[G.R. NOS. 123562-65 : November 25, 2004]
LEONORA A. GESITE, FE LAMOSTE, ADELAIDA MACALINDOG, and GUIA C. AGATON, Petitioners, v. THE COURT OF APPEALS, THE CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, and THE SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, CULTURE AND SPORTS, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals dated November 22, 1995 and its Resolution2 dated January 22, 1996 in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 37690 and 37705-07 entitled, "Leonora A. Gesite, et al. v. The Civil Service Commission and the Secretary of Education, Culture & Sports."
Petitioners are public school teachers of the E. de los Santos Elementary School in Manila.
Beginning March 1990, simmering unrest struck the ranks of the public school teachers in Metro Manila. They pressed for, among others, the immediate payment of their allowances, 13th month pay for 1989 arising from the implementation of the Salary Standardization Law, the recall of Order No. 39, Series of 1990, issued by the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS), directing the oversizing of classes and overloading of teachers, and the hiring of 47,000 new teachers. When their demands were not granted, the dissatisfied teachers resolved to take direct mass actions.
On September 17, 1990, a regular school day, about 800 teachers in Metro Manila did not conduct classes. Instead, they assembled in front of the DECS offices to air their grievances. When their representatives conferred with then DECS Secretary Isidro CariÃ±o, he brushed aside their complaints, warning them they would lose their jobs for taking illegal mass actions. He then ordered the teachers to return to work within twenty-four (24) hours, otherwise they will be dismissed from the service. Meantime, he directed the DECS officials to initiate immediate administrative proceedings against those found obstinate.
The action of the DECS Secretary caused more teachers to join the protest action. These included the above-named four petitioners who did not report for work on September 19-21, 1990. Hence, the DECS Secretary filed administrative complaints against them for defying his return-to-work order. They were charged with grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, gross violation of the Civil Service Law and Regulations, refusal to perform official duty, gross insubordination, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and absence without official leave.
Despite receipt of notice to file their answer within seventy-two (72) hours but not more than five (5) days, petitioners failed to do so. Consequently, they were deemed to have waived their right to controvert the charges. They were found guilty as charged and ordered dismissed from the service. Subsequently, this penalty was reduced to nine (9) months suspension for petitioners Adelaida Macalindong and Guia Agaton and six (6) months suspension for petitioners Leonora Gesite and Fe Lamoste.
Petitioners interposed an appeal to the Merit System Protection Board, but it was denied for lack of merit.
On appeal to the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the same was also denied. The CSC found that petitioners are liable for "conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service" on the ground that they "acted without due regard to the adverse consequences of their action which necessarily resulted in the suspension and stoppage of classes, to the prejudice of the pupils/students to whom (they) were responsible." The CSC imposed upon them the penalty of six (6) months suspension without pay. Their respective motions for reconsideration were denied.
Hence, petitioners filed with this Court a special civil action for certiorari , which we referred to the Court of Appeals pursuant to Administrative Circular No. 1-95,3 docketed therein as CA-G.R. SP Nos. 37690 and 37705-07.
On November 23, 1995, the Court of Appeals rendered a joint Decision dismissing the four (4) petitions, thus:
"WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the present petition for certiorari is DISMISSED for lack of merit; the assailed Resolutions issued by the respondent Civil Service Commission are hereby UPHELD.
Hence, the instant Petition for Review on Certiorari raising the following grounds:
1. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN SUSTAINING THE DECISION OF THE CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION FINDING THEM LIABLE FOR CONDUCT PREJUDICIAL TO THE BEST INTEREST OF THE SERVICE WHEN THEY ONLY EXERCISED THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE PEACEABLY TO AIR THEIR GRIEVANCES; andcralawlibrary
2. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN DENYING PETITIONERS' PLEA FOR THE PAYMENT OF THEIR BACKWAGES COVERING THE PERIOD WHEN THEY WERE NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH.
In his comment on the petition, the Solicitor General alleged:
1. Petitioners who are all public school teachers form part of the Civil Service, hence their right to peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike, is not absolute and the exercise thereof is subject to reasonable limitations provided by existing laws; andcralawlibrary
2. The Court of Appeals did not err in affirming the Decision of the Civil Service Commission denying petitioners' prayer for payment of their backwages during the period of their suspension from the service.
The sole controversial issue is whether petitioners, in joining the mass actions taken by the public school teachers, may be held liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
While petitioners admit their participation in the mass actions of the public school teachers in September to mid-October, 1990 which temporarily disrupted classes in Metro Manila, they assert, however, that they were not on strike. Rather, they were merely exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of their grievances.5 Thus, they may not be penalized administratively.
The Solicitor General submits that although the Constitution recognizes the rights of government workers to organize, assemble and petition the government for redress of their grievances,6 however, the exercise of these rights is not a license for them to engage in strikes, walkouts, and temporary work stoppages.
The question of whether the concerted mass actions launched by the public school teachers, including herein petitioners, in Metro Manila from September to the first half of October 1990 was a strike has long been settled. In Bangalisan v. Court of Appeals,7 this Court held:
"The issue of whether or not the mass action launched by the public school teachers during the period from September up to the first half of October, 1990 was a strike has been decided by this Court in a resolution, dated December 18, 1990, in the herein cited case of Manila Public School Teachers Association, et al. v. Laguio, Jr. (G.R. NOS. 95445 & 95590, August 6, 1991, 200 SCRA 323). It was there held 'that from the pleaded and admitted facts, these 'mass actions' were to all intents and purposes a strike; they constituted a concerted and unauthorized stoppage of, or absence from, work which it was the teachers' duty to perform, undertaken for essentially economic reasons.'
It is an undisputed fact that there was a work stoppage and that petitioners' purpose was to realize their demands by withholding their services. The fact that the conventional term 'strike' was not used by the striking employees to describe their common course of action is inconsequential, since the substance of the situation, and not its appearance, will be deemed to be controlling (Board of Education v. New Jersey Education Association (1968) 53 NJ 29, 247 A2d 867)."
Actually, petitioners here were not charged administratively because they engaged in strike. Former DECS Secretary Isidro CariÃ±o filed administrative complaints against them because, as aptly held by the Court of Appeals, they were absent from classes from September 19-21, 1990, in violation of his return-to-work order. Their unauthorized absences disrupted classes and prejudiced the welfare of the school children.
It is relevant to state at this point that the settled rule in this jurisdiction is that employees in the public service may not engage in strikes, mass leaves, walkouts, and other forms of mass action that will lead in the temporary stoppage or disruption of public service.8 The right of government employees to organize is limited to the formation of unions or associations only, without including the right to strike.9
Here, petitioners, in joining the mass actions, failed to hold classes to the prejudice of their students. While petitioners have the right to assemble peaceably to air their grievances, however, they should have exercised such right in a lawful manner. As this Court held in Jacinto v. Court of Appeals,10
"Moreover, the petitioners here x x x were not penalized for the exercise of their right to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Rather, the Civil Service Commission found them guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for having absented themselves without proper authority, from their schools during regular school days, in order to participate in the mass protest, their absence ineluctably resulting in the non-holding of classes and in the deprivation of students of education, for which they were responsible. Had petitioners availed themselves of their free time - recess, after classes, weekends or holidays - to dramatize their grievances and to dialogue with the proper authorities within the bounds of law, no one - not the DECS, the CSC or even this Court - could have held them liable for the valid exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. As it was, the temporary stoppage of classes resulting from their activity necessarily disrupted public services, the very evil sought to be forestalled by the prohibition against strikes by government workers. Their act by its nature was enjoined by the Civil Service law, rules and regulations, for which they must, therefore, be made answerable."
We thus find that the Court of Appeals did not err in holding that petitioners engaged in an activity proscribed by the Civil Service Law and Rules. Their absences without authority caused adverse effects upon their students for whose education they are responsible. Clearly, their acts constitute conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, an offense punishable under Section 46(27), Chapter 7 (Discipline), Book V of Executive Order No. 292 (Administrative Code of 1987).11
On the issue of their back salaries, we reiterate this Court's ruling in Bangalisan v. Court of Appeals,12 thus:
"The denial of salary to an employee during the period of his suspension, if he should later be found guilty, is proper because he has given ground for his suspension. x x x
Moreover, the general proposition is that a public official is not entitled to any compensation if he has not rendered any service. As he works, he shall earn. Since petitioners did not work during the period for which they are now claiming salaries, there can be no legal or equitable basis to order the payment of such salaries."
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals dated November 22, 1995 as well as its Resolution dated January 22, 1996 in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 37690 and 37705-07 are AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioners.
Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, TINGA, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., C.J., on official leave.
Corona, J., on leave.
1 Rollo at 73-38. Per Associate Justice Minerva P, Gonzaga-Reyes (later a member of this Court, now retired) and concurred in by Associate Justices Buenaventura Guererro (retired) and Romeo A. Brawner.
2 Rollo at 72.
3 This circular constitutes substantive basis for Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. Under this Rule, appeals from the judgments of quasi-judicial agencies, including the CSC, should be filed with the Court of Appeals on a Petition for Review .
4 Rollo at 84.
5 Pursuant to Sec. 4, Art. III of the 1987 Constitution which provides:
"No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition government for redress of grievances."
6 Under Sec. 8, Art. III of the same Constitution which states:
"The right of the people, including those employed in the public and private sectors, to form unions, associations, or societies for purposes not contrary to law shall not be abridged."
8 Social Security System Employees Association (SSEA) v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 85279, July 28, 1989, 175 SCRA 686, 696, citing Alliance of Government Workers v. Minister of Labor and Employment, G.R. No. 60403, August 3, 1983, 124 SCRA 1.
9 Bangalisan v. Court of Appeals, supra, citing Manila Public School Teachers Association v. Lagiuo, Jr., G.R. NOS. 95445 & 95590, August 6, 1991, 200 SCRA 323; Social Security System Employees Association (SSEA) v. Court of Appeals, supra; and Alliance of Government Workers v. Minister of Labor and Employment, supra.
11 The present implementing Rule of this provision is Section 52, Rule IV of the Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999.