By Benjamin Pulta
MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday said that internment services for senior citizens are covered by the 20-percent discount provided by Republic Act 7432, or the Senior Citizens Act, as amended.
In its decision, the SC en banc granted the petition filed by government lawyers and set aside a 2018 decision of the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court (RTC), which excluded interment services from the coverage of the statutorily mandated senior citizen discount on “funeral and burial services.”
The petition before the SC was filed by the State, through the Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and questioned the Cagayan RTC which in turn had ruled in favor of the suit initiated by a private firm, Pryce Corporation Inc.
The firm, which is engaged in the business of selling memorial lots and offering interment services, argued that interment service is not among the services entitled to the 20 percent discount provided under RA 7432.
The RTC had ruled that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9994, or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010, only mentioned the services of purchase of casket or urn, embalming, hospital morgue, and transport of the body to the intended burial site.
The RTC held that the service of interment was not included as one of the benefits covered. It concluded that the digging of land for the grave of the deceased, the concreting of the gravesite, and the other services done during the actual burial were not subject to the discount.
Ruling otherwise, the Supreme Court emphasized that the Senior Citizens Act is a law created to grant a bundle of benefits in favor of senior citizens or those at least 60 years old, giving flesh to the declared policy of motivating senior citizens to contribute to nation building and encouraging their families and communities to reaffirm the Filipino tradition of caring for the senior citizens.
“Death may be the end of one’s life. But from the perspective of those left behind, there are things that survive a person’s demise. For the romantics, it is the memories and feelings that linger long after the passing of a loved one. For the pragmatics and businesspersons alike, the financial aspects of funeral and burial are matters that persist even after one is laid to rest,” said the Court.
Elucidating on the scope of services covered by the subject 20 percent discount on funeral and burial services, the Court said that both RA 9257 and RA 9994, in amending RA 7432, do not provide for an exact definition of the term “funeral and burial services.”
Notably, it said that the said laws likewise do not limit the scope of the services falling under “funeral and burial services.”
The Court added that as pointed out by Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier in her Concurring Opinion that it would be unreasonable to infer that Congress intended to differentiate between the deceased’s final solace for the purpose of granting the 20 percent discount absent a clear legislative intent to the contrary.
The Court said that based on the definition of the term “burial” as it is commonly understood, “burial service” pertains to any service offered or provided in connection with the final disposition, entombment, or interment of human remains.
It held that it follows that burial services necessarily include interment services, such as digging the land for the deceased person’s grave, its concreting, and other services being done during the actual burial.
This conclusion, said the Court, was supported by the IRRs which prescribe the guidelines in the application of the 20 percent discount on funeral and burial services in a comparison of the IRRs of RA 9257 and RA 9994 shows that the two are substantially the same.
The exception is that Section 6 of the IRR of RA 9994 expounded on the term “other related services” by including a sample list of “services” and excluding obituary publication and cost of memorial plot.
The Court ruled that the enumeration in Section 6 is not exclusive. It stressed that the phrase ‘other related services’ does not refer only to the enumerated examples so as to exclude interment services.
The Court maintained that this interpretation was in keeping with the policies and objectives of the law, particularly of RA 9994 which echoes Section 4, Article XV of the Constitution declaring that it is the duty of the family to take care of its elderly members while the state may design programs of social security for them.
The Court found that the exclusion by the RTC of interment services from the coverage of the 20 percent senior citizen discount is not provided under the law, and that the IRR, which does not explicitly exclude interment services, cannot be interpreted to support the lower court’s Resolution.
It likewise stressed that a law cannot be amended by a mere regulation, and the administrative agency issuing the regulation may not enlarge, alter, or restrict the provisions of the law it administers. (PNA)