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[ GR No. L-9521, Nov 28, 1959 ]



106 Phil. 562

[ G.R. No. L-9521, November 28, 1959 ]




This is a petition to review on certiorari  a decision of the Workmen's Compensation Commission, awarding compensation to some  of the  children of an employee  who met death  as a  result of an accident arising  out of and in the course of employment.

The facts are not in dispute and they are set forth in the decision of the  Referee as follows:
"Teresa Javier Vda.  de  Gonzales is  the widow  of the late Maximino  Gonzales,  and Jovita,  Antonio,  Purificacion, Leonardo  and Natividad, all surnamed  Gonzales,  are their  children.  Miximino Gonzales  was a  pre-war  employee of the company  (respondent). These facts are admitted by the respondent.

In the morning of October 14, 1941, while Maximino Gonzales was on board the ship 'S.S.  Admiral' checking the cargoes that were then being unloaded in Pier 7, he met an accident by being hit by a box which dropped from a crane used in unloading the cargoes from the vessel. This caused him to fall into the hold of the said boat.  His fellow workers carried  him to the deck where he .was fetched by an ambulance.  But  before the ambulance reached the hospital, he died.

"He was a checker of the respondent company  before and at the time of the  accident.  After its occurrence, the  widow was called by a representative of the company  and was informed of her husband's accident and death, which caused her to faint.  Due to the outbreak of the war, she was not able to file a claim for compensation.  It was only in 1949, when she filed it, according to her, but the records show that the 'Notice of Injury and Sickness and Claim for Compensation' and her 'Affidavit' stating that she had not filed her claim within the prescribed period, both duly signed by her are both dated April 22, 1952.

"The  deceased employee was earning  P2.50 a day as checker of the respondent.  Sometimes he worked overtime.  There were times when  he had no work  for one  or  two  days.  Mrs. Teresa  Javier Vda. de Gonzales had no income of her  own during the lifetime of her husband, and together with their children,  she was living with and dependent  upon the deceased before and  on the date  of the accident.  She does  not remember the amount of  burial expenses, but these expenses were met  by voluntary contributions from his friends  and co-workers.

"In the year 1949, Mrs.  Teresa  Javier  Vda. de Gonzales went to the respondent to  ask for help or any amount on account of the death of her husband and because she had many children.  Through the arrangement of  one Atty.  Cirilo Tiongson of the  company, she was given P200.00' as voluntary aid. This  amount is evidenced by a voucher marked Exhibit 'A' for the claimant and Exhibit  '1'. for the respondent.  The policy of the  company is  to help its  former employees and their dependents.  The respective ages of the children are shown by their  respective birth  certificates  marked Exhibits 'B', 'C,  'D' 'E' and 'F'."
On  April, 22,  1952, claim for  compensation  was filed with  the Workmen's  Compensation Division,[1]  Bureau of Labor,  by the widow of the  deceased employee  on  behalf of  herself and their children.  The  petitioner company objected  to the claim on the ground of prescription.   The referee assigned to hear the case  sustained the objection with  respect to the widow and  the  eldest  child, Jovita, but awarded compensation to the other children.  The award having been confirmed by the Commissioner, the company brought the present  petition for certiorari.

It is not disputed that the claim for compensation with respect to the  widow  and  the  eldest child  (Jovita)  is already barred.  The only questions  now for determination is  whether the claim  is  also barred with respect to the other children Antonio,  Purificacion,  Leonardo and Natividad who,'at the time of their  father's death, were 11, 9, 6 and 3  years  old, respectively.

Section 24 of  the  Workmen's  Compensation  Act  provides:
"SEC. 24. Notice of the injury  and claim for compensation. No compensation  proceeding under this Act shall prosper  unless the employer has been given notice  of the injury or sickness as soon as possible after the same was received or contracted, and  unless a claim for compensation was made not later than two months  after the date of the injury or  sickness, or in case of death, not later than three months after death, regardless of whether or not compensation was claimed by the employee himself.  Such notice  may be given and such claim made by  any  person considering himself  entitled to the compensation or by any other person in his behalf.   In case medical,  surgical, and hospital services  and supplies have been furnished voluntarily by the employer, notice of the injury or sickness within the time limit  above mentioned  shall not be necessary, and if the employer has voluntarily made  the  compensation payments, the claim for compensation to be made within the time limits above established  shall no  longer be necessary."
This section establishes  a condition precedent to the maintenance of any compensation proceeding  under the  Act. It  requires previous  notice of the injury or sickness  as well as  previous claim  for  compensation within a period fixed in either  case.  Non-compliance with  that requirement bars recovery for  compensation.   However, the time limits provided for giving the notice for making the claim are, in the case of dependent minors and mentally incapacitated persons, subject to  the qualifications contained  in section 28 of the Act, which reads:
"SEC. 28. Limitation as  regards minors and insane, persons. -None of the time limits provided  for in this Act  shall apply to a person mentally  incapacitated or to a dependent minor so long as he has no guardian or next friend."
In the present  case,  the  employer  did  not have to be notified  of the  injury and death of the employee because it already had knowledge of  that fact, it appearing that it was a representative of the employer who notified the accident  to  the  widow of the deceased,  But as to the claim for compensation, it appears that this was not made within the  three  months fixed  in section 24,  and the earliest intimation of such claim was made only in  1949 when the widow asked the employer for financial help on account of the death of her husband.  The question thus arises as to whether failure to make claim for compensation within three  months after the employee's death is, even in the case of dependent minors, a bar to compensation proceedings under the Act.   Resolution of this question depends upon the interpretation of the phrase "guardian or next friend" used in section 28.

It is contended for the petitioner  company that the word  "guardian" in the quoted phrase may refer to either a natural guardian or a legal  guardian  since no qualifying word  is used, and that as the  minor children had a natural guardian in the person of their mother the  time limits provided in section 24 should apply to them.  This contention cannot, in  our opinion,  be sustained., The said phrase as  used  in  workmen's compensation  laws in the United States is taken to mean  "one authorized to maintain an action for and in the name of another who is non sui juris."   (Words and Phrases, Permanent Edition, Vol. 28 A, p.  204, citing Lockhart's Guardian vs.  Bailey  Pond Creek Coal Co., 30 S, W. 2d.  955, 957,  235 Ky. 278.)   As the  Workmen's Compensation  Act Is  patterned  after similar legislation  in the  United States, we may assume, unless a  contrary  intention appears, that the terms used in that Act were intended to have  the same signification as they had in the model legislation. Adopting* that same interpretation, the  question  for  us now  to determine  is whether under our laws at the time the claim for compensation should have  been made, the widow, as the natural guardian of the minor children, had  authority to bring and maintain an action in behalf of the latter.

Under the law before the new Civil Code,  the father, or in his absence, the mother, was the natural guardian of his or her minor children but was not their legal representative before the court and, unless appointed  legal guardian, had no right to maintain an action in their behalf particularly with regard to the minors' properties, for the reason that natural  guardianship did  not extend to such properties.   (Code of Civil Procedure, sees. 116, 117, 553, and 558; Palet vs. Aldecoa & Co.,  15 Phil., 232; Pobre vs. Blanco, 17 Phil., 156; Gayondato vs> Treasurer of the Phil., Islands, 49 Phil., 244; Samian vs. Leus and Leus, 37 Phil., 967.)  Not having the authority to represent her minor children in litigation, the mother, in the present case,  as mere natural guardian, cannot be considered the "guardian or next "friend" of the minors within the meaning  of the Workmen's Compensation  Act.

There  is, we think, good reason for  interpreting the phrase "guardian  or next friend"  as referring only  to "one authorized to maintain an action for  and in the  name of another who is non sui juris", for one not so authorized could  hardly be counted upon to do whatever  was needful that purpose or be held legally accountable  for failure to do it.  And to impute such failure to the  legally incapacitated person or allow it to prejudice the latter would certainly defeat the intention  of the Workmen's Compensation Act which is  liberally .construed in favor of persons to" be benefited.

It may not be amiss to cite in  this connection the case of Rosario, et al. vs. Manila Railroad Co.  (22 Phil., 140), which was an action for damages  for the death of defendant company's foreman caused by a collision between two of its  cars.  The action was brought by the widow of the deceased  in her own behalf and as guardian ad litem of their dependent children.  With the case pending in court,    the widow signed a  sworn statement admitting that her husband's death was due solely to his own fault; that the sum of P100 she and her children had children from the company was paid to them as  a mere gratuity and as an indemnity; and that  in view thereof,  they considered the matter  closed  and would make  no further claim.  Thereafter,  the  action  was  dismissed  as  to the widow but continued as to the  minor children and judgment was rendered  in favor of the latter.  In affirming that judgment, this Court held that "the mother, as such, or as the natural guardian of her minor children, can not in their name waive the right  which legally pertains to them to claim damages, for there  exists an express prohibition against  the sale, cession of rights  or compromise of the interests and property of minors by their parents without judicial authorization first had for the benefit of the said minors."

Conformably to the above, we hold that under the law prior to, the new Civil Code, the failure or neglect of the mother as a natural guardian of her minor  children to present within the period provided in section 24 the claim for compensation, which is a property right, could not be imputed to the minors, and consequently, in the absence of a  properly appointed  guardian, the running of that period was tolled during their minority.

Of  course,  under the new Civil Code, the guardianship of the  father or mother over children  under parental authority  extends to both the persons and the properties of their wards, albeit a bond has to be given, with court approval,  where such properties are  worth  more  than P2,000.  (Arts.  320  and 326.)  But the new  Civil  Code took effect only in 1950 and, as  already  stated, in  1949 the mother of the herein  minor claimants  asked the petitioner company for financial help  on account of the death of her husband.  As the  essential function  of  presenting the claim  to the employer is to  appraise the latter of the employee's or  his dependents'  intention  to assert their claim and substantial compliance  with the requirement is sufficient,  petitioner  should  be considered  as having such knowledge since  1949, and therefore the  requisite claim to the employer should be deemed to have been made in that year.  At that time all the four awardees were still minors and  three  of them Purification,  Leonardo and Natividad were still minors on April 22, 1952 when the present  proceeding was filed in their behalf by their mother, who was appointed guardian  ad litem during the hearing of the case.  There can, therefore, be no question that the right of these three claimants  is not barred by the statute.

As to the claim  of Antonio, who had already reached the age of majority when the action was filed, it will be noted that prescription  did  not  run  against him  during his minority because he had no legal guardian (Wenceslao et al. vs. Calimon,  46 Phil., 906) and he had two years after his disability was removed within which to bring his  action  (sec  45,  Act No. 190).   The  action  to  recover compensation under the Workmen's  Compensation Act is based  on liability created by statute  (Cajes, et al. vs. Phil. Manufacturing Co., CA-G. R. No. 7286, May 16, 1941; Pan Phil. Corp. vs. Workmen's Compensation Commission,  et al., 101 Phil., 66), and  prescribes in 6 years under the Code of Civil Procedure, or in 10 years under the new Civil Code.  Considering that Antonio was only 6 months and  8 days past the age of majority when claim for compensation was  filed on  April 22, 1952 with the Bureau of Labor, and only 11 months and 6 days over that age when on September 1, 1952 the Workmen's Compensation Commission was completely organized and began to opearte pursuant to Republic Act No. 772 not to mention that the obligations arising under the Workmen's Compensation  Act  are  included in the operation of the Debt Moratorium Law  (Oching,  et al. vs. Rodas,  et al., 78  Phil., 846; 45  Off. Gaz.  209) it is apparent that whether April 22,1952 or September 1,1952 be considered as the day when the  present proceeding was commenced, his  claim, likewise,  cannot  be said to  have already prescribed.

Wherefore, the judgment  awarding death benefits to claimants Antonio, Purificacion, Leonardo and Natividad Gonzales is affirmed, with  costs.

Paras, C. J., Bengzon, Padilla, Montemayor, Bautista Angelo, Labrador, Endencia, and Barrera, JJ., concur.

[1] Later absorbed into the Workmen's Compensation Commission created  by Republic  Act No. 772 and formally organized on  September  1,  1952.'