Continental Steel Manufacturing Corporation vs Voluntary Arbitrator Allan Montaño

April 26, 2014
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603 SCRA 621 – Labor Law – Labor Standards – Death Benefits for the Death of a Dependent – A Fetus is a Dependent
Civil Law – Civil Personality – When does civil personality start – When does life begin

In January 2006, the wife of Rolando Hortillano had a miscarriage which caused the death of their unborn child. Hortillano, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, then filed death benefits claim from his employer, the Continental Steel Manufacturing Corporation which denied the claim. Eventually, the issue was submitted for arbitration and both parties agreed to have Atty. Allan Montaño act as the arbitrator. Montaño ruled that Hortillano is entitled to his claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of Montaño.

On appeal, Continental Steel insisted that Hortillano is not entitled because under the CBA, death benefits are awarded if an employee’s legitimate dependent has died; but that in this case, no “death” has occurred because the fetus died inside the womb of the mother, that a fetus has no juridical personality because it was never born pursuant to Article 40 of the Civil Code which provides a conceived child acquires personality only when it is born; that the fetus was not born hence it is not a legitimate dependent as contemplated by the CBA nor did it suffer death as contemplated under civil laws.

ISSUES: 

1. Whether or not the fetus is a legitimate dependent?

2. Whether or not a person has to be born before it could die?

HELD: 

1. Yes. In the first place, the fact of marriage between Hortillano and his wife was never put in question, hence they are presumed to be married. Second, children conceived or born during the marriage of the parents are legitimate. Hence, the unborn child (fetus) is already a legitimate dependent the moment it was conceived (meeting of the sperm and egg cell).

2. No. Death is defined as “cessation of life”. Certainly, a child in the womb has life. There is no need to discuss whether or not the unborn child acquired juridical personality – that is not the issue here. But nevertheless, life should not be equated to civil personality. Moreover, while the Civil Code expressly provides that civil personality may be extinguished by death, it does not explicitly state that only those who have acquired juridical personality could die. In this case, Hortillano’s fetus had had life inside the womb as evidenced by the fact that it clung to life for 38 weeks before the unfortunate miscarriage. Thus, death occurred on a dependent hence Hortillano as an employee is entitled to death benefit claims as provided for in their CBA.

 

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