High Court rules in favor of teachers

The Supreme Court (SC) Second Division, recognizing that a labor dispute involving the livelihood of eleven dismissed teachers who were union officers was decided purely on technical grounds, took matters into their own hands saying that although they are not a trier of facts “we deem it proper not to remand the case to the CA anymore and to resolve the appeal ourselves, without further delay”.

SC Associate Justice Arturo Brion who wrote the 11 page decision and concurred by the four members of the 2nd division stressed that all doubts in the implementation and interpretation of the Labor Code shall be resolved in favor of labor.

The SC 2nd Division upheld the decision of a labor arbiter over the resolutions of the Court of Appeals (CA) and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in a labor case filed by the Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) Faculty and Employees Union against the PMI Colleges Bohol.

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The decision of the SC 2nd Division ordered that the petition for review on certiorari by the PMI union “is granted”, the assailed resolutions of the CA “are set aside”, the decision of Labor Arbiter Leo N. Montenegro “is reinstated” and the decision of the NLRC  “is vacated”.

PMI Colleges Bohol Director Misoro Salamero, when contacted by the Chronicle said that he has yet to receive a copy of the SC decision.

Of the eleven union officers who were dismissed by PMI-Bohol, four were reinstated and the seven were dismissed – Alberto Porlacin, president, Violeta Dano, treasurer, Board of Directors Joel Langcamon, Nelson Estano, Joseph Nelson Sarabia, Antonio Tambis and Victorino Cabalit.

CASE PREFACE

The labor case arose from a notice of strike filed by the PMI union on October 2, 2009 before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) against PMI-Bohol for alleged gross violation of certain provisions of their collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

While awaiting for the expiration of the 15 day cooling-off period and completion of the 7 day strike vote period or 22 days as required by law, the teachers “religiously reported for duty” but on the last day of the cooling off and strike vote periods, they were allegedly “not allowed entry to the school premises” by the security guards of PMI Bohol.

Union members, in their sworn testimonies that despite their protest and insistence to enter the PMI premises in compliance with their teaching load, the PMI security guards “pushed them out of the school grounds” under orders from school authorities.

The union admitted that they staged the strike on August 9, 2010, the 21st day after the filing of the strike notice on July 19, 2010 and submission of the strike vote on August 2, 2010, or a day earlier than the 22 days cooling off period.

According to the teachers, left with no choice they went on a one day strike prompting PMI Bohol filing before the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) a petition to declare the strike illegal.

But Labor Arbiter Leo Montenegro dismissed the petition of PMI Bohol for “lack of merit” declaring that the PMI union substantially complied with the requirements of a valid strike

Montenegro, in his decision considered that the staging of the strike one day earlier was not illegal since the union’s officers and members were illegally locked out to enter the school premises to perform their teaching duties based on the sworn testimonies of the teachers.

Montenegro also stressed the failure of PMI Bohol to present the statements of their security guards on whether the strikers were prevented from reporting for work.

However, the NLRC disagreed with the labor arbiter’s decision, ruling the strike illegal and the union officers losing their employment status with PMI Colleges Bohol.

The NLRC also gave weight to a video footage allegedly submitted by PMI Bohol 15 months after the strike showing that the entry and exit from the school premises were not restricted by the security guards.

Failing to get justice from the NLRC, the union officers sought relief before the CA but was rebuffed due to “procedural infirmities since documents submitted by the union officers did not comply with the requirements of the rules of court.

SC RELIEF

The PMI union filed a petition for review on certiorari before the SC to nullify two resolutions issued by the CA 20th Division dismissing their petition for certiorari “solely on technical grounds”.

The PMI union begged the SC for a liberal interpretation of the rules of procedure when the CA ignored the principle that “substantial justice must prevail over procedural infirmities”

The CA decision upheld the the declaration of the NLRC that “all union officers who have participated in the strike was illegal and declaring the officers to have lost their employment status”.

SC RULES

On the procedural question, the SC chided the CA that  the rules of procedure should have been relaxed in this case and was the “more prudent move to follow in the interest of substantial justice”.

The SC underscored that the rules of procedure should not hinder or delay, but promote the administration of justice and if the stringent application of the rules would obstruct rather than serve the demands of justice, the former must yield to the latter.

The SC also chastised the NLRC for ignoring the sworn testimonies of four union members – Engr, Teodomila Mascardo, Engr. Conchita Bagaslao, Mary Jean Enriquez and Cirilo Fallar that they were barred from entering PMI premises as self serving but readily admitted as evidence a video footage more than a year after it was supposed to have been taken.

The SC found the statements of the four teachers credible saying “they are first and foremost teachers” who were reporting for duty on that day. Also, the court finds no reason for the union officers to throw away all their preparations for a lawful strike on the very last day of the 22 days cooling off period, had they not been barred entry to the school campus.

The SC rebuked the NLRC  for “swallowing hook, line and sinker” the video footage to prove that PMI did not lock out the union members from the entry into the campus “deserves scant consideration”.

The video footage was taken by personnel of Ramasola Superstudio in Tagbilaran City but it took PMI Bohol 15 months to secure their affidavits despite the presence of the school”s management lawyer, Evaneliza Cloma-Lucero who resides in Tagbilaran City, according to the SC decision.

The SC concluded that the PMI union’s petition has merit, the CA reversibly erred when it decided the labor dispute and dismissed the union’s petition “purely on technical grounds”.

The CA also erred for “blindly ignoring the blatant grave abuse of discretion of the NLRC completely disregarding the affidavits of the union officers and members and readily admitting PMI’s belatedly submitted video footage”, according to the SC decision.

The decision on G.R. No. 211526 for review on certiorari was promulgated on June 29, 2016 by the SC 2nd Division – Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Chairperson, Arturo Brion, Mariano Del Castillo (on leave), Jose Catral Mendoza and Marvic Leonen, members.

The labor dispute took seven years to be resolved starting with a notice of strike  filed by the PMI union before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) in Cebu City on October 2, 2009 up to the time the SC handed down its decision. (Chito M. Visarra)



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