Hortillano, an employee of Continental Steel, filed a claim for Paternity Leave, Bereavement Leave and Death and Accident Insurance for dependent pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) concluded between Continental and the Union. The claim was based on the death of Hortillano’s unborn child. Hortillanos wife, had a premature delivery while she was in the 38th week of pregnancy. According to the Certificate of Fetal Death, the female fetus died during labor due to fetal Anoxia secondary to uteroplacental insufficiency. Continental Steel immediately granted Hortillanos claim for paternity leave but denied his claims for bereavement leave and other death benefits, consisting of the death and accident insurance. Continental Steel posited that the express provision of the CBA did not contemplate the death of an unborn child, a fetus, without legal personality. Continental Steel, relying on Articles 40, 41 and 42 of the Civil Code, contended that only one with civil personality could die. Hence, the unborn child never died because it never acquired juridical personality. Proceeding from the same line of thought, Continental Steel reasoned that a fetus that was dead from the moment of delivery was not a person at all.
ISSUE: Whether death can only happen to one with civil/juridical personality.
The reliance of Continental Steel on Articles 40, 41 and 42 of the Civil Code for the legal definition of death is misplaced. Article 40 provides that a conceived child acquires personality only when it is born, and Article 41 defines when a child is considered born. Article 42 plainly states that civil personality is extinguished by death.
First, the issue of civil personality is not relevant herein. Articles 40, 41 and 42 of the Civil Code on natural persons, must be applied in relation to Article 37 of the same Code, the very first of the general provisions on civil personality.
We need not establish civil personality of the unborn child herein since his/her juridical capacity and capacity to act as a person are not in issue. It is not a question before us whether the unborn child acquired any rights or incurred any obligations prior to his/her death that were passed on to or assumed by the child’s parents. The rights to bereavement leave and other death benefits in the instant case pertain directly to the parents of the unborn child upon the latters death.
Second, Sections 40, 41 and 42 of the Civil Code do not provide at all a definition of death. 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.
And third, death has been defined as the cessation of life. Life is not synonymous with civil personality. One need not acquire civil personality first before he/she could die. Even a child inside the womb already has life. No less than the Constitution recognizes the life of the unborn from conception, that the State must protect equally with the life of the mother. If the unborn already has life, then the cessation thereof even prior to the child being delivered, qualifies as death.