Bartolome vs SSS (G.R. No. 192531 November 12, 2014)

Bartolome vs Social Security System
G.R. No. 192531 November 12, 2014

Facts: John Colcol (John), born on June 9, 1983, was employed as electrician by Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc., on board the vessel Maersk Danville, since February 2008. As such, he was enrolled under the government’s Employees’ Compensation Program (ECP). Unfortunately, on June 2, 2008, an accident occurred on board the vessel whereby steel plates fell on John, which led to his untimely death the following day. John was, at the time of his death, childless and unmarried. Thus, petitioner Bernardina P. Bartolome, John’s biological mother and, allegedly, sole remaining beneficiary, filed a claim for death benefits under PD 626 with the Social Security System (SSS) at San Fernando City, La Union. However, the SSS La Union office, in a letter dated June 10, 20095 addressed to petitioner, denied the claim on the ground that due to the Adoption of John by Cornelio Colcol, petitioner Bartolome is no longer entitled to be the beneficiary as the parent of John.

Issue: Whether or not petitioner is entitled to the pension of the deceased biological child despite adoption.

Held: Yes. When Cornelio, in 1985, adopted John, then about two (2) years old, petitioner’s parental authority over John was severed. However, lest it be overlooked, one key detail the ECC missed, aside from Cornelio’s death, was that when the adoptive parent died less than three (3) years after the adoption decree, John was still a minor, at about four (4) years of age.

John’s minority at the time of his adopter’s death is a significant factor in the case at bar. Under such circumstance, parental authority should be deemed to have reverted in favor of the biological parents. Otherwise, taking into account Our consistent ruling that adoption is a personal relationship and that there are no collateral relatives by virtue of adoption,21 who was then left to care for the minor adopted child if the adopter passed away?

To be sure, reversion of parental authority and legal custody in favor of the biological parents is not a novel concept. Section 20 of Republic Act No. 8552 (RA 8552), otherwise known as the Domestic Adoption Act, provides:

Section 20. Effects of Rescission.– If the petition [for rescission of adoption] is granted, the parental authority of the adoptee’s biological parent(s), if known, or the legal custody of the Department shall be restored if the adoptee is still a minor or incapacitated. The reciprocal rights and obligations of the adopter(s) and the adoptee to each other shall be extinguished.

Moreover, John, in his SSS application, named petitioner as one of his beneficiaries for his benefits under RA 8282, otherwise known as the “Social Security Law.” While RA 8282 does not cover compensation for work-related deaths or injury and expressly allows the designation of beneficiaries who are not related by blood to the member unlike in PD 626, John’s deliberate act of indicating petitioner as his beneficiary at least evinces that he, in a way, considered petitioner as his dependent. Consequently, the confluence of circumstances – from Cornelio’s death during John’s minority, the restoration of petitioner’s parental authority, the documents showing singularity of address, and John’s clear intention to designate petitioner as a beneficiary – effectively made petitioner, to Our mind, entitled to death benefit claims as a secondary beneficiary under PD 626 as a dependent parent.

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