G.R. No. 191475, December 11, 2013
PHILIPPINE CARPET MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, PACIFIC CARPET MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, MR. PATRICIO LIM AND MR. DAVID LIM, Petitioners, v. IGNACIO B. TAGYAMON, PABLITO L. LUNA, FE B. BADAYOS, GRACE B. MARCOS, ROGELIO C. NEMIS, ROBERTO B. ILAO, ANICIA D. DELA CRUZ AND CYNTHIA L. COMANDAO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The private respondent is hereby ordered to reinstate the petitioners with full backwages less the amounts they received as separation pays. In case reinstatement would no longer be feasible because the positions previously held no longer exist, the private respondent shall pay them backwages plus, in lieu of reinstatement, separation pays equal to one (1) month pay, or one-half (1/2) month pay for every year of service, whichever is higher. In addition, the private respondent is hereby ordered to pay the petitioners moral damages in the amount of P20,000.00 each.
This is to inform you that in view of a slump in the market demand for our products due to the un-competitiveness of our price, the company is constrained to reduce the number of its workforce. The long-term effects of September 11 and the war in the Middle East have greatly affected the viability of our business and we are left with no recourse but to reorganize and downsize our organizational structure.As to Marcos, Ilao, and Nemis, they claimed that they were dismissed effective March 31, 2004, together with fifteen (15) other employees on the ground of lack of market/slump in demand.11 PCMC, however, claimed that they availed of the company’s voluntary retirement program and, in fact, voluntarily executed their respective Deeds of Release, Waiver, and Quitclaim.12
We wish to inform you that we are implementing a retrenchment program in accordance with Article 283 of the Labor Code of the Philippines, as amended, and its implementing rules and regulations.
In this connection, we regret to advise you that you are one of those affected by the said exercise, and your employment shall be terminated effective at the close of working hours on April 15, 2004.
Accordingly, you shall be paid your separation pay as mandated by law. You will no longer be required to report for work during the 30-day notice period in order to give you more time to look for alternative employment. However, you will be paid the salary corresponding to the said period. We shall process your clearance and other documents and you may claim the payables due you on March 31, 2004.
Thank you for your services and good luck to your future endeavors.10
IN RENDERING ITS DISPUTED DECISION AND RESOLUTION, THE COURT A QUO HAS DECIDED A QUESTION OF SUBSTANCE NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW AND/OR ESTABLISHED JURISPRUDENCE.Petitioners contend that the Philcea case decided by this Court and relied upon by the CA in the assailed decision was based on erroneous factual findings, inapplicable financial statement, as well as erroneous analysis of such financial statements.25 They, thus, implore the Court to revisit the cited case in order to dispense with substantial justice.26 They explain that the Court made conclusions based on erroneous information. Petitioners also insist that the doctrines of res judicata and law of the case are not applicable, considering that this case does not involve the same parties as the Philcea case.27 They likewise point out that not all respondents were involuntarily separated on the ground of redundancy as some of them voluntarily availed of the company’s Voluntary Separation Program.28 They further contend that respondents are guilty not only of laches but also of estoppel in view of their inaction for an unreasonable length of time to assail the alleged illegal dismissal and in voluntarily executing a release, quitclaim and waiver.29
a) Res Judicata should not be followed if to follow it is to perpetuate error (Philippine Trust Co., and Smith Bell & Co. vs. Mitchell, 59 Phil. 30, 36 (1933). The (Supreme) Court is not precluded from rectifying errors of judgment if blind and stubborn adherence to the doctrine of immutability of final judgments would involve the sacrifice of justice for technicality (Heirs of Maura So vs. Obliosca, G.R. No. 147082, January 28, 2008, 542 SCRA 406) b) Not all waivers and quitclaims are invalid as against public policy. Waivers that represent a voluntary and reasonable settlement of the laborer’s claims are legitimate and should be respected by the Court as the law between the parties (Gamo-gamo vs. PNOC Shipping and Transport Corp., G.R. No. 141707, May 2, 2002; Alcasero vs. NLRC, 288 SCRA 129) Where the persons making the waiver has done so voluntarily, with a full understanding thereof, and the consideration for the quitclaim is credible and reasonable, the transaction must be recognized as valid and binding undertaking (Periquet vs. NLRC, 186 SCRA 724 ; Magsalin vs. Coca Cola Bottlers Phils., Inc. vs. National Organization of Working Men (N.O.W.M.], G.R. No. 148492, May 2, 2003).24
x x x Laches is a doctrine in equity while prescription is based on law. Our courts are basically courts of law not courts of equity. Thus, laches cannot be invoked to resist the enforcement of an existing legal right. x x x Courts exercising equity jurisdiction are bound by rules of law and have no arbitrary discretion to disregard them. In Zabat Jr. v. Court of Appeals x x x, this Court was more emphatic in upholding the rules of procedure. We said therein:An action for reinstatement by reason of illegal dismissal is one based on an injury to the complainants’ rights which should be brought within four years from the time of their dismissal pursuant to Article 114633 of the Civil Code. Respondents’ complaint filed almost 3 years after their alleged illegal dismissal was still well within the prescriptive period. Laches cannot, therefore, be invoked yet.34 To be sure, laches may be applied only upon the most convincing evidence of deliberate inaction, for the rights of laborers are protected under the social justice provisions of the Constitution and under the Civil Code.35As for equity which has been aptly described as a “justice outside legality,” this is applied only in the absence of, and never against, statutory law or, as in this case, judicial rules of procedure. Aequetas nunguam contravenit legis. The pertinent positive rules being present here, they should preempt and prevail over all abstract arguments based only on equity.Thus, where the claim was filed within the [four-year] statutory period, recovery therefore cannot be barred by laches. Courts should never apply the doctrine of laches earlier than the expiration of time limited for the commencement of actions at law.”32
Respondents failed to adduce clear and convincing evidence to prove the confluence of the essential requisites for a valid retrenchment of its employees. We believe that respondents acted in bad faith in terminating the employment of the members of petitioner Union.We find no reason to depart from the above conclusions which are based on the Court’s examination of the evidence presented by the parties therein. As the respondents here were similarly situated as the union members in the Philcea case, and considering that the questioned dismissal from the service was based on the same grounds under the same circumstances, there is no need to relitigate the issues presented herein. In short, we adopt the Court’s earlier findings that there was no valid ground to terminate the employees.
Contrary to the claim of respondents that the Corporation was experiencing business losses, respondent Corporation, in fact, amassed substantial earnings from 1999 to 2003. It found no need to appropriate its retained earnings except on March 23, 2001, when it appropriated P60,000,000.00 to increase production capacity. x x x
x x x
The evidence on record belies the P22,820,151.00 net income loss in 2004 as projected by the SOLE. On March 29, 2004, the Board of Directors approved the appropriation of P20,000,000.00 to purchase machinery to improve its facilities, and declared cash dividends to stockholders at P30.00 per share. x x x
x x x
It bears stressing that the appropriation of P20,000,000.00 by the respondent Corporation on September 16, 2004 was made barely five months after the 77 Union members were dismissed on the ground that respondent Corporation was suffering from "chronic depression." Cash dividends were likewise declared on March 29, 2004, barely two weeks after it implemented its "retrenchment program."
If respondent Corporation were to be believed that it had to retrench employees due to the debilitating slump in demand for its products resulting in severe losses, how could it justify the purchase of P20,000,000.00 worth of machinery and equipment? There is likewise no justification for the hiring of more than 100 new employees, more than the number of those who were retrenched, as well as the order authorizing full blast overtime work for six hours daily. All these are inconsistent with the intransigent claim that respondent Corporation was impelled to retrench its employees precisely because of low demand for its products and other external causes.
x x x
That respondents acted in bad faith in retrenching the 77 members of petitioner is buttressed by the fact that Diaz issued his Memorandum announcing the cost-reduction program on March 9, 2004, after receipt of the February 10, 2004 letter of the Union president which included the proposal for additional benefits and wage increases to be incorporated in the CBA for the ensuing year. Petitioner and its members had no inkling, before February 10, 2004, that respondent Corporation would terminate their employment. Moreover, respondent Corporation failed to exhaust all other means to avoid further losses without retrenching its employees, such as utilizing the latter’s respective forced vacation leaves. Respondents also failed to use fair and reasonable criteria in implementing the retrenchment program, and instead chose to retrench 77 of the members of petitioner out of the dismissed 88 employees. Worse, respondent Corporation hired new employees and even rehired the others who had been "retrenched."
As shown by the SGV & Co. Audit Report, as of year end December 31, 2003, respondent Corporation increased its net sales by more than P8,000,000.00. Respondents failed to prove that there was a drastic or severe decrease in the product sales or that it suffered severe business losses within an interval of three (3) months from January 2004 to March 9, 2004 when Diaz issued said Memorandum. Such claim of a depressed market as of March 9, 2004 was only a pretext to retaliate against petitioner Union and thereby frustrate its demands for more monetary benefits and, at the same time, justify the dismissal of the 77 Union members.
x x x
In contrast, in this case, the retrenchment effected by respondent Corporation is invalid due to a substantive defect, non-compliance with the substantial requirements to effect a valid retrenchment; it necessarily follows that the termination of the employment of petitioner Union’s members on such ground is, likewise, illegal. As such, they (petitioner Union’s members) are entitled to reinstatement with full backwages.38
The doctrine though is not cast in stone for upon a showing that circumstances attendant in a particular case override the great benefits derived by our judicial system from the doctrine of stare decisis, the Court is justified in setting it aside. For the Court, as the highest court of the land, may be guided but is not controlled by precedent. Thus, the Court, especially with a new membership, is not obliged to follow blindly a particular decision that it determines, after re-examination, to call for a rectification.41The Abaria case, however, is not applicable in this case. There is no reason to abandon the Court’s ruling in the Philcea case.
x x x There is no nexus between intelligence, or even the position which the employee held in the company when it concerns the pressure which the employer may exert upon the free will of the employee who is asked to sign a release and quitclaim. A lowly employee or a sales manager, as in the present case, who is confronted with the same dilemma of whether [to sign] a release and quitclaim and accept what the company offers them, or [to refuse] to sign and walk out without receiving anything, may do succumb to the same pressure, being very well aware that it is going to take quite a while before he can recover whatever he is entitled to, because it is only after a protracted legal battle starting from the labor arbiter level, all the way to this Court, can he receive anything at all. The Court understands that such a risk of not receiving anything whatsoever, coupled with the probability of not immediately getting any gainful employment or means of livelihood in the meantime, constitutes enough pressure upon anyone who is asked to sign a release and quitclaim in exchange of some amount of money which may be way below what he may be entitled to based on company practice and policy or by law.50The amounts already received by respondents as consideration for signing the releases and quitclaims should be deducted from their respective monetary awards.51ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
* Designated Acting Member in lieu of Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, per Raffle dated February 16, 2011.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, with Associate Justices Sesinando E. Villon and Marlene Gonzales-Sison, concurring, rollo, pp. 50-59.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Marlene Gonzales-Sison, with Associate Justices Sesinando E. Villon and Ramon R. Garcia, concurring; rollo, pp. 61-62.
3Rollo, p. 58.
4Philippine Carpet Employees Association (PHILCEA) v. Hon. Sto. Tomas, 518 Phil. 299 (2006).
5Rollo, p. 82.
6Id. at 83.
7Id. at 84.
8Id. at 85.
9Id. at 86.
10Id. at 82.
11 CA rollo, p. 73.
12Rollo, pp. 73-81.
13 Supra note 4.
14 CA rollo, pp. 74-93.
15Id. at 93-96.
16Id. at 235-239.
17Id. at 151-160.
18Id. at 158.
19Id. at 159.
20Id. at 161-164.
21Id. at 55-56.
22Id. at 58.
24Id. at 28-29.
25Id. at 29.
27Id. at 38.
28Id. at 39.
29Id. at 40-42.
30GF Equity, Inc. v. Valenzona, G.R. No. 156841, June 30, 2005, 462 SCRA 466, 480.
31 See: GF Equity, Inc. v. Valenzona, supra; Mendoza v. NLRC, 350 Phil. 486 (1998); Reno Foods, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 319 Phil. 500 (1995).
32Mendoza v. NLRC, 350 Phil. 486, 495 (1998).
33 Art. 1146. The following actions must be instituted within four years:(1) Upon an injury to the rights of the plaintiff;
(2) Upon a quai-delict.
34Reno Foods, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, supra note 31, at 509.
36Abaria v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 154113, December 7, 2011, 661 SCRA 686, 712.
37Hacienda Bino/Hortencia Starke, Inc. v. Cuenca, 496 Phil. 198, 207 (2005).
38Philippine Carpet Employees Association (PHILCEA) v. Hon. Sto. Tomas, supra note 4, at 317-323.
39Supra note 36.
40Abaria v. National Labor Relations Commission, supra note 36, at 713.
42Rollo, pp. 422-424.
43 See Ariola v. Philex Mining Corp., 503 Phil. 765, 780 (2005).
44Id. at 783.
45Emco Plywood Corporation v. Abelgas, 471 Phil. 460, 483 (2004).
46Quevedo v. Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc., 599 Phil. 438, 451 (2009).
47Emco Plywood Corporation v. Abelgas, supra note 45, at 483; Philippine Carpet Employee Association v. Philippine Carpet Manufacturing Corporation, 394 Phil. 716, 728-729 (2000).
48 See: TEA-SPFL v. NLRC, 338 Phil. 681, 690 (1997).
49Ariola v. Philex Mining Corp., supra note 43, at 789.
50Becton Dickinson Phils., Inc. v. NLRC, 511 Phil. 566, 589-590 (2005).
51Emco Plywood Corporation v. Abelgas, supra note 45.