G.R. No. 174641 - NATIONAL MINES AND ALLIED WORKERS UNION v. MARCOPPER MINING CORPORATION
[G.R. NO. 174641 : November 11, 2008]
NATIONAL MINES and ALLIED WORKERS UNION (NAMAWU), Petitioner
v. MARCOPPER MINING CORPORATION, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
We resolve in this Decision the Petition for Review on Certiorari 1 filed by petitioner National Mines and Allied Workers Union (NAMAWU) to annul and set aside the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. No. 708752 and its subsequent order denying the petitioner's motion for reconsideration.3 The CA decision nullified the resolution4 and the order5 of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) denying the appeal filed by Marcopper Mining Corporation (MARCOPPER), and ordered the NLRC to give due course to MARCOPPER's appeal.
THE FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On April 1, 1996, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered the indefinite suspension of MARCOPPER's operations for causing damage to the environment of the Province of Marinduque by spilling the company's mine waste or tailings from an old underground impounding area into the Boac River, in violation of its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).6
NAMAWU was the exclusive bargaining representative of the rank-and-file workers of MARCOPPER. On April 10, 1996, it filed a complaint with the Regional Arbitration Branch No. IV of the NLRC against MARCOPPER for nonpayment of wages, separation pay, damages, and attorney's fees; the case is hereinafter referred to as the "environmental incident case."7 NAMAWU claimed that due to the indefinite suspension of MARCOPPER's operations, its members were not paid the wages due them for six months (from April 12, 1996 to October 12, 1996) under Rule X, Book III, Section 3(b) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Labor Code.8 It further claimed that its members are also entitled to be paid their separation pay pursuant to their collective bargaining agreement with MARCOPPER and pursuant to Book IV, Rule I, 4(b) of the Labor Code's implementing rules.
MARCOPPER denied liability, contending that NAMAWU had not been authorized by the individual employees - the real parties-in-interest - to file the complaint; and that the complaint should be dismissed for lack of certification of non-forum shopping, for the pendency of another action between the same parties, and for lack of factual and legal basis.9
Labor Arbiter Pedro C. Ramos ruled in NAMAWU's favor in a decision dated March 14, 2000.10 He ordered MARCOPPER, John Loney and Steve Reed (President and General Manager of the company, respectively) to pay jointly and severally the rank-and-file workers represented by NAMAWU and other employees similarly situated, the following claims: their wages for the suspension of operation for the period April 12, 1996 to October 12, 1996; separation pay; and attorney's fees. The wages and separation pay amounted to forty-four million six hundred twenty-two thousand eight hundred seventy-one and 02/100 pesos (
P44,622,871.02), while the attorney's fees amounted to four million four hundred sixty-two thousand two hundred eighty-seven and 10/100 pesos ( P4,462,287.10).
MARCOPPER appealed the decision to the NLRC. In this appeal, it also moved that it be allowed not to post an appeal bond for 615 NAMAWU members - former MARCOPPER employees who had been dismissed effective March 7, 1995 due to an earlier illegal strike. MARCOPPER, however, posted the required bond for three non-striking employees, namely: Apollo V. Saet, Rogelio Regencia and Jose Romasanta.
The NLRC dismissed MARCOPPER's appeal in a Resolution dated February 28, 2002 for its failure to post the appeal bond required by Article 223 of the Labor Code. Loney and Reed were at the same time dropped as respondents in the case.
The NLRC subsequently denied MARCOPPER's motion for reconsideration.11 MARCOPPER thus sought relief from the CA through a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The petition imputed grave abuse of discretion on the NLRC for disregarding an earlier CA decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 51059 (illegal strike case) involving the same parties and the same reliefs; and for awarding wages and separation pay to NAMAWU members who had earlier been dismissed and were no longer MARCOPPER employees when MARCOPPER suspended its operations.
The CA granted MARCOPPER's petition in the currently assailed decision promulgated on October 14, 2004.12 Accordingly, it nullified the NLRC resolution of February 28, 2002 and the order dated April 16, 2002, and ordered the NLRC to give due course to MARCOPPER's appeal.13 The CA found the non-filing of the appeal bond for the 615 NAMAWU members covered by the Labor Arbiter's award to be justified since their employment had been terminated as early as March 7, 1995, i.e., prior to the suspension of operations for which wages and separation pay were being claimed.
The CA noted in the assailed decision that it had previously confirmed the validity of the termination of employment of NAMAWU members in its decision dated May 28, 1999 on the illegal strike case.14 The CA stressed, too, that NAMAWU elevated the illegal strike case to this Court for review, and that we denied the Petition for Review in our Resolution of July 12, 2000.15 Our Resolution was entered in the Book of Entries of Judgment on December 27, 2000.16
The CA's denial of NAMAWU's motion for the reconsideration of the CA's October 14, 2004 decision cleared the way for the present petition.
The petition, which submits four issues for our resolution, boils down to the core issues of whether the CA erred in ruling that there was no need for MARCOPPER to post an appeal bond, and in ordering the NLRC to give due course to MARCOPPER's appeal.17
NAMAWU submits that:
First, an appeal is not a constitutional right but a mere statutory privilege; parties who wish to avail of the privilege must comply with the statutes or rules regulating the appeal. It points out that, by law, an appeal may be perfected only upon the posting of a cash or surety bond.18 No exception is provided nor allowed as the legal intent is to make the bond an indispensable requisite for the perfection of an appeal.
Second, the perfection of an appeal within the period and in the manner prescribed by law is jurisdictional and non-compliance with the legal requirement renders the judgment final and executory.19 The bond serves as an assurance to the workers that they would be paid if they finally prevail, as held in Coral Point Development Corp. v. NLRC.20
Third, the CA delved into the merits of the company's appeal despite the patent lack of a perfected appeal. This happened, the petitioner submits, when the CA took cognizance of its decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 51059 (the illegal strike case) where 615 company employees were adjudged to have been terminated for cause effective March 7, 1995. CA-G.R. SP No. 51059 refers to "an entirely separate and distinct case not connected with the case under consideration" and it became final and executory only on July 12, 2000 when it was upheld by this Court21 and when an Entry of Judgment was recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgment.22 A retroactive application of this ruling would be prejudicial to the workers involved and cannot be done.
Fourth, outside of the 615 employees who were the focus of the assailed CA decision, there were other employees similarly situated who are not covered by the previous illegal strike case (CA-G.R. SP No. 51059) but are covered by the March 14, 2000 decision of Labor Arbiter Ramos. The company's position implies that there were no employees working with the company from the dismissal date of March 7, 1995 to March 24, 1996 when the disaster happened.
Fifth, the CA ignored the fact that the present case involves an issue pertaining to MARCOPPER's violation of safety and health rules which resulted in the loss of jobs of all its workers. This was the reason why the Labor Arbiter ordered MARCOPPER to pay the workers not only separation pay but also unpaid wages for the duration of the disaster. The decision cited by the CA involved an illegal strike and entailed only separation pay. Even granting that the previous strike case could bar the safety and health case under consideration, still MARCOPPER was under legal obligation to post a bond to perfect its appeal to the NLRC to guarantee the payment of the money claims of workers who were not included in the illegal strike case.
Sixth, in the guise of ruling on the issue of the non-filing of an appeal bond, the CA already decided the case in favor of MARCOPPER. When the CA ordered the NLRC to give due course to MARCOPPER's appeal without an appeal bond, there was nothing more left to be done by the NLRC but to reverse the decision of the Labor Arbiter.
THE CASE FOR THE RESPONDENT
The respondent company and its principal officers presented their case in a Comment23 filed on January 26, 2007 and a Memorandum24 submitted on November 22, 2008. They submit that -
1. The CA correctly ruled that there is no necessity for the filing of an appeal bond considering that the employment of petitioner NAMAWU's members was terminated even before the issuance by the DENR of its order on April 1, 1996.25
2. There is no pre-judgment of MARCOPPER's appeal with the NLRC; the CA had to consider the member-employees' termination from employment in order to resolve the issue of whether there was a need for the posting of an appeal bond in the present case.
MARCOPPER reiterated that petitioner NAMAWU's members were dismissed from employment on March 7, 1995 for their participation in a strikedeclared illegal by the NLRC.26 The dismissal was subsequently affirmed by the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 51059.27 The CA decision in turn was affirmed by this Court in its Resolution of July 12, 2000 in G.R. No. 143282, which Resolution was entered in the Book of Entries of Judgment on December 27, 2000.
Imputing bad faith on the part of NAMAWU, MARCOPPER decries that despite the pendency of the illegal strike case, NAMAWU filed on April 10, 1996 the present complaint28 for wages and separation pay arising from the suspension of operations that started on April 12, 1996. It insists that the strike case also considered the separation pay of the NAMAWU members, as expressly recognized in the NLRC decision.29 It stresses, too, that since the entitlement of NAMAWU members to their money claims had already been resolved and denied in a final and executory judgment, it was unjust to declare the company liable for money claims from April 12, 1996 to October 12, 1996 - a period when the NAMAWU members were no longer MARCOPPER employees.
MARCOPPER points out that it did not deliberately fail to post the required appeal bond. It submits that it filed in good faith a Motion to Dispense with the Filing of an Appeal Bond30 for the 615 employees, and at the same time posted a bond for three complainants31 - Apollo V. Saet, Rogelio Regencia, and Jose Romasanta - who were not included in the strike case. It claims that the motion is similar to a Motion to Reduce Bond that the NLRC should have resolved first before it dismissed the appeal.
It expresses disappointment that it was only after close to two years (or on February 28, 2002) that the NLRC rendered its resolution dismissing the appeal based on the failure to post an appeal bond. Aside from the unusual delay in the NLRC resolution, MARCOPPER finds it odd that the NLRC did not resolve its motion to dispense with the posting of the appeal bond before dismissing the appeal. It points out that the motion should have been resolved in view of the following circumstances: (1) the appealed judgment involved a considerable amount; (2) there was already a decision of the CA in the illegal strike case when the NLRC resolved the environmental incident case; and (3) there was no intention to violate the bond requirement because it posted the necessary bond corresponding to the award in favor of three employees who were not involved in the illegal strike case.
THE RULING OF THE COURT
We state at the outset that we do not agree with NAMAWU's position that the illegal strike case between it and MARCOPPER - CA-G.R. SP No. 51059; later, this Court's G.R. No. 143282, July 12, 2000) - is "an entirely separate and distinct case not connected with the case under consideration." In the first place, both the previous and the present cases are between the same parties - NAMAWU and MARCOPPER. Both cases refer to termination of employment and its consequences. In fact, the payment of separation pay that NAMAWU seeks in the present case was considered by the NLRC in its decision in the illegal strike case, although the award was stricken out by the CA when the illegal strike case was brought to it for review. Thus, the two cases are intimately intertwined in the consideration made by the tribunals a quo as well as in point of time as our discussions below will show. If they differ at all, the difference lies only in the grounds and circumstances of termination since the illegality of NAMAWU's strike of February 27, 1995 is not under consideration in the present case, having been laid to rest by the final and executory decision of this Court of July 12, 2000.
The employment of the NAMAWU officers and members had been declared terminated on March 7, 1995 as a result of their failure to return to work after their strike of February 27, 1995. Thereafter, the illegal strike litigation commenced, resulting in a decision by the NLRC on November 11, 1996 declaring the strike illegal. Apart from confirming the termination of the services of the union officers, the NLRC declared:32
However, We take judicial notice of the fact that due to the environmental incident involving spillage of mine waste and tailings, the Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources ordered the cessation of operation of the Company on April 1, 1996 rendering the workers out of work, which to this time, is already beyond the allowable period of six (6) months temporary suspension of operation under Article 286 of the Labor Code. This being so, said Union members are entitled to separation pay in lieu of reinstatement.
Let it be stressed that the grant of separation pay shall include all the Union members, the grant of the same being based on their termination of employment by operation of law. The 13 officers of the Union whom we declared to have lost their employment status and the 44 Union members who retired are excluded from the grant of the separation pay. Reduced in figure (sic) there are 562 Union members who are entitled to separation pay.
x x x
The environmental incident referred to in this illegal strike ruling is the same environmental incident that gave rise to the present complaint (In Re: Dispute in Marcopper Mining, NLRC Case No. 106-95) that NAMAWU filed on April 10, 1996. While the NLRC had not yet ruled on the illegal strike case when the present environmental incident complaint was filed, the Labor Arbiter's ruling on the latter complaint came very much later, in fact long after both the NLRC and the CA had ruled on the illegal strike case. The NLRC denied the motion for reconsideration of its November 11, 1996 decision in the illegal strike case on June 11, 1997, while the CA issued its decision on the same case on May 28, 1999. The Labor Arbiter issued his decision on the present environmental incident case only on March 14, 2000. Under this sequence of rulings, the Labor Arbiter effectively restored in the environmental incident case the same separation pay award that the CA struck off from the NLRC decision in the illegal strike case. In effect, the Labor Arbiter disregarded the CA ruling and actually reversed it.
Similarly interesting, as respondent MARCOPPER alleged in its submissions, is the fact that MARCOPPER's appeal to the NLRC was filed on April 10, 2000. The appeal was supported by a Motion to Dispense with the Filing of an Appeal Bond with respect to 615 NAMAWU members who were former MARCOPPER employees who had been dismissed for participation in an illegal strike. The NLRC did not directly resolve MARCOPPER's motion but simply dismissed the appeal two years later (or on February 28, 2002). In relation with this dismissal date, we find it significant that the CA issued its decision declaring the NAMAWU strike illegal and decreeing the dismissal of NAMAWU officers and members as early as May 28, 1999 in CA G.R. SP No. 51059. Our own Decision on the illegal strike case came on July 12, 2000 and was entered in the Book of Entries of Judgment on December 27, 2000.33 Thus, the NLRC was already burdened with knowledge of the final and executory decision of no less than this Court (confirming the March 7, 1995 dismissal of the striking NAMAWU members) when the NLRC issued its decision in the present case dismissing the MARCOPPER appeal for failure to file an appeal bond for the already dismissed workers. Thus, like the Labor Arbiter below, the NLRC in effect sought to negate what a higher tribunal, this Court no less, had already affirmed and confirmed, i.e., the termination of employment of 615 NAMAWU members.
In the context of the NLRC appeal bond that is directly at issue, MARCOPPER had every reason to claim in its April 10, 2000 appeal to the NLRC that it should be excused from filing an appeal bond with respect to the NAMAWU members who were no longer company employees. The CA decision decreeing the termination of employment of those involved in the illegal strike case had already been issued at that time. We subsequently ruled on the same issue during the time the environmental incident case was pending before the NLRC. Thus, when the NLRC dismissed MARCOPPER's appeal for failure to file the requisite appeal bond corresponding to the 615 NAMAWU members, the termination of employment of these NAMAWU members was already a settled matter that the NLRC was in no position to disregard. In this light, the CA was correct in reversing the dismissal of MARCOPPER's appeal for failure to file an appeal bond. Pursued to its logical end, the CA conclusions should lead to the dismissal of NAMAWU's complaint with respect to its 615 previously dismissed members.
In contrast with the above, the case of the three other employees - Apollo V. Saet, Rogelio Regencia and Jose Romasanta - who were in MARCOPPER's employ at the time of the suspension of operations on April 12, 1996 and for whom MARCOPPER properly posted an appeal bond before the NLRC - is another matter. We find the CA decision ordering the NLRC to give due course to the MARCOPPER appeal to be correct as the appeal has not in fact been heard and considered; their case, in other words, is still very much alive. The continued viability of their case and the dictates of strict legality require that we now remand the case to the NLRC, as the CA did, for consideration on appeal.
We recognize, however, that their case has now dragged on for more than a decade since its inception on April 10, 1996.34 As we had done in past similar situations and cases,35 we deem it the better recourse - in the interest of speedy justice and fair play - to directly resolve their case at our level in order to finally settle the dispute once and for all. We therefore proceed now to its consideration.
We find from the pleadings filed that the environmental incident that gave rise to NAMAWU's April 1996 complaint to be undisputed; MARCOPPER caused the spillage of mine waste and tailings into the Boac River.36 Neither is it disputed that the company had to suspend its operations by order of the DENR,37 and that the company's indefinite cessation of operations lasted beyond the 6-month temporary suspension of operations that Article 286 of the Labor Code allows.38 All that remains is the determination of the employees' rights under the circumstances.
The suspension of MARCOPPER's operations was decreed in an Ex-Parte Order dated April 1, 1996 issued by the Pollution Adjudication Board of the DENR pursuant to Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 984 and Section 36 of its Implementing Rules.39 The dispositive portion of this order provides:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Board on consultation hereby orders the respondent to cease and desist from undertaking any activity and/or operating its machines/equipment generating pollution until the respondent prevents or abates its pollution within allowable standards.
This Order shall be IMMEDIATELY EXECUTORY and shall remain in force until modified or nullified by the Board.
Separately from this Order, the DENR Secretary ordered on June 21, 1996 the cancellation of MARCOPPER's ECC without which MARCOPPER could not continue to undertake its mining operations.40 Thus, as of that date (June 21, 1996), the temporary suspension of operations that started on April 12, 1996 became permanent so that MARCOPPER did not have to wait for the end of the six-month suspension of operations before the services of the three employees were deemed terminated. In Labor Code terms, the cancellation of the ECC on June 21, 1996 amounted to a company closure governed by Article 283 of the Labor Code - the provision that governs the relationship of employers and employees in closure situations.
The rule that NAMAWU cites in its claim for wages is Rule X, Book III, Section 3(b) of the Rules and Regulations implementing the Labor Code.41 This rule, however, specifically relates to suspension of operations due to health and safety concerns. It states:
Enforcement power on health and safety of workers. - (a) The Regional Director may likewise order stoppage of work or suspension of operation of any unit or department of an establishment when non-compliance with the law, safety order or implementing rules and regulations poses grave and imminent danger to the health and safety of workers in the workplace. (b) x x x In case the violation is attributable to the fault of the employer, he shall pay the employees concerned their salaries or wages during the period of such stoppage of work or suspension of operation.
While the mine tailing leakage and pollution of the Boac River cannot but affect the health and safety of those in the MARCOPPER vicinity, particularly its employees, we find that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Regional Director - at whose initiative a suspension of operation must originate for the above-quoted provision to apply - did not act as envisioned by the above rule. Specifically, there was no ruling or directive from the DOLE that the environmental incident was a workplace health and safety concern that required a suspension of operation. There is likewise nothing in the laws applicable to pollution, specifically, P.D. No. 984 and P.D. No. 1586 and their implementing rules, that speak of the consequences of a DENR-ordered suspension of operations on employment relationships. Neither does the CBA between MARCOPPER and NAMAWU provide for the consequences of a suspension of operation due to environmental causes. Under the circumstances, we can only conclude that the general "no work, no pay" rule should prevail with respect to employees' wages during the suspension period, subject to existing CBA terms on leave credits and similar benefits of employees.
Because the initial suspension of operations that the DENR imposed eventually turned into an involuntary closure as discussed above, Article 283 of the Labor Code comes into play entitling the three remaining employees the payment of separation pay computed under the terms of that Article. The termination of employment date, for separation pay purposes, should be computed from June 21, 1996 and not from October 12, 1996 (or six months from the April 12, 1996 suspension of operation date); June 21, 1996 must be the closure date as it is from this date that MARCOPPER, by law, ceased to have any authority to conduct its mining operations.
In the absence of any showing that NAMAWU could represent "other similarly situated employees" who are not its members, we cannot consider these other employees (whose circumstances have never been discussed and who all remain unnamed) to be covered by the terms of this Decision.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, we hereby PARTIALLY GRANT NAMAWU's petition with respect to the payment of separation pay to Apollo V. Saet, Rogelio Regencia and Jose Romasanta. MARCOPPER is hereby ORDERED to PAY them separation pay pursuant to Article 283 of the Labor Code. The claim under the petition for the payment of wages during the suspension of operation period is hereby DENIED for lack of merit.
We hereby DISMISS the petition with respect to the remaining 615 NAMAWU members who were no longer MARCOPPER employees at the time MARCOPPER suspended its operations in April 1996.
1 Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court; rollo, pp. 3-15.
2 Promulgated on October 14, 2004; id., pp. 22-34.
3 Promulgated on September 8, 2006; id., pp. 37-40.
4 Dated February 28, 2002; id., pp. 193-197.
5 Dated April 16, 2002; cited in CA decision; id., p. 22.
6 Id., pp. 152-154.
7 NLRC Case No. RAB IV-4-8018-96-M.
8 x x x
Within 24 hours from the issuance of the order of stoppage or suspension, a hearing shall be conducted to determine whether the order for the stoppage of work or suspension of operation shall be lifted or not. The proceedings shall be terminated within seventy-two (72) hours and a copy of such order or resolution shall be immediately furnished the Secretary of Labor. In case the violation is attributable to the fault of the employer, he shall pay the employees concerned their salaries and wages during the period of such stoppage of work or suspension of operations.
9 NLRC Case No. 106-95.
10 Annex "M," Petition; rollo, pp. 198-211.
11 Under NLRC Order dated April 16, 2002.
12 Supra note 2, p. 1.
13 Id., p.12.
14 Annex "A," Respondent's Comment; rollo, pp. 264-284.
15 G.R. No. 143282.
16 Rollo, pp. 71-72; see also Annex "D," MARCOPPERS's Comment, id., pp. 288-289.
17 Resolution of the Court granting NAMAWU's Motion to adopt petition as Memorandum; id., p. 307.
18 LABOR CODE, Article 223.
19 Cabalan Pastulan Nogrito Labor Ass. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 106108, February 23, 1995, 241 SCRA 643.
20 G.R. No. 129761, February 28, 2000, 326 SCRA 554.
21 Supra note 15, p. 4.
22 Supra note 16, p. 4.
23 Rollo, pp. 237-263.
24 Id., pp. 308-335.
25 Supra note 2, p. 1.
26 NLRC Case No. 106-95.
27 Rollo, pp. 264-283; Decision promulgated on May 28, 1999.
28 Supra note 7, p. 2.
29 MARCOPPERS's Memorandum, pars. 13 & 14, pp. 15-16; rollo, pp. 322-323.
30 MARCOPPER's Comment, par. 9, p. 5; id., p. 241.
32 Cited in CA decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 70875; id., p. 27.
33 Supra note 16, p. 4.
34 Supra note 7, p. 2.
35 See: Ong v. Mazo, G.R. No. 145542, June 5, 2004, 431 SCRA 56; Jimenez v. CA, G.R. No. 144449, March 23, 2006, 485 SCRA 149; Crisostomo v. Garcia, G.R. No. 164787, January 31, 2006, 481 SCRA 402.
36 Supra note 6, p. 2.
38 Supra note 32, p. 9.
39 Supra note 6, p. 2.
40 In Re: Cancellation of the Environmental Compliance Certificate of Marcopper Mining Corporation.
41 Supra note 8, p. 2.
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