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Supreme Court says senior citizens’ discount covers interment service

Relatives visit a public cemetery in Manila in this undated file photo. — PHILIPPINE STAR/WALTER BOLLOZOS

SENIOR CITIZENS are entitled to a 20% discount on interment services, which are covered by the funeral and burial expenses provided for under the law, the Supreme Court (SC) said.

In a statement on Thursday, the High Court said it granted the government’s appeal to overturn a Cagayan de Oro trial court’s 2018 ruling that excluded interment services from the mandated senior citizen discount.

“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 national building and encouraging their families and communities to reaffirm the Filipino tradition of caring for them,” the SC said, citing the ruling penned by SC Associate Justice Rodil V. Zalameda.

The petition was filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

In 2018, the Cagayan de Oro Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 17 sided with Pryce Corp., Inc., a company that sells memorial lots and provides interment services, which claimed interment services were not covered under the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.

The RTC had said digging of land for the dead, filling a gravesite with concrete and other services during an actual burial were not subject to the 20% discount for senior citizens.

The trial court added that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 explicitly mentioned that only the purchase of a casket or urn, embalming service, use of a hospital morgue and the transportation of the body to the intended burial site were the services entitled to the 20% discount.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying the law’s IRR does not provide for an exact definition of “funeral and burial services.” It noted that the scope of discounted services is not limited to the ones listed under the IRR.

The High Court said that a burial service refers to any service offered in connection with the “final disposition, entombment or interment of human remains.”

“The Court found that the exclusion by the RTC of interment services from the coverage of the 20% senior citizen discount is not provided under the law, and that the IRR, which does not explicitly exclude interment services, cannot be interpreted to support the lower court’s Resolution. It 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,” the SC said.

The law upheld the state’s obligation under the Constitution to implement social security programs for elderly citizens, it said.

“It would be unreasonable to infer that Congress intended to differentiate between the deceased’s final solace for the purpose of granting the 20% discount absent a clear legislative intent to the contrary,” the tribunal said, citing SC Associate Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier’s separate concurring opinion.

The High Court has yet to upload its ruling on its website. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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