Championing the rights of working class, the Supreme Court reiterated its call for concerned offices to adopt a liberal attitude in favor of the employee in deciding claims for compensability especially where there is some basis in the facts for inferring a work connection with the illness or injury, as the case may be.
This was emphasized in the Decision of the Court, penned by Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, that denied the Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by the Social Security System (SSS) assailing the rulings of the Court of Appeals (CA) which reversed the Employees Compensation Commission’s (ECC) denial of a widow’s claim for death benefits under Presidential Decree No. 626, as amended. The CA also denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the SSS.
The claim for death benefits was rejected purportedly because the cause of the death of the husband, prostate cancer, was a non-occupational disease.
In the case at bar, the Supreme Court held that while P.D. No. 626 has not incorporated “the presumption of compensability and the theory of aggravation prevalent under the Workmen’s Compensation Act,” it continues to be “an employees’ compensation law or a social legislation” which should be liberally construed in favor of labor.
Citing its 2003 ruling in Obra v. SSS, the Court reiterated that “P.D. No. 626, as amended, is a social legislation whose primordial purpose is to provide meaningful protection to the working class against the hazards of disability, illness and other contingencies resulting in the loss of income. Thus, as the official agents charged by law to implement social justice guaranteed by the Constitution, the ECC and the SSS should adopt a liberal attitude in favor of the employee in deciding claims for compensability especially where there is some basis in the facts for inferring a work connection with the illness or injury, as the case may be. It is only this kind of interpretation that can give meaning and substance to the compassionate spirit of the law as embodied in Article 4 of the New Labor Code which states that all doubts in the implementation and interpretation of the provisions of the Labor Code including its implementing rules and regulations should be resolved in favor of labor.”
Thus, the Court affirmed the August 29, 2014 Decision and April 8, 2015 Resolution of the CA that ordered the SSS to pay respondent Violeta A. Simacas her benefits claim for the death of her husband Irnido.
Irnido worked as a fabrication helper at Fieldstar Manufacturing Corporation from April 1995 until February 2010, or for almost 15 years, where he assisted the welder and machinist in cutting steel materials.
In February 2010, Irnido was hospitalized due to back pains, cough, dysuria or painful urination, night sweating, and fever. He was diagnosed “with Benign Prostatic vs. Pulmonary Tuberculosis.” At the time he was hospitaized, he had already been taking medication for tuberculosis for a month and had also been diagnosed with Hepatitis A. He was again hospitalized months later due to severe chest and back pains, as well as difficulty in breathing.
In July 2010, Irnido died at the Philippine Orthopedic Center and his death certificate stated that the immediate cause of his death was Cardiopulmonary Arrest probably secondary to Metastatic Prostatic Adenocarcinoma.
Irnido’s widow Violeta later filed a claim for employees’ compensation benefits which was denied by the SSS Sta. Maria Branch on the ground that the cause of Irnido’s death was a non-occupational disease. The SSS’ Medical Operations Department also denied Violeta’s claim ruling that prostate cancer was not considered an occupational disease and had no causal relationship with Irnido’s job as a fabrication helper.
In May 2012, the Medical Operations Department elevated the case to the ECC, which in turn affirmed the denial of Violeta’s claim. The ECC ruled, among others, that since prostate cancer is a non-occupational disease, Violeta was required to prove that Irnido’s work increased the risk of him contracting prostate cancer. Aggrieved, Violeta appealed before the CA and won.
The CA held that P.D. No. 626 is a social legislation designed to protect workers from loss of income by reason of the hazards of disability and illness. It underscored that the implementing authorities must adopt a liberal attitude in deciding compensability claims.
The SSS elevated the case before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court noted that it was undisputed that the sickness which caused Irnido’s death is not listed occupational disease so it was incumbent for Violeta to demonstrate that the risk of contracting prostate cancer was increased by her late husband’s working conditions. In establishing compensability, the Court added, the claimant need only present substantial proof that the nature of the deceased’s work or working conditions increased the risk of them contracting prostate cancer.
Ruling that “respondent proved that Irnido’s working conditions increased the risk of him contracting prostate cancer,” the Court found that while the established risk factors for prostate cancer “are advanced age, ethnicity, genetic factors and family history,” several studies have suggested that work-related exposures to certain substances, such as chromium, have the potential of affecting the risk of getting prostate cancer.
It stressed that it was undisputed that Irnido’s work included assisting the welder and machinist in cutting steel materials. Citing medical journals, the Court noted that “[w]orkers engaged in the manufacturing or handling stainless steel are exposed to chromium in varying degrees.” Thus, the Court said it is not unlikely that Irnido’s work increased the risk of him contracting the disease. This probability suffices to warrant the grant of the claimed benefits.
FULL TEXT: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/28593/