G.R. No. 130866 September 16, 1998
ST. MARTIN FUNERAL HOME, Petitioner, vs. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and BIENVENIDO ARICAYOS, Respondents.
The present petition for certiorari stemmed from a complaint for illegal dismissal filed by herein private respondent before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), Regional Arbitration Branch No. III, in San Fernando, Pampanga. Private respondent alleges that he started working as Operations Manager of petitioner St. Martin Funeral Home on February 6, 1995. However, there was no contract of employment executed between him and petitioner nor was his name included in the semi-monthly payroll. On January 22, 1996, he was dismissed from his employment for allegedly misappropriating P38,000.00 which was intended for payment by petitioner of its value added tax (VAT) to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). 1
Petitioner on the other hand claims that private respondent was not its employee but only the uncle of Amelita Malabed, the owner of petitioner St. Martin's Funeral Home. Sometime in 1995, private respondent, who was formerly working as an overseas contract worker, asked for financial assistance from the mother of Amelita. Since then, as an indication of gratitude, private respondent voluntarily helped the mother of Amelita in overseeing the business.
In January 1996, the mother of Amelita passed away, so the latter then took over the management of the business. She then discovered that there were arrears in the payment of taxes and other government fees, although the records purported to show that the same were already paid. Amelita then made some changes in the business operation and private respondent and his wife were no longer allowed to participate in the management thereof. As a consequence, the latter filed a complaint charging that petitioner had illegally terminated his employment. 2
Based on the position papers of the parties, the labor arbiter rendered a decision in favor of petitioner on October 25, 1996 declaring that no employer-employee relationship existed between the parties and, therefore, his office had no jurisdiction over the case. 3
Not satisfied with the said decision, private respondent appealed to the NLRC contending that the labor arbiter erred (1) in not giving credence to the evidence submitted by him; (2) in holding that he worked as a "volunteer" and not as an employee of St. Martin Funeral Home from February 6, 1995 to January 23, 1996, or a period of about one year; and (3) in ruling that there was no employer-employee relationship between him and petitioner. 4
On June 13, 1997, the NLRC rendered a resolution setting aside the questioned decision and remanding the case to the labor arbiter for immediate appropriate proceedings. 5 Petitioner then filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied by the NLRC in its resolution dated August 18, 1997 for lack of merit, 6 hence the present petition alleging that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion. 7
Before proceeding further into the merits of the case at bar, the Court feels that it is now exigent and opportune to reexamine the functional validity and systemic practicability of the mode of judicial review it has long adopted and still follows with respect to decisions of the NLRC. The increasing number of labor disputes that find their way to this Court and the legislative changes introduced over the years into the provisions of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 442 (The Labor Code of the Philippines and Batas Pambansa Blg. (B.P. No.) 129 (The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980) now stridently call for and warrant a reassessment of that procedural aspect.
We prefatorily delve into the legal history of the NLRC. It was first established in the Department of Labor by P.D. No. 21 on October 14, 1972, and its decisions were expressly declared to be appealable to the Secretary of Labor and, ultimately, to the President of the Philippines.
On May 1, 1974, P.D. No. 442 enacted the Labor Code of the Philippines, the same to take effect six months after its promulgation. 8 Created and regulated therein is the present NLRC which was attached to the Department of Labor and Employment for program and policy coordination only. 9 Initially, Article 302 (now, Article 223) thereof also granted an aggrieved party the remedy of appeal from the decision of the NLRC to the Secretary of Labor, but P.D. No. 1391 subsequently amended said provision and abolished such appeals. No appellate review has since then been provided for.
Thus, to repeat, under the present state of the law, there is no provision for appeals from the decision of the NLRC. 10 The present Section 223, as last amended by Section 12 of R.A. No. 6715, instead merely provides that the Commission shall decide all cases within twenty days from receipt of the answer of the appellee, and that such decision shall be final and executory after ten calendar days from receipt thereof by the parties.
When the issue was raised in an early case on the argument that this Court has no jurisdiction to review the decisions of the NLRC, and formerly of the Secretary of Labor, since there is no legal provision for appellate review thereof, the Court nevertheless rejected that thesis. It held that there is an underlying power of the courts to scrutinize the acts of such agencies on questions of law and jurisdiction even though no right of review is given by statute; that the purpose of judicial review is to keep the administrative agency within its jurisdiction and protect the substantial rights of the parties; and that it is that part of the checks and balances which restricts the separation of powers and forestalls arbitrary and unjust adjudications. 11
Pursuant to such ruling, and as sanctioned by subsequent decisions of this Court, the remedy of the aggrieved party is to timely file a motion for reconsideration as a precondition for any further or subsequent remedy, 12 and then seasonably avail of the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65, 13 for which said Rule has now fixed the reglementary period of sixty days from notice of the decision. Curiously, although the 10-day period for finality of the decision of the NLRC may already have lapsed as contemplated in Section 223 of the Labor Code, it has been held that this Court may still take cognizance of the petition for certiorari on jurisdictional and due process considerations if filed within the reglementary period under Rule 65. 14
Turning now to the matter of judicial review of NLRC decisions, B.P. No. 129 originally provided as follows:
Subsequently, and as it presently reads, this provision was amended by R.A. No. 7902 effective March 18, 1995, to wit:
It will readily be observed that, aside from the change in the name of the lower appellate court, 16 the following amendments of the original provisions of Section 9 of B.P. No. 129 were effected by R.A. No. 7902, viz.:
1. The last paragraph which excluded its application to the Labor Code of the Philippines and the Central Board of Assessment Appeals was deleted and replaced by a new paragraph granting the Court of Appeals limited powers to conduct trials and hearings in cases within its jurisdiction.
2. The reference to the Labor Code in that last paragraph was transposed to paragraph (3) of the section, such that the original exclusionary clause therein now provides "except those falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in accordance with the Constitution, the Labor Code of the Philippines under Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended, the provisions of this Act, and of subparagraph (1) of the third paragraph and subparagraph (4) of the fourth paragraph of Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1948." (Emphasis supplied).
3. Contrarily, however, specifically added to and included among the quasi-judicial agencies over which the Court of Appeals shall have exclusive appellate jurisdiction are the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Commission, the Employees Compensation Commission and the Civil Service Commission.
This, then, brings us to a somewhat perplexing impassè, both in point of purpose and terminology. As earlier explained, our mode of judicial review over decisions of the NLRC has for some time now been understood to be by a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. This is, of course, a special original action limited to the resolution of jurisdictional issues, that is, lack or excess of jurisdiction and, in almost all cases that have been brought to us, grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.
It will, however, be noted that paragraph (3), Section 9 of B.P. No. 129 now grants exclusive appellate jurisdiction to the Court of Appeals over all final adjudications of the Regional Trial Courts and the quasi-judicial agencies generally or specifically referred to therein except, among others, "those falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in accordance with . . . the Labor Code of the Philippines under Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended, . . . ." This would necessarily contradict what has been ruled and said all along that appeal does not lie from decisions of the NLRC. 17 Yet, under such excepting clause literally construed, the appeal from the NLRC cannot be brought to the Court of Appeals, but to this Court by necessary implication.
The same exceptive clause further confuses the situation by declaring that the Court of Appeals has no appellate jurisdiction over decisions falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in accordance with the Constitution, the provisions of B.P. No. 129, and those specified cases in Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1948. These cases can, of course, be properly excluded from the exclusive appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals. However, because of the aforementioned amendment by transposition, also supposedly excluded are cases falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in accordance with the Labor Code. This is illogical and impracticable, and Congress could not have intended that procedural gaffe, since there are no cases in the Labor Code the decisions, resolutions, orders or awards wherein are within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or of any other court for that matter.
A review of the legislative records on the antecedents of R.A. No. 7902 persuades us that there may have been an oversight in the course of the deliberations on the said Act or an imprecision in the terminology used therein. In fine, Congress did intend to provide for judicial review of the adjudications of the NLRC in labor cases by the Supreme Court, but there was an inaccuracy in the term used for the intended mode of review. This conclusion which we have reluctantly but prudently arrived at has been drawn from the considerations extant in the records of Congress, more particularly on Senate Bill No. 1495 and the Reference Committee Report on S. No. 1495/H. No. 10452. 18
In sponsoring Senate Bill No. 1495, Senator Raul S. Roco delivered his sponsorship speech 19 from which we reproduce the following excerpts:
Surprisingly, however, in a subsequent session, the following Committee Amendment was introduced by the said sponsor and the following proceedings transpired: 20
Thereafter, since there were no individual amendments, Senate Bill No. 1495 was passed on second reading and being a certified bill, its unanimous approval on third reading followed. 21 The Conference Committee Report on Senate Bill No. 1495 and House Bill No. 10452, having theretofore been approved by the House of Representatives, the same was likewise approved by the Senate on February 20, 1995, 22 inclusive of the dubious formulation on appeals to the Supreme Court earlier discussed.
The Court is, therefore, of the considered opinion that ever since appeals from the NLRC to the Supreme Court were eliminated, the legislative intendment was that the special civil action of certiorari was and still is the proper vehicle for judicial review of decisions of the NLRC. The use of the word "appeal" in relation thereto and in the instances we have noted could have been a lapsus plumae because appeals by certiorari and the original action for certiorari are both modes of judicial review addressed to the appellate courts. The important distinction between them, however, and with which the Court is particularly concerned here is that the special civil action of certiorari is within the concurrent original jurisdiction of this Court and the Court of Appeals; 23 whereas to indulge in the assumption that appeals by certiorari to the Supreme Court are allowed would not subserve, but would subvert, the intention of Congress as expressed in the sponsorship speech on Senate Bill No. 1495.
Incidentally, it was noted by the sponsor therein that some quarters were of the opinion that recourse from the NLRC to the Court of Appeals as an initial step in the process of judicial review would be circuitous and would prolong the proceedings. On the contrary, as he commendably and realistically emphasized, that procedure would be advantageous to the aggrieved party on this reasoning:
While we do not wish to intrude into the Congressional sphere on the matter of the wisdom of a law, on this score we add the further observations that there is a growing number of labor cases being elevated to this Court which, not being a trier of fact, has at times been constrained to remand the case to the NLRC for resolution of unclear or ambiguous factual findings; that the Court of Appeals is procedurally equipped for that purpose, aside from the increased number of its component divisions; and that there is undeniably an imperative need for expeditious action on labor cases as a major aspect of constitutional protection to labor.
Therefore, all references in the amended Section 9 of B.P. No. 129 to supposed appeals from the NLRC to the Supreme Court are interpreted and hereby declared to mean and refer to petitions for certiorari under Rule 65. Consequently, all such petitions should hence forth be initially filed in the Court of Appeals in strict observance of the doctrine on the hierarchy of courts as the appropriate forum for the relief desired.
Apropos to this directive that resort to the higher courts should be made in accordance with their hierarchical order, this pronouncement in Santiago vs. Vasquez, et al. 25 should be taken into account:
WHEREFORE, under the foregoing premises, the instant petition for certiorari is hereby REMANDED, and all pertinent records thereof ordered to be FORWARDED, to the Court of Appeals for appropriate action and disposition consistent with the views and ruling herein set forth, without pronouncement as to costs.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban Martinez, Quisumbing and Purisima, JJ., concur.
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