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G.R. No. 156182 - GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM v. LUZVIMINDA C. MECAYER

G.R. No. 156182 - GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM v. LUZVIMINDA C. MECAYER

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 156182 : April 13, 2007]

GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM, Petitioner, v. LUZVIMINDA C. MECAYER, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), petitioner, seeking to set aside the Decision1 dated June 17, 2002 and the Resolution2 dated November 21, 2002 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 68788.

The facts as found by the Employees' Compensation Commission (ECC) which was quoted by the CA in its assailed decision are as follows:

Jose P. Mecayer was previously employed at the Philippine National Police, Camp Crame, Quezon City. He joined the defunct Philippine Constabulary on August 13, 1973, as enlisted Constable. He was promoted as Sergeant on December 25, 1983, and was absorbed to the Philippine National Police on January 2, 1991 as Special Police Officer II. He served as such until his demise on June 12, 1992. Before his death, he was assigned as a driver at the PNP Administrative Division and Holding Center, Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Records show that on July 12, 1992, at about 7:00 o'clock in the evening, P/Chief Inspector Rodelino Peralta, along with one Mrs. Brenda Bawar, chanced upon SPO2 Mecayer who, while on duty, was then having a drink with SPO4 Habil Upao, also of said Holding Center. SPO2 Mecayer and SPO4 Upao were in the process of consuming one (1) bottle of beer each when P/Chief Insp. Peralta warned them, that drinking while on duty, is prohibited. At this point, Mrs. Bawar butted in, resulting in a heated argument with SPO2 Mecayer. However, P/Chief Insp. Peralta pacified them.

After the lapse of a few minutes, SPO1 Timoteo Bawar, husband of Mrs. Bawar, with whom SPO2 had an earlier altercation, shot the latter. The attending physician rushed SPO2 Mecayer to the PNP Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The cause of death was "hemorrhage as a result of the gunshot wound of the trunk."3

On October 12, 2000, the widow of SPO2 Mecayer, Luzviminda C. Mecayer (respondent), filed with petitioner a claim for compensation benefits under the Employees Compensation Law (P.D. No. 626), as amended, believing that her husband's death arose out of and in the course of employment.

On March 7, 2001, Police Superintendent Paulino Umali Manalo of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Administration and Holding Office, upon request of respondent, issued a Certification4 that the death of SPO2 Mecayer was in the line of duty and that all the benefits due should be given to his legal heirs as provided by law.

In a letter5 dated March 22, 2001, petitioner found SPO2 Mecayer's death as due to a personal grudge on the part of the suspect, SPO1 Bawar, which was not work related and thus not compensable under P.D. No. 626.

Respondent's Motion for Reconsideration was denied in a letter6 dated April 16, 2001.

Respondent then filed an appeal with the ECC. In a Decision7 dated November 23, 2001, the ECC dismissed the appeal and affirmed petitioner's denial of respondent's claim of compensation benefits.

The ECC found that there was no issue on the matter of whether or not the contingency arose out of and in the course of employment as indeed the contingency occurred during the covered employees' tour of duty and at the workplace. It, however, found that the rule on compensability under Section 1(a), Rule III of the Amended Rules on Employees Compensation is not absolute and subject to limitations as provided under Section 1, Rule IV of the same Rule, i.e., no compensation shall be allowed to the employee's dependents when the death was occasioned by his intoxication; that respondent failed to adduce substantial evidence to refute the fact that her husband was intoxicated at the time of the contingency; that her husband's intoxication might have emboldened him to engage in a heated argument with Mrs. Bawar, the assailant's wife, which undoubtedly precipitated the shooting incident which caused his death; that while the ECC should adopt a liberal attitude in favor of the employee in deciding claims for compensability, such applies only in case of doubt and when there is substantial evidence that would reinforce respondent's claim which was not present in this case.

Respondent then filed with the CA a Petition for Review under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court alleging that it was erroneous for the ECC to find that the death of respondent's husband was occasioned by his intoxication and therefore not compensable.

In a Decision dated June 17, 2002, the CA granted the petition, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, the instant Petition for Review is GRANTED and the assailed decision of the Employees Compensation Commission is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. A new judgment is hereby rendered declaring petitioner Ma. Luzviminda C. Mecayer entitled to the payment of the appropriate compensation benefits under P.D. 626, as amended, for the death of her husband SPO2 Jose P. Mecayer.

Let this case be remanded to the Government Service and Insurance System for the computation and payment of the compensation benefits to Ma. Luzviminda C. Mecayer.8

The CA found no substantial evidence on record to support the ECC finding that SPO2 Mecayer was intoxicated at the time of the contingency; that nowhere even in petitioner's letter denying respondent's claim was it shown that SPO2 Mecayer was actually intoxicated immediately before or during the time of shooting as petitioner merely stated that SPO2 Mecayer's death was by reason of a personal grudge, thus, respondent never felt the need to refute the alleged intoxication of her husband when she appealed the decision of petitioner to the ECC; that the ECC swiftly concluded that SPO2 Mecayer was intoxicated when he was only in the process of consuming a bottle of beer without any showing that he had drunk several bottles of beer or any other liquor before the contingency; that as held in People v. Apduhan, Jr.,9 intoxication means that the offender's mental faculties must be affected by drunkenness; that the state of intoxication must be proved considering that mere drinking of liquor prior to the commission of the crime does not necessarily produce a state of intoxication.

In the absence of evidence proving SPO2 Mecayer's intoxication and considering that the ECC had already declared in its decision that the contingency occurred during the covered employee's tour of duty and at the workplace, the CA reversed the ECC Decision.

Petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated November 21, 2002.10

Hence the instant Petition for Review on Certiorari raising the following issue:

Whether or not the Honorable Court of Appeals, in rendering its assailed Decision, setting aside the subject ECC Decision, has disregarded the law and the well-settled jurisprudence laid down by the Supreme Court in a long line of decisions that for the injury and the resulting disability or death to be compensable, the injury must be the result of accident "arising out of" and in the course of" the employment (Section 1, Rule III, Implementing Rules and Regulations of P.D. 626, as amended.) and the State Insurance Fund shall be liable for compensation to the employee or his dependents, except when the disability or death was occasioned by the employee's intoxication, willful intention to injure or kill himself or another, notorious negligence, or otherwise provided under this Title (Art. 172, PD 626, as amended; Sec 1, Rule IV, Implementing Rules of P.D. 626, as amended).11

Petitioner contends that under P.D. No. 626, one of the basic requirements for death to be compensable is that it must be work-connected; that although respondent's husband met his death while he was on duty and within the vicinity of his workplace, his death was not work-connected as the killing appeared to be personal in nature; that it has nothing to do with his military service, thus not arising out of or in the course of employment; that while it may be true that his intoxication had not yet affected his mental faculties, however, he was doing a prohibited act while on duty which act provoked the events that led to his death; and that he was not performing his official function at the time of his death.

In her Comment, respondent, citing Employees' Compensation Commission v. Court of Appeals12 and Hinoguin v. Employees' Compensation Commission,13 counters that members of the national police like her husband are by the nature of their functions technically on 24-hour duty a day except when they are on vacation leave; that they are subject to call anytime and may be asked by their superiors or by any distressed citizen to assist in maintaining peace and security of the community; that a soldier on active duty status is subject to military discipline and law 24-hours a day and seven days a week except when on vacation leave; that the facts reveal that her husband's death occurred while he was on duty and at the workplace and did not fall under the exception provided by jurisprudence; that ECC in its decision even agreed that her husband's death was work-connected; that petitioner's contention that her husband's death arose out of personal grudge and purely personal in nature is purely speculative; that it was not correct for petitioner to contend that her husband was doing a prohibited act while on duty thus totally disassociated himself from the nature of his work since the intoxication was not proven.

Petitioner filed its Reply.

The parties submitted their respective memoranda as required in our Resolution dated June 6, 2005.

We find no merit in the petition.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

Petitioner denied respondent's compensation claim on the ground that her husband's death was not work-related. While the ECC affirmed the denial of such claim, it did so not on the same ground as that of petitioner since the ECC found that the contingency occurred during SPO2 Mecayer's tour of duty and at the workplace but based on its findings that his death was brought about by his intoxication. Thus, the CA no longer discussed the matter of whether SPO2 Mecayer's death was work-connected or not but focused on the ground of intoxication.

We find no reversible error committed by CA in finding the death of SPO2 Mecayer compensable.

For death to be compensable under P.D. No. 626, as amended, Section 1 (a), Rule III of the Amended Rules on Employees' Compensation provides:

Section 1. Grounds - (a) For the injury and the resulting disability or death to be compensable, the injury must be the result of an employment accident satisfying all of the following conditions:

(1) The employee must have been injured at the place where his work requires him to be;

(2) The employee must have been performing his official functions; andcralawlibrary

(3) If the injury is sustained elsewhere, the employee must have been executing an order for the employer.

It had been established that respondent's husband, a driver at the PNP Administration Division and Holding Center, Camp Crame, was in the place where his work required him to be and in the course of performing his official function when he was shot to death on July 12, 1992. As a driver, SPO2 Mecayer may not be doing anything the whole day while he was on duty except to wait for his superior's instructions and yet he was still considered as performing his official function. This is so because drivers are required to remain on call and subject to orders by his superiors during his duty and could not use his time effectively and gainfully for his own purposes. Thus, even if SPO2 Mecayer was just waiting around and in the process of consuming a bottle of beer would not preclude the work-connected character of his death because he was still performing his official function at the time of his death. In fact, a certification14 dated March 7, 2001, issued by the PNP showed that SPO2 Mecayer's death was in the line of duty. Thus, SPO2 Mecayer's death is compensable as it happened right in the place where he was required to be and while he was on duty notwithstanding the fact that the killing was personal in nature.

In Lentejas v. Employees' Compensation Commission,15 we held as compensable the death of Victorio Lentejas, a general foreman at the City Engineer's Office, who was on his way from Barangay Banti where he made inspections of work on the damaged seawall when he was stabbed by reason of a personal grudge with his assailant over a boundary lot dispute. We ruled:

In other words, we do not think that the third person's criminal intent should be regarded as a supervening cause having the effect of nullifying the circumstance that, when Victorio was attacked and killed, he was where his work required him to be and that he was then in the course of performing his official duties.16

We likewise agree with the CA that there was no evidence to sustain the ECC findings that SPO2 Mecayer was intoxicated at the time of his death and thus not compensable pursuant to Section 1, Rule IV of the Amended Rules of the Employees' Compensation Commission, to wit:

Section 1. Limitation - No compensation shall be allowed to the employee or his dependents when the injury, sickness, disability or death was occasioned by any of the following:

(1) his intoxication;

(2) his willful attention to injure or kill himself or another; or

(3) his notorious negligence.

The ECC failed to show how it arrived at its finding that SPO2 Mecayer was intoxicated at the time of the contingency. The records show that SPO2 Mecayer and his companion were in the process of consuming one bottle of beer each which is not a sufficient basis to establish that SPO2 Mecayer had been affected by such alcohol drink. Considering that his intoxication had not been proven, ECC's finding that SPO2 Mecayer's intoxication might have emboldened him to engage in a heated argument with the assailant's wife which triggered the assailant to shoot him is a mere speculation with no supporting evidence.

In Nitura v. Employees' Compensation Commission,17 we struck down the ECC's finding that the death of Pfc. Regino S. Nitura was not compensable since the deceased was drunk and acted with notorious negligence, thus:

x x x it has been held that even if it could be shown that a person drank intoxicating liquor it is incumbent upon the person invoking drunkenness as a defense to show that said person was extremely drunk. This is so because a person may take as much as several bottles of beer or several glasses of hard liquor and still remain sober and unaffected by the alcoholic drink. Thus, intoxication which does not incapacitate the employee from following his occupation is not sufficient to defeat the recovery of compensation, although intoxication may be a contributory cause to his injury. It must be shown that the intoxication was the proximate cause of death or injury and the burden of proof lies on him who raises drunkenness as a defense (Vda. de Yohanan v. Balena and WCC, 78 SCRA 348 [1977]). While it may be admitted that the deceased drank intoxicating liquor at the dance party, respondents ECC and GSIS have not established that the state of drunkenness of the deceased is the proximate cause of his death.

On the other hand, notorious negligence has been defined as something more than mere or simple negligence or contributory negligence; it signifies a deliberate act of the employee to disregard his own personal safety. Disobedience to rules, orders, and/or prohibition does not in itself constitute notorious negligence, if no intention can be attributed to the injured to end his life (Luzon Stevedoring Corporation v. WCC, 105 SCRA, 75 [1981]) reiterating Paez v. WCC, 7 SCRA 588 [1963]).18

WHEREFORE, the Petition for Review is hereby DENIED.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

The Decision dated June 17, 2002 and the Resolution dated November 21, 2002 of the Court of Appeals are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Justice Perlita J. Tria-Tirona, concurred in by Justices Rodrigo V. Cosico and Mario L. Guariña III; CA rollo, pp. 39-44.

2 Id. at 89.

3 Id. at 40-41.

4 Id. at 22.

5 Per Marcelino S. Alejo, Manager, id. at 24.

6 Id. at 28.

7 Certified correct by Elmor D. Juridico, Executive Director, ECC, id. at 31-34.

8 CA rollo, p. 43.

9 133 Phil. 786 (1968).

10 CA rollo, p. 89

11 Rollo, p. 18

12 327 Phil. 510 (1996).

13 G.R. No. 84307, April 17, 1989, 172 SCRA 350.

14 CA rollo, p. 22.

15 274 Phil. 315 (1991).

16 Id. at 322.

17 G.R. No. 89217, September 4, 1991, 201 SCRA 278.

18 Id at 285-286.

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