Published 24 March 2023, The Daily Tribune
On 16 March, the Supreme Court published its decision in Republic v. Pryce (GR No. 243133), ruling that interment services are covered by the 20-percent senior citizen discount on funeral and burial services under Republic Act 7432, or the Senior Citizens Act, as amended by RA 9257 and 9994.
The case originated from a special civil action for declaratory relief filed by Pryce Corporation Inc., a domestic corporation engaged in the business of selling memorial lots and offering interment services.
The corporation contended that interment service is not among the services covered under the 20 percent senior citizen discount provided under the Senior Citizens Act, as amended.
In its resolution, the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court ruled in favor of Pryce Corporation, holding that the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9994, or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010, only mentions the purchase of caskets or urns, embalming, morgue services and the transport of the remains to the burial site. Considering the foregoing, the RTC held that interment service was not one of the benefits covered.
The trial court specified that the digging of the soil for the grave of the deceased, the concreting of the gravesite, and the other services rendered during the actual burial were not covered under the 20 percent senior citizen discount.
Upon appeal to the Supreme Court via a petition for review on certiorari, which was filed by the Republic of the Philippines (through the Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development), the SC en banc granted the Republic’s petition and set aside the RTC ruling.
The SC emphasized that the Senior Citizens Act was passed to grant a bundle of benefits in favor of senior citizens, who are defined as any Filipino citizen 60 years old and above. The Court added that the Act was to give “flesh to the declared policy of motivating senior citizens to contribute to nation building and encouraging their families and communities to reaffirm the Filipino tradition of caring for the senior citizens.”
The SC elucidated that both RA 9257 and 9994, in amending the Senior Citizens Act, do not provide an exact definition of the term “funeral and burial services”. Notably, the Court said the laws likewise do not limit the scope of the services falling under “funeral and burial services”.
Thus, the “Court finds that it would be unreasonable to infer that the Congress intended to differentiate between the deceased’s final solace for the purpose of granting the 20 percent senior citizen discount absent a clear legislative intent to the contrary.”
The High Court noted that based on the definition of the term “burial,” as it is commonly understood, “burial service” may pertain to “any service offered or provided connected with the final disposition, entombment, or interment of human remains.”
Thus, the Court deems that “burial services” necessarily include interment services such as digging the land for the deceased’s grave, its concreting, and other services done during a burial ceremony.
According to the SC, this conclusion is supported by the IRRs of RA 9257 and 9994 which prescribe the guidelines for applying the 20 percent senior citizen discount to funeral and burial services. A comparison of the IRRs of RA 9257 and 9994 shows that the two are “substantially the same.”
The Court noted that the exception is that Section 6 of the IRR of RA 9994 expounds on the term “other related services” by including a sample list of “services” and excluding obituary publication and cost of the memorial plot.
The Court, however, ruled that the enumeration in Section 6 is not exclusive. It emphasized that the phrase “other related services” does not refer only to the enumerated examples to exclude interment services.
The High Court found that the RTC’s exclusion of interment services from the coverage of the 20 percent senior citizen discount is not provided under the law. The SC further held that the IRR, which does not explicitly exclude interment services, cannot be interpreted to support the RTC ruling.