A Surviving Spouse Must Also Be A Dependent Spouse

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The SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM (SSS) has topped the number of complaints via 8888 but also is the highest in terms of their resolution. Thus, we are very eager to land on the pages of the Herald Express in our hope to become the mouthpiece of SSS to possibly address persistent problems posed by our members, especially those who are applying for benefits. As it is aptly named, this corner shall serve as our readers’ guide to their rights, benefits and obligations as SSS members or beneficiaries. Each week, we shall cite actual claims or cases which were resolved by our Legal Department, opinions which could hold true in all cases with similar circumstances.

The SSS is governed by the Social Security Act of 1997 which provides for the beneficiaries in the event of contingencies like death. When a member dies, the primary beneficiary are his spouse and his dependent children who are not more than 21 years old. However, the entitlement of a spouse to any benefit accruing to the death of the spouse-member is not without qualification. He/She must also be a dependent spouse. Here is one situation that requested for our opinion. The names of the parties were changed to respect their privacy.

Ellen, the wife of the late John, an SSS member, applied for Death Claims with the SSS, she being the legal spouse of said member. Her claim was however, denied after the SSS conducted an investigation and yielded findings that Ellen and John separated in 1996 and Ellen since then had illicit relationships with different men. Ellen was given an opportunity to dispute this allegation, however the evidence went against her favor.

The reason for said denial is lack of dependency.

RA 8282 or the SS Law provides:

Section 8. Terms Defined. – For the purposes of this Act, the following terms shall, unless the context indicates otherwise, have the following meanings:
x x x
(e) Dependents – The dependents shall be the following:
(1) The legal spouse entitled by law to receive support from the member;
x x x

The same section of the law moreover, states:

(k) Beneficiaries- The dependent spouse until he or she remarries…
x x x

As it has been decided by the Supreme Court in so many cases, in the grant of claim to a surviving spouse of a deceased SSS member, it is instructive that the claimant should not only be a legal spouse but should also be dependent for support from the member.

The Supreme Court in SSS vs. Aguas ( G.R. No. 16546, February 27, 2006, 483 SCRA 383) held: “…a wife who left her family until her husband died and lived with other men was not dependent upon her husband for support, financial or otherwise, during the entire period.”

The Supreme Court cites: “the obvious conclusion then is that a wife who is already separated de facto from her husband cannot be said to be “dependent for support” upon the husband, absent any showing to the contrary.”

Morever, in several cases, the Social Security Commission (SSC) had ruled that marital infidelity is enough proof of non-dependency for support (SSC Case Digest citing SSC Case No. 4-14667-97).

It is therefore not correct to assume that all surviving spouses of SSS members can automatically qualify for SSS death benefits. The SSS must evaluate and prove dependency and in most instances, that the existing spouse has not abandoned the member, did not separate with the member or cohabit with other partner/s. Rightfully so, it is but fair to only give benefits to whom it is due, that is, to the wife or husband who stayed with the member throughout his/her lifetime.

A religiously paying SS member should therefore not worry that her philandering husband might get all the proceeds of her SSS benefits. For the member’s peace of mind, however, we advise them to execute an affidavit or maintain any proof of such separation or cohabitation for “future use”. We thus, encourage the public who may know of such surviving spouses who have been receiving pension from SSS despite their remarriage, cohabitation or separation, as a matter of service to the pension fund and the rest of its 33 million members, report this fact to SSS.

Next week: Who are Secondary Beneficiaries?

For inquiries on your legal questions regarding your SSS membership, benefits and obligations, you may visit the SSS Legal Department-Luzon North I at SSS Harrison Road, Baguio City.