Interment covered by 20% seniors’ discount–SC
Interment services are covered by the 20-percent discount on funeral and burial expenses provided by the Senior Citizens Act and its amending laws, according to the Supreme Court.
In a full-court session, the high tribunal, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda, granted the petition for review filed for the state by the Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and set aside the 2018 resolutions of Branch 17 of the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court (RTC) that excluded interment services from the coverage of the statutorily mandated senior citizen discount on “funeral and burial services.”
The RTC had ruled on a special civil action for declaratory relief filed by Pryce Corporation Inc., a local company selling memorial lots and offering interment services, contending that interment service for deceased seniors was not among the services entitled to the 20-percent discount provided under Republic Act (RA) No. 7432, or the Senior Citizens Act.
The lower court explained that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 9994, or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 that amended RA 7432, only mentioned the services of purchase of casket or urn, embalming, hospital morgue, and transport of the body to the intended burial site.
It held that the benefits covered by the discount did not include the service of interment, specifically the digging of land for the grave of the deceased, the concreting of the gravesite, and the other services done during the actual burial.
Bundle of benefits
The Supreme Court, in its decision, 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, noting that the law’s IRR, which does not explicitly exclude interment services, cannot be interpreted to support the lower court’s resolution.
The high court 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.”
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It 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 high tribunal.
It explained 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,” but these laws likewise do not limit the scope of the services falling under ‘funeral and burial services.’”
It added 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.
Not exclusive list
“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,” it pointed out.
“This conclusion was supported by the IRRs which prescribe the guidelines in the application of the 20-percent discount on funeral and burial services in that a comparison of the IRRs of RA 9257 and RA 9994 shows that the two are substantially the same,” it added.
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 high court noted.
However, the high court said that the enumeration in Section 6 is not exclusive, stressing 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 high court added that as pointed out by Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier in her concurring opinion, 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 [without] a clear legislative intent to the contrary.”