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Work connected

A LAW EACH DAY(Keeps Trouble Away) By Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 27,
2013 - 12:00am

This is the case of Bernie, a government employee who died while still in the service. The issue here is
whether the cause of his death is a compensable disease under the Workmen’s Compensation Law that
entitles him to death benefits.

Bernie has been working with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) assigned in Makati City
as laborer, Metro Aide, and Metro Aide I. After working for almost 29 years, he was confined in the
hospital for a few days and was diagnosed to have Myocardial Infarction, Community Acquired
Pneumonia, Pulmonary Tuberculosis, and Diabetes Mellitus.

On January 15, 2005, Bernardo was found dead in the basement of the MMDA building. The autopsy
conducted by the Southern Police District Crime Laboratory in Makati showed that he died of Myocardial
Infarction, which is identical to a heart attack.

So his wife Marilou subsequently filed a claim for death benefits with the GSIS. But the GSIS denied the
claim on the ground that myocardial infarction, which is the cause of Bernie’s death, is merely a
complication of his diabetes mellitus, and diabetes mellitus is not considered a work-related illness
because it is not included in the list of occupational diseases. Hence the GSIS ruled that the cause of
Bernie’s death is not compensable. The Employees’ Compensation Commission (ECC) agreed with the
ruling of GSIS. Were the GSIS and the ECC correct?

No. According to the Supreme Court (SC), the GSIS and ECC totally disregarded the “stressful and
strenuous conditions under which Bernie toiled” and set aside other influences that caused or contributed
to his fatal heart condition. For almost three decades, Bernie had to bear difficult working conditions from
day to day. While it is true that diabetes mellitus which led to Bernie’s heart condition is not listed as an
occupational illness, other mental and physical factors of employment contributed to, if not directly caused
the heart condition itself. They are aggravations which worsened and hastened Bernie’s fatal myocardial
infarction and therefore must not be discounted.

The evidence on record shows that the nature of Bernie’s duties, and the conditions under which he
worked for 29 years, cannot but lead to the deterioration of his health. It is common knowledge that an
MMDA metro aide endures stress and strain of working both under the heat of the smoldering sun and the
cold of the soaking rain. Add to it is the street pollution that is ever present in his work area. These
circumstances — the length of Bernie’s service and the nature and condition of his work — clearly
precipitated the myocardial infarction that finally led to Bernie’s death. A heart disease is compensable if it
was known to have been present during employment and there is proof that its acute exacerbation was
clearly precipitated by the unusual strain due to the nature of the work (Resolution No. 432, No. 18,
Amended Rules on Employees Compensation).

There must be a holistic appreciation of the circumstances and factors that may affect
the working condition, and ultimately the health of a worker. Thus, “an agency charged
by law with the implementation of social justice guaranteed and secured by the
Constitution like the ECC, the GSIS and the SSS, should adopt a liberal attitude in favor
of the employees in deciding claims for compensability, especially where there is some
basis in the facts for inferring a work-connection to the accident or to the illness
(Government Service Insurance System vs. Marilou Alcaraz, G.R. No. 187474, February 6, 2013).