pablo was likewise survived by his minor child, Jeylnn, who was born on October 29, 1991.2 Her claim for monthly pension was settled on February 13, 1997.3
Sometime in April 1997, the SSS received a sworn letter4 dated April 2, 1997 from Leticia Aguas-Macapinlac, Pablo’s sister, contesting Rosanna’s claim for death benefits. She alleged that Rosanna abandoned the family abode approximately more than six years before, and lived with another man on whom she has been dependent for support. She further averred that Pablo had no legal children with Rosanna, but that the latter had several children with a certain Romeo dela Peña. In support of her allegation, Leticia enclosed a notarized copy of the original birth certificate5 of one Jefren H. dela Peña, showing that the latter was born on November 15, 1996 to Rosanna Y. Hernandez and Romeo C. dela Peña, and that the two were married on November 1, 1990.
As a result, the SSS suspended the payment of Rosanna and Jeylnn’s monthly pension in September 1997. It also conducted an investigation to verify Leticia’s allegations. In a Memorandum6 dated November 18, 1997, the Social Security Officer who conducted the investigation reported that, based on an interview with Mariquita D. Dizon, Pablo’s first cousin and neighbor, and Jessie Gonzales (also a neighbor). She learned that the deceased had no legal children with Rosanna; Jenelyn7 and Jefren were Rosanna’s children with one Romeo C. dela Peña; and Rosanna left the deceased six years before his death and lived with Romeo while she was still pregnant with Jenelyn, who was born on October 29, 1991. Mariquita also confirmed that Pablo was not capable of having a child as he was under treatment.
On the basis of the report and an alleged confirmation by a certain Dr. Manuel Macapinlac that Pablo was infertile, the SSS denied Rosanna’s request to resume the payment of their pensions. She was advised to refund to the SSS within 30 days the amount of P10,350.00 representing the total death benefits released to her and Jenelyn from December 1996 to August 1997 at P1,150.00 per month.8
Rosanna and Jeylnn, through counsel, requested for a reconsideration of the said decision.9 However, in its Letter dated February 6, 1998, the SSS denied the claim.10
This prompted Rosanna and Jeylnn to file a claim/petition for the Restoration/Payment of Pensions with the Social Security Commission (SSC) on February 20, 1998.11 Janet H. Aguas, who also claimed to be the child of the deceased and Rosanna, now joined them as claimant. The case was docketed as SSC Case No. 3-14769-98.
The claimants appended to their petition, among others, photocopies of the following: (1) Pablo and Rosanna’s marriage certificate; (2) Janet’s certificate of live birth; (3) Jeylnn’s certificate of live birth; and (4) Pablo’s certificate of death.
In its Answer, the SSS averred that, based on the sworn testimonies and documentary evidence showing the disqualification of the petitioners as primary beneficiaries, the claims were barren of factual and legal basis; as such, it was justified in denying their claims.12
In their Position Paper, the claimants averred that Jeylnn was a legitimate child of Pablo as evidenced by her birth certificate bearing Pablo’s signature as Jeylnn’s father. They asserted that Rosanna never left Pablo and that they lived together as husband and wife under one roof. In support thereof, they attached a Joint Affidavit13 executed by their neighbors, Vivencia Turla and Carmelita Yangu, where they declared that Rosanna and Pablo lived together as husband and wife until the latter’s death. In Janet’s birth certificate, which was registered in the Civil Registry of San Fernando, it appears that her father was Pablo and her mother was Rosanna. As to the alleged infertility of Pablo, the claimants averred that Dr. Macapinlac denied giving the opinion precisely because he was not an expert on such matters, and that he treated the deceased only for tuberculosis. The claimant likewise claimed that the information the SSS gathered from the doctor was privileged communication.14
In compliance with the SSC’s order, the SSS secured Confirmation Reports15 signed by clerks from the corresponding civil registers confirming (1) the fact of marriage between Pablo and Rosanna on December 4, 1977; (2) the fact of Jefren dela Peña’s birth on November 15, 1996; (3) the fact of Jeylnn’s birth on October 29, 1991; and (4) the fact of Pablo’s death on December 8, 1996.
The SSC decided to set the case for hearing. It also directed the SSS to verify the authenticity of Pablo’s signature as appearing on Jeylnn’s birth certificate from his claim records, particularly his SSS Form E-1 and retirement benefit application.16 The SSS complied with said directive and manifested to the SSC that, based on the laboratory analysis conducted, Pablo’s signature in the birth certificate was made by the same person who signed the member’s record and other similar documents submitted by Pablo.17
The SSC then summoned Vivencia Turla, Carmelita Yangu and Leticia Aguas-Macapinlac for clarificatory questions with regard to their respective sworn affidavits.18 Vivencia testified that she had known Pablo and Rosanna for more than 30 years already; the couple were married and lived in Macabacle, Dolores, San Fernando, Pampanga; she was a former neighbor of the spouses, but four years after their marriage, she (Vivencia) and her family moved to Sto. Niño Triangulo, San Fernando, Pampanga; she would often visit the two, especially during Christmas or fiestas; the spouses’ real child was Jeylnn; Janet was only an adopted child; the spouse later transferred residence, not far from their old house, and Janet, together with her husband and son, remained in the old house.19
On the other hand, Carmelita testified that she had been a neighbor of Pablo and Rosanna for 15 years and that, up to the present, Rosanna and her children, Janet, Jeylnn and Jefren, were still her neighbors; Janet and Jeylnn were the children of Pablo and Rosanna but she did not know whose child Jefren is.20
According to Leticia, Janet was not the real child of Pablo and Rosanna; she was just taken in by the spouses because for a long time they could not have children;21 however, there were no legal papers on Janet’s adoption.22 Later on, Rosanna got pregnant with Jeylnn; after the latter’s baptism, there was a commotion at the house because Romeo dela Peña was claiming that he was the father of the child and he got mad because the child was named after Pablo; the latter also got mad and even attempted to shoot Rosanna; he drove them away from the house; since then, Pablo and Rosanna separated;23 she knew about this because at that time their mother was sick, and she would often visit her at their ancestral home, where Pablo and Rosanna were also staying; Rosanna was no longer living in their ancestral home but Janet resided therein; she did not know where Rosanna was staying now but she knew that the latter and Romeo dela Peña were still living together.24
Subsequently, Mariquita Dizon and Jessie Gonzales were also summoned for clarificatory questions.25 During the hearing, Mariquita brought with her photocopies of two baptismal certificates: that of Jeylnn Aguas,26 child of Pablo Aguas and Rosanna Hernandez born on October 29, 1991, and that of Jenelyn H. dela Peña,27 child of Romeo dela Peña and Rosanna Hernandez, born on January 29, 1992.
On March 14, 2001, the SSC rendered a decision denying the claims for lack of merit and ordering Rosanna to immediately refund to the SSS the amount of P10,350.00 erroneously paid to her and Jeylnn as primary beneficiaries of the deceased. The SSC likewise directed the SSS to pay the death benefit to qualified secondary beneficiaries of the deceased, and in their absence, to his legal heirs.28
The SSC ruled that Rosanna was no longer qualified as primary beneficiary, it appearing that she had contracted marriage with Romeo dela Peña during the subsistence of her marriage to Pablo. The SSC based its conclusion on the birth certificate of Jefren dela Peña stating that his mother, Rosanna, and father, Romeo dela Peña, were married on November 1, 1990. The SSC declared that Rosanna had a child with Romeo dela Peña while she was still married to Pablo (as evidenced by the baptismal certificate of Jenelyn H. dela Peña showing that she was the child of Rosanna Hernandez and Romeo dela Peña and that she was born on January 29, 1992). The SSC concluded that Rosanna was no longer entitled to support from Pablo prior to his death because of her act of adultery. As for Jeylnn, the SSC ruled that, even if her birth certificate was signed by Pablo as her father, there was more compelling evidence that Jeylnn was not his legitimate child. The SSC deduced from the records that Jeylnn and Jenelyn was one and the same person and concluded, based on the latter’s baptismal certificate, that she was the daughter of Rosanna and Romeo dela Peña. It also gave credence to the testimonies of Leticia and Mariquita that Jeylnn was the child of Rosanna and Romeo dela Peña. As for Janet, the SSC relied on Leticia’s declaration that she was only adopted by Pablo and Rosanna.29
The claimants filed a motion for reconsideration of the said decision but their motion was denied by the SSC for lack of merit and for having been filed out of time.30 The claimants then elevated the case to the CA via a petition for review under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court.
On September 9, 2003, the CA rendered a decision in favor of petitioners. The fallo of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the resolution and order appealed from are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and a new one is entered DECLARING petitioners as ENTITLED to the SSS benefits accruing from the death of Pablo Aguas. The case is hereby REMANDED to public respondent for purposes of computing the benefits that may have accrued in favor of petitioners after the same was cut and suspended in September 1997.
In so ruling, the CA relied on the birth certificates of Janet and Jeylnn showing that they were the children of the deceased. According to the appellate court, for judicial purposes, these records were binding upon the parties, including the SSS. These entries made in public documents may only be challenged through adversarial proceedings in courts of law, and may not be altered by mere testimonies of witnesses to the contrary. As for Rosanna, the CA found no evidence to show that she ceased to receive support from Pablo before he died. Rosanna’s alleged affair with Romeo dela Peña was not properly proven. In any case, even if Rosanna married Romeo dela Peña during her marriage to Pablo, the same would have been a void marriage; it would not have ipso facto made her not dependent for support upon Pablo and negate the presumption that, as the surviving spouse, she is entitled to support from her husband.32
The SSS filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision, which the CA denied for lack of merit.33 Hence, this petition.
Petitioner seeks a reversal of the decision of the appellate court, contending that it
Petitioner invokes Section 8 of Republic Act No. 1161, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 735, which defines a dependent spouse as "the legitimate spouse dependent for support upon the employee." According to petitioner, Rosanna forfeited her right to be supported by Pablo when she engaged in an intimate and illicit relationship with Romeo dela Peña and married the latter during her marriage to Pablo. Such act constitutes abandonment, which divested her of the right to receive support from her husband. It asserts that her act of adultery is evident from the birth certificate of Jefren H. dela Peña showing that he was born on November 15, 1996 to Rosanna and Romeo dela Peña. Petitioner submits that Rosanna cannot be considered as a dependent spouse of Pablo; consequently, she is not a primary beneficiary.35
As for Janet and Jeylnn, petitioner maintains that they are not entitled to the pension because, based on the evidence on record, particularly the testimonies of the witnesses, they are not the legitimate children of Pablo. It argues that, in the exercise of its quasi-judicial authority under Section 5(a) of the Social Security Act, the SSC can pass upon the legitimacy of respondents’ relationship with the member to determine whether they are entitled to the benefits, even without correcting their birth certificates.36
Respondents, for their part, assert that petitioner failed to prove that Rosanna committed acts of adultery or that she married another man after the death of her husband. They contend that Janet and Jeylnn’s legitimacy may be impugned only on the grounds stated in Article 166 of the Family Code, none of which were proven in this case.37
The issue to be resolved in this case is whether Rosanna, Jeylnn and Janet are entitled to the SSS death benefits accruing from the death of Pablo.
The petition is partly meritorious.
The general rule is that only questions of law may be raised by the parties and passed upon by the Court in petitions for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.38 In an appeal via certiorari, the Court may not review the factual findings of the CA.39 It is not the Court’s function under Rule 45 to review, examine, and evaluate or weigh the probative value of the evidence presented.40 However, the Court may review findings of facts in some instances, such as, when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts, when the findings of the CA are contrary to those of the trial court or quasi-judicial agency, or when the findings of facts of the CA are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record.41 The Court finds these instances present in this case.
At the time of Pablo’s death, the prevailing law was Republic Act No. 1161, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 735. Section 13 of the law enumerates those who are entitled to death benefits:
Sec.13. Death benefits. – Effective July 1, 1975, upon the covered employee’s death, (a) his primary beneficiaries shall be entitled to the basic monthly pension, and his dependents to the dependent’s pension: Provided, That he has paid at least thirty-six monthly contributions prior to the semester of death: Provided, further, That if the foregoing condition is not satisfied, or if he has no primary beneficiaries, his secondary beneficiaries shall be entitled to a lump sum benefit equivalent to thirty times the basic monthly pension: Provided, however, That the death benefit shall not be less than the total contributions paid by him and his employer on his behalf nor less than five hundred pesos: Provided, finally, That the covered employee who dies in the month of coverage shall be entitled to the minimum benefit.
Section 8(k) and (e), in turn, defines dependents and primary beneficiaries of an SSS member as follows:
SECTION 8. Terms defined. – For the purposes of this Act the following terms shall, unless the context indicates otherwise, have the following meanings:
x x x x
(e) Dependent. – The legitimate, legitimated, or legally adopted child who is unmarried, not gainfully employed, and not over twenty-one years of age provided that he is congenitally incapacitated and incapable of self-support physically or mentally; the legitimate spouse dependent for support upon the employee; and the legitimate parents wholly dependent upon the covered employee for regular support.
x x x x
(k) Beneficiaries. – The dependent spouse until he remarries and dependent children, who shall be the primary beneficiaries. In their absence, the dependent parents and, subject to the restrictions imposed on dependent children, the legitimate descendants and illegitimate children who shall be the secondary beneficiaries. In the absence of any of the foregoing, any other person designated by the covered employee as secondary beneficiary.
Whoever claims entitlement to such benefits should establish his or her right thereto by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence, the quantum of evidence required to establish a fact in cases before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, is that level of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.42
The Court has reviewed the records of the case and finds that only Jeylnn has sufficiently established her right to a monthly pension.
Jeylnn’s claim is justified by the photocopy of her birth certificate which bears the signature of Pablo. Petitioner was able to authenticate the certification from the Civil Registry showing that she was born on October 29, 1991. The records also show that Rosanna and Pablo were married on December 4, 1977 and the marriage subsisted until the latter’s death on December 8, 1996. It is therefore evident that Jeylnn was born during Rosanna and Pablo’s marriage.
It bears stressing that under Article 164 of the Family Code, children conceived or born during the marriage of the parents are legitimate. This Court, in De Jesus v. Estate of Decedent Juan Gamboa Dizon,43 extensively discussed this presumption –
There is perhaps no presumption of the law more firmly established and founded on sounder morality and more convincing reason than the presumption that children born in wedlock are legitimate. This presumption indeed becomes conclusive in the absence of proof that there is physical impossibility of access between the spouses during the first 120 days of the 300 days which immediately precedes the birth of the child due to (a) the physical incapacity of the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife; (b) the fact that the husband and wife are living separately in such way that sexual intercourse is not possible; or (c) serious illness of the husband, which absolutely prevents sexual intercourse. Quite remarkably, upon the expiration of the periods set forth in Article 170,44 and in proper cases Article 171,45 of the Family Code (which took effect on 03 August 1988), the action to impugn the legitimacy of the child would no longer be legally feasible and the status conferred by the presumption becomes fixed and unassailable.46
Indeed, impugning the legitimacy of a child is a strictly personal right of the husband or, in exceptional cases, his heirs.47 In this case, there is no showing that Pablo challenged the legitimacy of Jeylnn during his lifetime. Hence, Jeylnn’s status as a legitimate child of Pablo can no longer be contested.
The presumption that Jeylnn is a legitimate child is buttressed by her birth certificate bearing Pablo’s signature, which was verified from his specimen signature on file with petitioner. A birth certificate signed by the father is a competent evidence of paternity.48
The presumption of legitimacy under Article 164, however, can not extend to Janet because her date of birth was not substantially proven. Such presumption may be availed only upon convincing proof of the factual basis therefor, i.e., that the child’s parents were legally married and that his/her conception or birth occurred during the subsistence of that marriage.49 It should be noted that respondents likewise submitted a photocopy of Janet’s alleged birth certificate. However, the Court cannot give said birth certificate the same probative weight as Jeylnn’s because it was not verified in any way by the civil register. It stands as a mere photocopy, without probative weight. Unlike Jeylnn, there was no confirmation by the civil register of the fact of Janet’s birth on the date stated in the certificate.
In any case, a record of birth is merely prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein.50 Here, the witnesses were unanimous in saying that Janet was not the real child but merely adopted by Rosanna and Pablo. Leticia also testified that Janet’s adoption did not undergo any legal proceedings; hence, there were no papers to prove it. Under Section 8(e) of Republic Act No. 1161, as amended, only "legally adopted" children are considered dependent children. Absent any proof that the family has legally adopted Janet, the Court cannot consider her a dependent child of Pablo, hence, not a primary beneficiary.
On the claims of Rosanna, it bears stressing that for her to qualify as a primary beneficiary, she must prove that she was "the legitimate spouse dependent for support from the employee." The claimant-spouse must therefore establish two qualifying factors: (1) that she is the legitimate spouse, and (2) that she is dependent upon the member for support. In this case, Rosanna presented proof to show that she is the legitimate spouse of Pablo, that is, a copy of their marriage certificate which was verified with the civil register by petitioner. But whether or not Rosanna has sufficiently established that she was still dependent on Pablo at the time of his death remains to be resolved. Indeed, a husband and wife are obliged to support each other,51 but whether one is actually dependent for support upon the other is something that has to be shown; it cannot be presumed from the fact of marriage alone.
In a parallel case52 involving a claim for benefits under the GSIS law, the Court defined a dependent as "one who derives his or her main support from another. Meaning, relying on, or subject to, someone else for support; not able to exist or sustain oneself, or to perform anything without the will, power, or aid of someone else." It should be noted that the GSIS law likewise defines a dependent spouse as "the legitimate spouse dependent for
support upon the member or pensioner." In that case, the Court found it obvious that a wife who abandoned the family for more than 17 years until her husband died, and lived with other men, was not dependent on her husband for support, financial or otherwise, during that entire period. Hence, the Court denied her claim for death benefits.
The obvious conclusion then is that a wife who is already separated de facto from her husband cannot be said to be "dependent for support" upon the husband, absent any showing to the contrary. Conversely, if it is proved that the husband and wife were still living together at the time of his death, it would be safe to presume that she was dependent on the husband for support, unless it is shown that she is capable of providing for herself.
Rosanna had the burden to prove that all the statutory requirements have been complied with, particularly her dependency on her husband for support at the time of his death. Aside from her own testimony, the only evidence adduced by Rosanna to prove that she and Pablo lived together as husband and wife until his death were the affidavits of Vivencia Turla and Carmelita Yangu where they made such declaration.
Still, the affidavits of Vivencia and Carmelita and their testimonies before the SSC will not prevail over the categorical and straightforward testimonies of the other witnesses who testified that Rosanna and Pablo had already separated for almost six years before the latter died. Except for the bare assertion of Carmelita that the couple never separated, there was no further statement regarding the witnesses’ assertion in their affidavits that the couple lived together until Pablo’s death. On the contrary, Leticia narrated that the two separated after Jeylnn’s baptism as a result of an argument regarding Romeo dela Peña. According to Leticia, there was a commotion at their ancestral house because Romeo dela Peña was grumbling why Jeylnn was named after Pablo when he was the father, and as a result, Pablo drove them away. The SSC’s observation and conclusion on the two baptismal certificates of Jeylnn and Jenelyn convinces this Court to further believe Leticia’s testimony on why Pablo and Rosanna separated. As noted by the SSC:
It appears from the records that Jeylnn Aguas and Jenelyn H. dela Peña are one and the same person. Jeylnn Aguas, born on October 29, 1991 was baptized at the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, Pampanga, on November 24, 1991 as the child of Pablo Aguas and Rosanna Hernandez. Jenelyn H dela Peña, on the other hand, was born on January 29, 1992 to spouses Rosanna Hernandez and Romeo dela Peña and baptized on February 9, 1992. It will be noted that Jenelyn dela Peña was born approximately three months after the birth of Jeylnn Aguas. It is physically impossible for Rosanna to have given birth successively to two children in so short a time. x x x The testimony of Leticia Aguas-Macapinlac that Rosanna was driven away by Pablo after the baptism of Jeylnn because of the commotion that was created by Romeo dela Peña who wanted Jeylnn to be baptized using his name explains why Jeylnn was again baptized in the Parish of Sto. Niño in San Fernando using the name Jenelyn dela Peña. They changed her date of birth also to make it appear in the record of the parish that she is another child of Rosanna.53
On the other hand, Mariquita categorically affirmed that Rosanna was no longer living at Pablo’s house even before he died, and that she is still living with Romeo dela Peña up to the present. Mariquita testified as follows:
Hearing Officer:
Nagsama ba si Rosanna at Romeo?
Mrs. Dizon:
Ngayon at kahit na noon.
Hearing Officer:
Kailan namatay si Pablo?
Mrs. Dizon:
Hearing Officer:
Noong bago mamatay si Pablo?
Mrs. Dizon:
Nagsasama na sila Romeo at Rosanna noon.
Hearing Officer:
So, buhay pa si Pablo ……
Mrs. Dizon:
…. nagsasama na sila ni Romeo.
Hearing Officer:
Kailan nagkahiwalay si Romeo at Rosanna?
Mrs. Dizon:
Hindi na sila nagkahiwalay.
Hearing Officer:
Hindi, ibig ko sabihin si Pablo at Rosana?
Mrs. Dizon:
Hindi ko alam kasi hindi ako madalas pumunta sa kanila eh, dahil namatay na yung nanay ni Kuya Pabling, yung tiyahin ko, kapatid ng nanay ko. Noon madalas ako noong buhay pa yung nanay ni Kuya Pabling dahil kami ang nag aalaga sa kanya.
Hearing Officer:
Bago namatay si Pablo, nagsasama ba sina Romeo at Rosanna?
Mrs. Dizon:
Hearing Officer:
Sa ngayon, may alam ka pa ba kung nagsasama pa sila Romeo at Rosanna?
Mrs. Dizon:
Oo, nagsasama sila, may bahay sila.
Hearing Officer:
Saan naman?
Mrs. Dizon:
Doon sa malapit sa amin sa may riles ng tren.54
In conclusion, the Court finds that, among respondents, only Jeylnn is entitled to the SSS death benefits accruing from the death of Pablo, as it was established that she is his legitimate child. On the other hand, the records show that Janet was merely "adopted" by the spouses, but there are no legal papers to prove it; hence, she cannot qualify as a primary beneficiary. Finally, while Rosanna was the legitimate wife of Pablo, she is likewise not qualified as a primary beneficiary since she failed to present any proof to show that at the time of his death, she was still dependent on him for support even if they were already living separately.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals are AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATION. Only Jeylnn H. Aguas is declared entitled to the SSS death benefits accruing from the death of Pablo Aguas.