Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 124208             January 28, 2008
GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM (GSIS), petitioner,
COURT OF APPEALS and HEIRS OF ABRAHAM CATE, represented by DOROTHY CATE, respondents.
G.R. No. 124275             January 28, 2008
EMPLOYEES COMPENSATION COMMISSION and PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE, petitioner,
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS and HEIRS OF ABRAHAM CATE, represented by DOROTHY CATE, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
These two consolidated cases are petitions for review on certiorari of the Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) promulgated on March 13, 1996, which reversed and set aside the Decision of the Employees Compensation Commission (ECC) dated September 7, 1995 denying private respondents’ claim for compensation benefits of the late Abraham Cate under Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 626, as amended.
The facts are as follows:
On March 6, 1974, Abraham Cate (Abraham) joined the military service as a Rifleman of the Philippine Navy. In 1975, he was designated as Action Clerk. On February 22, 1986, he was transferred to the now defunct Philippine Constabulary with the rank of Technical Sergeant and was later promoted to Master Sergeant. On January 2, 1991, he was absorbed in the Philippine National Police (PNP) with the rank of Senior Police Officer IV (SPO4).
In 1993, Abraham complained of a mass on his left cheek which gradually increased in size. A biopsy was done at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). The histopath report revealed that he was suffering from Osteoblastic Osteosarcoma. He was admitted at the PGH payward, and on October 28, 1993, he underwent "Total Maxillectomy with Orbital Exenteration," which operation removed the mass on his left cheek. In April 1994, another biopsy revealed the recurrence of the ailment. On June 9, 1994, Abraham underwent debulking of the recurrent tumor at the PGH. Post-operative course was uneventful and he underwent radiotherapy.1
On December 1, 1994, Abraham was compulsorily retired from the PNP.2
On December 20, 1994, Abraham filed a claim for income benefits with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) under P.D. No. 626,3 as amended.
In a letter dated December 27, 1994, GSIS denied the claim on the ground that Osteosarcoma is not considered an occupational disease under P.D. No. 626, and there is no showing that his duties as SPO4 in the Armed Forces of the Philippines had increased the risk of contracting said ailment.4 GSIS denied Abraham’s request for reconsideration of the decision in a letter dated March 22, 1995.
On May 2, 1995, Abraham died at the age of 45. He was survived by his wife, Dorothy Cate, and two children. The heirs of Abraham appealed the decision of GSIS to the ECC.
In a Decision dated September 7, 1995, ECC affirmed the decision of GSIS and dismissed the case for lack of merit. It ruled:
After a careful examination of the records of the instant claim, we concur with the decision of the respondent system that appellant’s claim is bereft of merit. Definitely, the ailment of herein appellant is not included in the list of occupational diseases, under the rules implementing PD 626, as amended. However, even if appellant’s ailment is not an occupational disease, the present law on compensation allows certain diseases to be compensable if it is sufficiently proven that the risk of contracting it is increased by the working conditions. Unfortunately for Abraham Cate, he failed to present proofs that will establish that the development of his ailment is traceable to his work and working conditions as a soldier of the defunct Philippine Constabulary and later as member of the Philippine National Police.
Our conclusion is supported by the findings of the Commission’s Medical Division which show that Osteosarcoma is the most common primary bone tumor. It is an aggressive tumor, characterized usually by rapid growth and early pulmonary metastasis. In most common cases of osteogenic sarcoma, no definite etiology can be determined.
From the foregoing medical discussion, it is very clear that appellant’s employment as member of the Philippine National Police had no direct nor causal relationship with the contraction of appellant’s ailment. This being the case, the death benefits prayed for by herein appellant under the Employees’ Compensation Law (PD 626, as amended), cannot be given due course. 5
The heirs of Abraham filed a petition for review of the decision of ECC with the CA.
In a Decision promulgated on March 13, 1996, the CA reversed and set aside the decision of ECC. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, this Petition for Review is GIVEN DUE COURSE and is GRANTED. The assailed decision of the respondent Employees Compensation Commission dated September 7, 1975 is ordered REVERSED and SET ASIDE and a new one entered declaring the ailment of the late Abraham Cate compensable under PD 626, as amended. No pronouncement as to cost.
The CA ruled that Osteosarcoma is compensable on the ground that the Employees Compensation Act is basically a social legislation designed to afford relief to our working men, and should, therefore, be liberally construed in favor of the applicant. It stated that Abraham’s failure to present evidence on the causal relation of the illness to his working conditions is due to the lack of available proof. To deny compensation to Osteosarcoma victims who will be unable to produce such proof is unrealistic, illogical and unfair. On a very exceptional circumstance, the rule on compensability should be relaxed. In the meantime that the origin and cause of Osteosarcoma are unknown, the benefit of the doubt should be resolved in favor of the claim since employees’ compensation is based on social security principles. It hoped for a second look on the issue of compensability to those suffering Osteosarcoma or a similar disease whose cause is unascertained.
The CA cited the dissenting opinions of former Supreme Court Justice Abraham F. Sarmiento and Justice Edgardo L. Paras in the case of Raro v. Employees’ Compensation Commission7 where Justice Sarmiento opined that compassion is reason enough to grant compensation benefits to the petitioner therein, a Mining Recorder at the Bureau of Mines and Geo-Sciences, who suffered from cancer (brain tumor). Justice Paras opined that doubts must generally be resolved in favor of the employee whenever compensation for disease is concerned, and that it would be absurd to throw upon therein petitioner the burden of showing that her work either caused or aggravated the disease, particularly when both the GSIS and ECC profess ignorance of the causes of the disease.
The GSIS and ECC separately filed a petition for review on certiorari of the decision of the CA. The two petitions were consolidated per Resolution dated September 4, 1996.
The main issue in this case is whether or not the CA erred in ruling that the ailment of the late Abraham is compensable under the present law on employees’ compensation.
Petitioners aver that the applicable law in Abraham’s case is the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation which is explained in Tanedo v. ECC,8 thus:
Awards of compensation benefits for death or disability can now no longer be made to rest on presumption, but on a showing that the causative disease is among those listed by the ECC, or on substantial evidence that the risk of contracting said disease is increased by the employee’s working conditions.
Petitioners allege that private respondents tried to establish a preliminary link between the illness and the employment of Abraham by speculating that since Abraham did some dirty jobs during his stint as a rifleman in the Philippine Navy, he was exposed to some elements like virus which could have contributed more or less to the development of his ailment.
Petitioners argue that such allegation cannot be the basis of a finding that Abraham’s ailment had a causal connection with his employment and working conditions. Nor can it be said that the nature of his work had increased the risk of contracting his ailment. The illness is not prevalent in the Philippine Navy or the PNP. Even under the less stringent evidentiary norm of substantial evidence obtaining in employees’ compensation proceedings, private respondents failed to adduce such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support their claim.
Art. 1679 (l), Chapter 1, Title II, Book Four of the Labor Code of the Philippines, defines sickness as "any illness definitely accepted as an occupational disease listed by the [Employees’ Compensation Commission], or any illness caused by employment, subject to proof that the risk of contracting the same is increased by working conditions." The same provision empowers ECC to determine and approve occupational diseases and work-related illnesses that may be considered compensable based on peculiar hazards of employment.
Under Sec. 1 (b), Rule III of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation, "[f]or the sickness and the resulting disability or death to be compensable, the sickness must be the result of an occupational disease listed under Annex ‘A’ of these Rules with the conditions set therein satisfied; otherwise, proof must be shown that the risk of contracting the disease is increased by the working conditions."
The decision of the ECC is instructive:
After a careful examination of the records of the instant claim, we concur with the decision of the respondent system that appellant’s claim is bereft of merit. Definitely, the ailment of herein appellant is not included in the list of occupational diseases, under the rules implementing PD 626, as amended. However, even if appellant’s ailment is not an occupational disease, the present law on compensation allows certain diseases to be compensable if it is sufficiently proven that the risk of contract it is increased by the working conditions. Unfortunately, for Abraham Cate, he failed to present proofs that will establish that the development of his ailment is traceable to his work and working conditions as a soldier of the defunct Philippine Constabulary and later as member of the Philippine National Police.10
In this case, Osteosarcoma is not listed as an occupational disease in the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation. Hence, it is supposed to be upon the claimant or private respondents to prove by substantial evidence that the risk of contracting Osteosarcoma was increased by the working conditions of the late Abraham. Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.11 The records show that Abraham failed to present evidence to establish that the development of his ailment was traceable to his working conditions in the Philippine Navy, the now defunct Philippine Constabulary and the PNP. Further, private respondents’ allegation in their petition for review with the CA that Abraham, as a rifleman in the Philippine Navy, may have been exposed to elements like a virus which could have contributed to his ailment does not satisfy the requirement of substantial evidence. The rule is that awards of compensation cannot rest on speculations and presumptions as the claimant must prove a positive thing.12 The application of the rules would mean that absent any proof that the risk of contracting the ailment was increased by the working conditions of the late Abraham, private respondents would not be entitled to compensation.
Considering, however, that it is practically undisputed that under the present state of science, the proof referred by the law to be presented by the deceased private respondent claimant was unavailable and impossible to comply with, the condition must be deemed as not imposed.
For this reason, the CA held, thus:
In all due respect and with the least of intention of committing contempt and discourtesy but rather solely moved by the time-honored principle that the Employees Compensation Act is basically a social legislation designed to afford relief to our working men (Santos v. ECC, 221 SCRA 182  and that labor, social welfare legislations should be liberally construed in favor of the applicant (Tira v. ECC, 208 SCRA 834 ), We have to rule in favor of herein petitioners.
The plight of any cancer patient deserves some serious considerations. We were not to be told that no one is a willing victim of cancer. Inflicted with this dreadful malady, the patient suffers from the trauma of an impending death not to mention the high cost of medical attendance required, only to prolong one’s agony and the hopelessness of any definite cure simply because the origin and cause of cancer are farfetched unresolved.
The present case at bench is no different. Petitioners’ failure to present positive evidence of a causal relation of the illness and his working conditions is due to the pure and simple lack of available proof to be offered in evidence. Verily, to deny compensation to osteosarcoma victims who will definitely be unable to produce a single piece of proof to that effect, is unrealistic, illogical and unfair. At the very least, on a very exceptional circumstance, the rule on compensability should be relaxed and be allowed to apply to such situations. To disallow the benefit will even more add up to the sufferings, this time, for the ignorance of the inability of mankind to discover the real truth about cancer.
It is not the intention of this decision to challenge the wisdom of the Raro case. What is being hoped for is to have a second look on the issue of compensability of those inflicted with osteosarcoma or like disease, where the origin or cause is still virtually not ascertained. The protection of the stability and integrity of the State Insurance Fund against non-compensable claims, is much to be desired. Nonetheless, to allow the presumption of compensability to Osteosarcoma victims, will not adversely prejudice such state policy. In fact, it will give more meaning to the very purpose and essence of the State Insurance Fund. Upon the other hand, to deny the claim will not only defeat the very reason for its creation but will likewise turn down benefits to the intended rightful beneficiary thereof. As employee’s compensation is based on social security principles. We believe that in the meantime that osteosarcoma’s cause and origin are not yet unearthed, the benefit of the doubt should be resolved in favor of the claim.
In main, We subscribe to the more compassionate and humane considerations contained in the dissenting opinions of Justices Sarmiento and Paras in the same Raro case and We quote:
"It must be likewise be noted that the petitioner is suffering from cancer (brain tumor), whose cause medical science is yet to unravel. It would then be asking too much to make her prove that her illness was cause by work or aggravated by it, when experts themselves are ignorant as to what brings it about. I do not believe, finally, that the question is a matter of legislation. Compassion, it is my view, is reason enough." (J. Sarmiento)
"While ‘brain tumor’ is not expressly or specifically referred to as an occupational disease, and while admittedly it precise causes are still unknown, We may say that the disease is akin to ‘cancer of the brain’ and should therefore be regarded as either compensable or borderline case. At any rate, the precise work of the petitioner at the Bureau of Mines and Geo-Sciences consisted of the following: "As Mining Recorded II, to record and file mining instruments and documents in the Mining Recorder’s Section and to type correspondence and other documents pertaining to the same action. (See Petitioner’s Brief, Rollo, p. 13). It will readily be seen that her work required at times mental concentration. Whether this is specifically causative of brain tumor is of course still unknown but doubts must generally be resolved in favor whenever compensation for disease is concerned. It would certainly be absurd to throw upon petitioner the burden of showing that her work either caused or aggravated the disease, particularly when both the GSIS and ECC profess ignorance themselves of the causes of the disease." (Justice Paras).13
Stated otherwise, before the amendment, the law simply did not allow compensation for the ailment of respondent. It is under this set-up that the Raro case was decided. However, as the ECC decision noted, the law was amended and now "the present law on compensation allows certain diseases to be compensable if it is sufficiently proven that the risk of contracting is increased by the working conditions."14 It, therefore, now allows compensation subject to requirement of proving by sufficient evidence that the risk of contracting the ailment is increased by the working conditions.
As earlier noted, however, in the specific case of respondent, the requirement is impossible to comply with, given the present state of scientific knowledge. The obligation to present such as an impossible evidence must, therefore, be deemed void.15 Respondent, therefore, is entitled to compensation, consistent with the social legislation’s intended beneficial purpose.
In fine, the Court sees no reversible error in the decision of the Court of Appeals.
WHEREFORE, the petitions are DENIED.
ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
REYNATO S. PUNO
*LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
RENATO C. CORONA
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
REYNATO S. PUNO
* Designated as additional Member of the First Division issued pursuant to Administrative Circular No. 84-2007.
1 Rollo (G.R. No. 124275), p. 33.
2 Id. at 40.
3 P.D. No. 626 is entitled Further Amending Certain Articles of Presidential Decree No. 442 Entitled "Labor Code of the Philippines."
4 Rollo (G.R. No. 124275), p. 43.
5 Id. at 48-49.
6 Id. at 30.
7 G.R. No. 58445, April 27, 1989, 172 SCRA 845.
8 No. L-62300, September 25, 1987, 154 SCRA 288, 293.
9 The Article embodies the amendment of Title II, Book IV on Employees’ Compensation and State Insurance Fund of the Labor Code by P.D. No. 626.
10 Rollo, p. 48.
11 Government Service Insurance System v. Villamayor, G.R. No. 154386, August 22, 2006, 499 SCRA 492, 498.
12 Jimenez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 144449, March 23, 2006, 485 SCRA 149, 164.
13 Rollo (G.R. No. 124275), pp. 28-30.
14 Id. at 48.
15 Art. 1183, New Civil Code.
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