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388 Phil. 1115

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 136200, June 08, 2000 ]

CELERINO VALERIANO, PETITIONER, VS. EMPLOYEES' COMPENSATION COMMISSION AND GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

To be compensable, an injury must have resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment. It must be shown that it was sustained within the scope of employment while the claimant was performing an act reasonably necessary or incidental thereto or while following the orders of a superior. Indeed, the standard of "work connection" must be satisfied even by one who invokes the 24-hour-duty doctrine; otherwise, the claim for compensability must be denied.

The Case

Before us is a Petition for Review under Rule 45 assailing the January 30, 1998 Court of Appeals[1] (CA) Decision,[2] as well as the September 25, 1998 Resolution[3] in CA-GR SP No. 31141. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads as follows:[4]
"WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Employees' Compensation Commission dated April 1, 1993 is hereby AFFIRMED in toto."
The September 25, 1998 Resolution denied petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration.

The Facts

The factual and procedural antecedents of the case are summarized in the assailed Decision as follows:[5]
"Celerino S. Valeriano was employed as a fire truck driver assigned at the San Juan Fire Station. Sometime on the evening of July 3, 1985, petitioner was standing along Santolan Road, Quezon City, when he met a friend by the name of Alexander Agawin. They decided to proceed to Bonanza Restaurant in EDSA, Quezon City, for dinner. On their way home at around 9:30 PM, the owner-type jeepney they were riding in figured in a head-on collision with another vehicle at the intersection of N. Domingo and Broadway streets in Quezon City. Due to the strong impact of the collision, petitioner was thrown out of the vehicle and was severely injured. As a result of the mishap, petitioner was brought to several hospitals for treatment.

"On September 16, 1985, he filed a claim for income benefits under PD 626, with the Government Security Insurance Service. His claim for benefits was opposed on the ground that the injuries he sustained did not directly arise or result from the nature of his work. Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the denial by the System but the same was turned down on the ground that the condition for compensability had not been satisfied. Petitioner then interposed an appeal to the Employees' Compensation Commission (ECC for short). In a decision dated April 1, 1993, the ECC ruled against herein appellant, the pertinent portions of which are stated in the following wise:
`After a study of the records of the case under consideration, we find the decision of the respondent System denying appellant's claim in order.

`Under the present compensation law, injury and the resulting disability or death is compensable if the injury resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment. It means that the injury or death must be sustained while the employee is in the performance of his official duty; that the injury is sustained at the place where his work requires him to be; and if the injury is sustained elsewhere, that the employee is executing an order for the employer. The aforementioned conditions are found wanting in the instant case. The accident that the appellant met in the instant case occurred outside of his time and place of work. Neither was appellant performing his official duties as a fireman at the time of the accident. In fact, appellant just left the Bonanza Restaurant where he and his friends had dinner. Apparently, the injuries appellant sustained from the accident did not arise out of [and] in the course of his employment. Considering therefore the absence of a causal link between the contingency for which income benefits [are] being claimed and his occupation as fireman, his claim under PD 626, as amended, cannot be given due course.'"
The CA Ruling

The Court of Appeals agreed with the finding of the Employees' Compensation Commission that petitioner's injuries and disability were not compensable, emphasizing that they were not work-connected.
"Turning to the case before us, the evidence on record shows that herein petitioner was injured not at the place where his work required him to be. Neither was he executing an order from his superior, nor performing his official functions at the time of the accident. It must be recalled that at the time of the accident, petitioner was already dismissed from his regular 8-hour daily work. He was walking along Santolan Road when he met his friend and they decided to go to Bonanza Restaurant for dinner. Notwithstanding his claim that he can be called to report for work anytime in case there is a fire, or that his position is akin to that of a military man, a contention we cannot support, still the circumstances leading to the accident in which he was injured reveals that there is no causative connection between the injury he sustained and his work. Petitioner's invocation of the ruling in Hinoguin vs. ECC, 172 SCRA 350 is misplaced. In that case, petitioner Sgt. Hinoguin was a member of the Armed Forces and soldiers are presumed to be on official duty 24 hours a day. In the case at bar, petitioner is a fireman with a specific tour of duty. To sustain petitioner's contention of compensability would, in effect, make the employer, in this case the State, the insurer against all perils. That is not the intendment of our lawmakers in enacting the Workmen's Compensation Act." [6]
Hence, this Petition.[7]

The Issues

In his Petition,[8]Petitioner Celerino Valeriano urges the Court to resolve the following questions:

"I

WHETHER PETITIONER'S INJURIES ARE WORK-CONNECTED.

"II

WHETHER PETITIONER FIREMAN, LIKE SOLDIERS, CAN BE PRESUMED TO BE ON 24-HOUR DUTY."[9]
These questions point to the sole issue of the compensability of Petitioner Valeriano's injuries and resulting disability.

The Court's Ruling

We find no merit in the Petition.

Main Issue:
Compensability of Valeriano's Injuries and Resulting Disability


Disability benefits are granted an employee who sustains an injury or contracts a sickness resulting in temporary total, permanent total, or permanent partial, disability.[10] For the injury and the resulting disability to be compensable, they must have necessarily resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.[11]

Were Petitioner's Injuries
Work-Connected?


Citing Iloilo Dock & Engineering Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Commission,[12] the Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner's claim on the ground that he had not been injured at his work place, executing an order of his superior, or performing official functions when he met the accident.

We agree. In Iloilo, the Court explained the phrase "arising out of and in the course of employment" in this wise:
"The two components of the coverage formula -- "arising out of" and "in the course of employment" -- are said to be separate tests which must be independently satisfied; however, it should not be forgotten that the basic concept of compensation coverage is unitary, not dual, and is best expressed in the word, "work-connection," because an uncompromising insistence on an independent application of each of the two portions of the test can, in certain cases, exclude clearly work-connected injuries. The words "arising out of" refer to the origin or cause of the accident, and are descriptive of its character, while the words "in the course of" refer to the time, place and circumstances under which the accident takes place.

"As a matter of general proposition, an injury or accident is said to arise "in the course of employment" when it takes place within the period of the employment, at a place where the employee may reasonably x x x be, and while he is fulfilling his duties or is engaged in doing something incidental thereto."[13]
Thus, for injury to be compensable, the standard of "work connection" must be substantially satisfied. The injury and the resulting disability sustained by reason of employment are compensable regardless of the place where the injured occurred, if it can be proven that at the time of the injury, the employee was acting within the purview of his or her employment and performing an act reasonably necessary or incidental thereto.[14]

Petitioner Valeriano was not able to demonstrate solidly how his job as a firetruck driver was related to the injuries he had suffered. That he sustained the injuries after pursuing a purely personal and social function -- having dinner with some friends -- is clear from the records of the case. His injuries were not acquired at his work place; nor were they sustained while he was performing an act within the scope of his employment or in pursuit of an order of his superior. Thus, we agree with the conclusion reached by the appellate court that his injuries and consequent disability were not work-connected and thus not compensable.

Applicability of Hinoguin and Nitura

Petitioner debunks the importance given by the appellate court to the fact that he was not at his work place and had in fact been dismissed for the day when he met the accident. He argues that his claim for disability benefits is anchored on the proposition that the exigency of his job as a fireman requires a constant observance of his duties as such; thus, he should be considered to have been "on call" when he met the accident. He underscores the applicability of Hinoguin v. ECC[15] and Nitura v. ECC[16] to his case.

In Hinoguin and Nitura, the Court granted death compensation benefits to the heirs of Sgt. Limec Hinoguin and Pfc. Regino Nitura, both members of the Philippine Army. After having gone elsewhere on an overnight pass, Sgt. Hinoguin was accidentally shot by a fellow soldier during the former's return trip to their headquarters. Pfc. Nitura, on the other hand, died after falling from a bridge during his trip back to his camp. At the time of his death, he had just accomplished his commander's instruction to check on several personnel of his command post who were then at a dance party.

Both cases espoused the position that the concept of "work place" cannot always be literally applied to a soldier on active duty status who, to all intents and purposes, is on a 24-hour official duty status, subject to military discipline and law and at the beck and call of his superior officers at all times, except when he is on vacation leave status.[17]

This ratiocination, later applied to police officers in Employees' Compensation Commission v. Court of Appeals,[18] was dissected in the more recent GSIS v. Court of Appeals.[19] In the latter case, the deceased police officer, SPO2 Florencio Alegre, was moonlighting as a tricycle driver at the time of his death. The Court reviewed Hinoguin, Nitura and ECC and noted that in each case death benefits were granted, not just because of the principle that soldiers or policemen were virtually working round the clock. More important, there was a finding of a reasonable nexus between the absence of the deceased from his assigned place of work and the incident causing his death. The Court explained:

"In Hinoguin, the connection between his absence from the camp where he was assigned and the place where he was accidentally shot was the permission duly given to him and his companions by the camp commander to go on overnight pass. According to the Court, "a place [where] soldiers have secured lawful permission cannot be very different, legally speaking, from a place where they are required to go by their commanding officer" and hence, the deceased is to be considered as still in the performance of his official functions.

"The same thing can be said of Nitura where the deceased had to go outside of his station on permission and directive by his superior officer to check on several personnel of his command who were then attending a dance party.

"As for P/Sgt. Alvaran in the Employees' Compensation Commission case, although he was not given any directive or permission by a superior officer to be at the Mandaluyong Police Station, his presence there was nonetheless justified by the peacekeeping nature of the matter he was attending to at the time x x x he was attacked and shot to death, that is, [while] bringing his son to the police station to answer for a crime [--] a basic duty which any policeman is expected and ought to perform."[20]

Ruling that the death of SPO2 Alegre was not compensable, the Court pointed out that the 24-hour-duty doctrine should not embrace all acts and circumstances causing the death of a police officer, but only those that can be categorized as police service in character. It further held:

"Taking together jurisprudence and the pertinent guidelines of the ECC with respect to claims for death benefits, namely: (a) that the employee must be at the place where his work requires him to be; (b) that the employee must have been performing his official functions; and (c) that if the injury is sustained elsewhere, the employee must have been executing an order for the employer, it is not difficult to understand then why SPO2 Alegre's widow should be denied the claims otherwise due her. Obviously, the matter SPO2 Alegre was attending to at the time he met his death, that of ferrying passengers for a fee, was intrinsically private and unofficial in nature proceeding as it did from no particular directive or permission of his superior officer. In the absence of such prior authority as in the cases of Hinoguin and Nitura, or peace-keeping nature of the act attended to by the policeman at the time he died even without the explicit permission or directive of a superior officer, as in the case of P/Sgt. Alvaran, there is no justification for holding that SPO2 Alegre met the requisites set forth in the ECC guidelines. That he may be called upon at anytime to render police work as he is considered to be on a round-the-clock duty and was not on an approved vacation leave will not change the conclusion arrived at[,] considering that he was not placed in a situation where he was required to exercise his authority and duty as policeman. In fact, he was refusing to render one[,] pointing out that he already complied with the duty detail. At any rate, the 24-hour duty doctrine, as applied to policemen and soldiers, serves more as an after-the-fact validation of their acts to place them within the scope of the guidelines rather than [as] a blanket license to benefit them in all situations that may give rise to their deaths. In other words, the 24-hour duty doctrine should not be sweepingly applied to all acts and circumstances causing the death of a police officer but only to those which, although not on official line of duty, are nonetheless basically police service in character." [21]

We recognize the importance and laud the efforts of firemen in our society. Indeed, the nature of their job requires them to be always on alert, like soldiers and police officers, and to respond to fire alarms which may occur anytime of the day. Be that as it may, the circumstances in the present case do not call for the application of Hinoguin and Nitura. Following the rationalization in GSIS, the 24-hour-duty doctrine cannot be applied to petitioner's case, because he was neither at his assigned work place nor in pursuit of the orders of his superiors when he met an accident. But the more important justification for the Court's stance is that he was not doing an act within his duty and authority as a firetruck driver, or any other act of such nature, at the time he sustained his injuries. We cannot find any reasonable connection between his injuries and his work as a firetruck driver.

While we sympathize with petitioner's plight, we cannot grant his Petition. True, the policy is to extend the applicability of Presidential Decree No. 626 to as many qualified employees as possible,[22] but this must be balanced by the equally vital interest of denying undeserving claims for compensation.[23] Considering the circumstances in petitioner's case, he cannot be deemed qualified for disability benefits under the law.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby DENIED and the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.

Vitug, J., abroad on official business.



[1] Eleventh Division composed of J. Fermin A. Martin, Jr., ponente; and JJ Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr., and Artemio G. Tuquero, both of whom concurred.

[2] Rollo, pp. 80-87.

[3] Ibid. pp. 100-101.

[4] Rollo, p. 86.

[5] CA Decision, pp. 2-4; rollo, pp. 81-83.

[6] CA Decision, p. 6; rollo, p. 85.

[7] The case was deemed submitted for decision on December 20, 1999, upon receipt by the Court of the Memoranda of petitioner and Respondent GSIS. Respondent ECC's Memorandum was filed on December 16, 1999.

[8] Signed by Attys. Arceli A. Rubin and Teresita S. de Guzman of the Public Attorney's Office; rollo, pp. 12-31.

[9] Rollo, p. 26.

[10] See Articles 191-193, The Labor Code, as amended.

[11] Section 1(a), Rule III, Amended Rules on Employees' Compensation. Note that the present law in Employees Compensation, although part of the Labor Code, is also known as Presidential Decree No. 626.

In Article 167 (k) of the Labor Code, as amended, injury is defined as "any harmful change in the human organism from any accident arising out of and in the course of the employment."

[12] 26 SCRA 102, November 27, 1968.

[13] Ibid., pp. 105-106, per Castro, J.

[14] Lopez v. Employees' Compensation Commission, 228 SCRA 657, December 21, 1993.

[15] 172 SCRA 350, April 17, 1989.

[16] 201 SCRA 278, September 4, 1991.

[17] See Hinoguin, pp. 356- 357; and Nitura, pp. 283-284.

[18] 257 SCRA 717, June 28, 1996.

[19] 306 SCRA 41, April 20, 1999.

[20] Ibid., p. 48, per Romero, J.

[21] Ibid., p. 49.

[22] Lazo v. Employees' Compensation Commission, 186 SCRA 569, June 18, 1990.

[23] Beberisa RiƱo v. Employees' Compensation Commission, GR No. 132558, May 9, 2000.


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