The law in force at the time of Florante’s death was RA 1161. Section 8 (e) and (k) of said law provides:
Section 8. Terms Defined. For the purposes of this Act, the following terms shall, unless the context indicates otherwise, have the following meanings:
x x x x
(e) Dependent – The legitimate, legitimated or legally adopted child who is unmarried, not gainfully employed and not over twenty-one years of age, or over twenty-one years of age, provided that he is congenitally incapacitated and incapable of self-support, physically or mentally; the legitimate spouse dependent for support upon the employee; and the legitimate parents wholly dependent upon the covered employee for regular support.
x x x x
(k) Beneficiaries – The dependent spouse until he remarries and dependent children, who shall be the primary beneficiaries. In their absence, the dependent parents and, subject to the restrictions imposed on dependent children, the legitimate descendants and illegitimate children who shall be the secondary beneficiaries. In the absence of any of the foregoing, any other person designated by the covered employee as secondary beneficiary. (Emphasis ours.)
From the above-quoted provisions, it is plain that for a spouse to qualify as a primary beneficiary under paragraph (k) thereof, he/she must not only be a legitimate spouse but also a dependent as defined under paragraph (e), that is, one who is dependent upon the member for support. Paragraphs (e) and (k) of Section 8 of RA 1161 are very clear. “Hence, we need only apply the law. Under the principles of statutory construction, if a statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied
without attempted interpretation. This plain meaning rule or verba legis, derived from the maxim index animo sermo est (speech is the index of intention), rests on the valid presumption that the words employed by the legislature in a statute correctly express its intent by the use of such words as are found in the statute. Verba legis non est recedendum, or, from the words of a statute there should be no departure.”
Thus, in Social Security System v. Aguas we held that:
[I]t bears stressing that for her (the claimant) to qualify as a primary beneficiary, she must prove that she was ‘the legitimate spouse dependent for support from the employee.’ The claimant-spouse must therefore establish two qualifying factors: (1) that she is the legitimate spouse, and (2) that she is dependent upon the member for support. x x x
Here, there is no question that Teresa was Florante’s legal wife. What is at point, however, is whether Teresa is dependent upon Florante for support in order for her to fall under the term “dependent spouse” under Section 8(k) of RA 1161.
What the SSC relies on in concluding that Teresa was not dependent upon Florante for support during their separation for 17 years was its findings that Teresa maintained an illicit relationship with another man. Teresa however counters that such illicit relationship has not been sufficiently established and, hence, as the legal wife, she is presumed to be continually dependent upon
Florante for support.
We agree with Teresa that her alleged affair with another man was not sufficiently established. The Memorandum of SSS Senior Analysts Liza Agilles and Jana Simpas reveals that it was Florante who was in fact living with a common law wife, Susan Favila (Susan) and their three minor children at the time of his death. Susan even filed her own claim for death benefits with the SSS but same was, however, denied. With respect to Teresa, we quote the pertinent portions of said Memorandum, viz:
SUSAN SUBMITTED A LETTER SIGNED BY ESTELITA RAMOS, ELDER SISTER OF THE DECEASED STATING THAT MEMBER WAS SEPARATED FROM TERESA AFTER 10 YEARS OF LIVING IN FOR THE REASONS THAT HIS WIFE HAD COHABITED WITH A MARRIED MAN. ALSO, PER ESTELITA, THE WIFE HERSELF ADMITTED THAT THE MAN SLEPT WITH HER 4 TIMES A WEEK.
TERESA SUBMITTED AN AFFIDAVIT EXECUTED BY NAPOLEON AND JOSEFINA, BROTHER AND SISTER (IN) LAW, RESPECTIVELY, OF THE DECEASED THAT TERESA HAS NEVER RE-MARRIED NOR COHABITED WITH ANOTHER MAN.
BASED ON THE INTERVIEW (DATED 9/18/98) CONDUCTED FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TERESA AND BGY. KAGAWAD IN TONDO, MANILA, IT WAS ESTABLISHED THAT TERESA DID NOT COHABIT WITH ANOTHER MAN AFTER THE SEPARATION ALTHOUGH THERE ARE RUMORS THAT SHE AND A CERTAIN POLICE OFFICER HAD AN AFFAIR. BUT [NOT] ENOUGH PROOF TO ESTABLISH THEIR RELATIONSHIP SINCE THEY DID NOT LIVE-IN AS HUSBAND AND WIFE.
BASED ON THE INTERVIEW WITH JOSEFINA FAVILA, MEMBER AND TERESA WERE SEPARATED FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS AND THAT SHE HAD NO KNOWLEDGE IF TERESA COHABITED WITH ANOTHER MAN ALTHOUGH SHE HEARD OF THE RUMORS THAT SAID WIFE HAD AN AFFAIR WITH ANOTHER MAN. NAPOLEON WAS NOT INTERVIEWED. (Emphasis ours)
While SSC believes that the foregoing constitutes substantial evidence of Teresa’s amorous relationship, we, however, find otherwise. It is not hard to see that Estelita’s claim of Teresa’s cohabitation with a married man is a mere allegation without proof. Likewise, the interviews conducted by SSS revealed rumors only that Teresa had an affair with a certain police officer. Notably, not one from those interviewed confirmed that such an affair indeed existed. “The basic rule is that mere allegation is not evidence and is not equivalent to proof. Charges based on mere suspicion and speculation likewise cannot be given credence.” “Mere uncorroborated hearsay or rumor does not constitute substantial evidence.” Remarkably, the Memorandum itself stated that there is not enough proof to establish Teresa’s alleged relationship with another man since they did not live as husband and wife.
This notwithstanding, we still find untenable Teresa’s assertion that being the legal wife, she is presumed dependent upon Florante for support. In Re: Application for Survivor’s Benefits of Manlavi, this Court defined “dependent” as “one who derives his or her main support from another [or] relying on, or subject to, someone else for support; not able to exist or sustain oneself, or to perform anything without the will, power or aid of someone else.” Although therein, the wife’s marriage to the deceased husband was not dissolved prior to the latter’s death, the Court denied the wife’s claim for survivorship benefits from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) because the wife abandoned her family to live with other men for more than 17 years until her husband died. Her whereabouts was unknown to her family and she never attempted to communicate with them or even check up on the well-being of her daughter with the deceased. From these, the Court concluded that the wife during said period was not dependent on her husband for any support, financial or otherwise, hence, she is not a dependent within the contemplation of RA 8291 as to be entitled to survivorship benefits. It is worthy to note that under Section 2(f) RA 8291, a legitimate spouse dependent for support is likewise included in the enumeration of dependents and under Section 2(g), the legal dependent spouse in the enumeration of primary beneficiaries.
Under this premise, we declared in Aguas that “the obvious conclusion is that a wife who is already separated de facto from her husband cannot be said to be ‘dependent for support’ upon the husband, absent any showing to the contrary. Conversely, if it is proved that the husband and wife were still living together at the time of his death, it would be safe to presume that she was dependent on the husband for support, unless it is shown that she is capable of providing for herself.” Hence, we held therein that the wife-claimant had the burden to prove that all the statutory requirements have been complied with, particularly her dependency on her husband at the time of his death. And, while said wife-claimant was the legitimate wife of the deceased, we ruled that she is not qualified as a primary beneficiary since she failed to present any proof to show that at the time of her husband’s death, she was still dependent on him for support even if they were already living separately.
In this case, aside from Teresa’s bare allegation that she was dependent upon her husband for support and her misplaced reliance on the presumption of dependency by reason of her valid and then subsisting marriage with Florante, Teresa has not presented sufficient evidence to discharge her burden of proving that she was dependent upon her husband for support at the time of his death. She could have done this by submitting affidavits of reputable and disinterested persons who have knowledge that during her separation with Florante, she does not have a known trade, business, profession or lawful occupation from which she derives income sufficient for her support and such other evidence tending to prove her claim of dependency. While we note from the abovementioned SSS Memorandum that Teresa submitted affidavits executed by Napoleon Favila and Josefina Favila, same only pertained to the fact that she never remarried nor cohabited with another man. On the contrary, what is clear is that she and Florante had already been separated for about 17 years prior to the latter’s death as Florante was in fact, living with his common law wife when he died. Suffice it to say that “[w]hoever claims entitlement to the benefits provided by law should establish his or her right thereto by substantial evidence.” Hence, for Teresa’s failure to show that despite their separation she was dependent upon Florante for support at the time of his death, Teresa cannot qualify as a primary beneficiary. Hence, she is not entitled to the death benefits accruing on account of Florante’s death.