G. R. No. 149634 - July 6, 2004
LORETA TORRES, MARILYN TANGTANG, ARMELA FIGURACION, RAQUEL BERNARTE, ESTRELLA TITO, RHEA ELLORDA, ROSITA FUENTES, ANITA LAPORRE, JOCELYN RIN, MATODIA DEREPAS, FELICISIMA ALEGRE, LEA MARTILLANA, EVANGELINE RAFON, ALICIA EMPILLO, AMY TORRES, EDNA JIMENEZ, EVELYN DOLOM, HAMILI UYVICO, CRISELINA ANQUILO, NILDA ALCAIDE, ROSARIO MABANA, ESTELA MANGUBAT, ROSIE BALDOVE, CARMELITA RUIZ and LUCILA JUSTARES, Petitioners, vs. SPECIALIZED PACKAGING DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION and/or ALFREDO GAO (President) and PETER CHUA (General Manager); EUSEBIO CAMACHO GENERAL SERVICES and/or EUSEBIO CAMACHO (President/General Manager); MPL SERVICES and/or MIGUELITO LAURIANO (President/General Manager), Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The Court may give due course to a petition, even if the accompanying certificate against forum shopping has not been signed by all the petitioners, provided it is shown that, as in this case, there is a justifiable cause for such failure; and the outright dismissal of the petition would seriously impair the orderly administration of justice. In the interest of substantial justice, strict observance of procedural rules may be dispensed with for compelling reasons.
Before us is a Petition for Review1 under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, seeking to nullify the January 15, 20012 and the August 28, 20013 Resolutions of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR SP No. 62530. The first Resolution disposed as follows:
The second assailed Resolution, on the other hand, denied petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration.
Petitioners claim to be employees of the Specialized Packaging Development Corporation (SPDC), a business entity engaged in the repackaging of cosmetic products. In three separate Complaints, they charged SPDC and alleged labor recruiters Eusebio Camacho General Services (ECGS) and MPL Services with illegal dismissal; and with nonpayment of overtime, premium and 13th month pays, and night differential.
The cases were later consolidated and assigned to Labor Arbiter (LA) Salimathar Nambi. On June 30, 1995, the LA issued his Decision in favor of petitioners, because SPDC and MPL Services had failed to submit their position papers on or before the deadline. SPDC was ordered to reinstate all petitioners to their former positions and to pay them back wages, premium pay for holidays and rest days, service incentive leave pay and 13th month pay.
The LA's Decision was appealed by SPDC to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which set aside the ruling and ordered the case remanded to LA Nambi for further proceedings.
The case was then set again for hearings. Respondents SPDC and ECGS submitted their position papers five months after the case had been considered submitted for decision.
On December 14, 1999, LA Nambi issued a second Decision finding petitioners' employment to have been illegally terminated by SPDC. The NLRC, however, again reversed and set aside this new Decision on June 9, 2000.
On January 29, 2001, petitioners appealed to the CA.
Ruling of the CA
The Petition was dismissed by the CA, which found the verification and the certification against forum shopping to be either defective or insufficient. It justified its ruling thus:
Denying petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration, the appellate court pointed out that disregarding the rules could not be rationalized by invoking a liberal construction thereof. Furthermore, it found no satisfactory explanation why the 25 principal petitioners, who resided in different provinces, had not executed a special power of attorney in favor of either of the two petitioners or their counsel.
Hence, this Petition.6
Petitioners submit the following issues for our consideration:
The Court's Ruling
The Petition is meritorious.
At the outset we note that the present Petition is anchored on Rule 45, and that it assails the two CA Resolutions dismissing petitioners' earlier Petition for Certiorari. In accordance with Section 1 of Rule 45,8 the herein Petition alleges reversible errors based on the supposedly defective verification and certification against forum shopping.
The above-quoted issues raised in the Memorandum of petitioners, however, were not the same ones raised in the Petition. Because these three substantive issues were sprung by the former only in their own Memorandum, respondents were not able to traverse these directly in their Comment9 or Memorandum.10 Hence, save for perfunctory references to the NLRC Decision, the latter were not given the opportunity to defend themselves on these questions.
Elementary due process -- which means giving the opposite party the opportunity to be heard, and the assailed court to consider every argument presented11 -- bars this Court from taking up these three issues in this Decision, even if doing so would speed up the final resolution of the case. Basic is the rule that issues not presented below cannot for the first time be taken up on appeal.12
Review of NLRC Decisions
The proper procedure for seeking a review of the final dispositions of the NLRC was laid down in 1998 in St. Martin Funeral Homes v. NLRC.13 That case heralded two very important rules: 1) decisions and final resolutions of the NLRC may be reviewed only via a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court; and 2) such petition must be filed with the CA in strict observance of the doctrine of the hierarchy of courts.
Thus, after St. Martin became final, special civil actions challenging NLRC rulings have been referred by this Court to the CA for proper disposition. Exceptions to this rule were those instances when -- prior to the finality of St. Martin -- both parties had already filed their respective memoranda with this Court, and it then opted to take final cognizance of the case.14 Under AM No. 99-2-01-SC, however, all new cases erroneously filed with this Court after June 1, 1999, were dismissed forthwith.
In their present Petition, petitioners plead a liberal construction of the rules. They argue that the verification and the certification against forum shopping executed by only two of the 25 petitioners have already satisfied the requirements under Sections 415 and 516 of Rule 7. On the other hand, the CA ruled that all 25 petitioners should have signed the verification and the certification of non-forum shopping. We clarify.
Actually, two separate rules are involved in the present controversy one, on verification; and the other, on the certification against forum shopping.
Two Signatures Sufficient for Verification
The verification requirement is provided under Section 4 of Rule 7 of the Rules of Court, as follows:
The purpose of requiring a verification is to secure an assurance that the allegations of the petition have been made in good faith; or are true and correct, not merely speculative.18 This requirement is simply a condition affecting the form of pleadings, and noncompliance therewith does not necessarily render it fatally defective.19 Indeed, verification is only a formal, not a jurisdictional, requirement.20
In the present case, the problem is not the lack of a verification, but the adequacy of one executed by only two of the 25 petitioners. These two signatories are unquestionably real parties in interest, who undoubtedly have sufficient knowledge and belief to swear to the truth of the allegations in the Petition. This verification is enough assurance that the matters alleged therein have been made in good faith or are true and correct, not merely speculative. The requirement of verification has thus been substantially complied with.
Certification Against Forum Shopping
For petitions for certiorari, on the other hand, a certification against forum shopping is required under Section 3 of Rule 4621 of the Rules of Court, as follows:
The certification requirement is rooted in the principle that a party-litigant shall not be allowed to pursue simultaneous remedies in different fora, as this practice is detrimental to an orderly judicial procedure.22 The lack of a certification against forum shopping, unlike that of verification, is generally not cured by its submission after the filing of the petition.23
The submission of a certificate against forum shopping is thus deemed obligatory, though not jurisdictional.24 (Jurisdiction over the subject or nature of the action is conferred by law.) Not being jurisdictional, the requirement has been relaxed under justifiable circumstances25 under the rule of substantial compliance.
In fact, the Court has allowed the belated filing of the certification against forum shopping because of compelling reasons.26 In Uy v. Land Bank,27 it even reinstated a petition it had already dismissed for lack of verification and certification against forum shopping, after petitioner had justified the reinstatement. Similarly, in Roadway Express v. CA,28 the Court considered as substantial compliance the filing of the certification 14 days prior to the dismissal of the petition.
The rule of substantial compliance has likewise been availed of with respect to the contents of the certification.29 Gabionza v. Court of Appeals accepted, as sufficient compliance therewith, petitioner's certification to the effect that "there is no similar petition [with] the same subject matter previously filed, pending, withdrawn or dismissed in the Supreme Court, in this Honorable Court [of Appeals] or different divisions thereof, or any other tribunal or agency."30 It stressed that while Circular 28-9131 required strict compliance, it did not thereby prevent substantial compliance under justifiable circumstances.32
In the present case, petitioners aver that the signatures of only two of them suffice as substantial compliance with the attestation requirement for a certificate against forum shopping. In effect, they are asking this Court to disregard a defect33 in their Petition.
In previous rulings, we have held that a certificate against forum shopping should be signed by all the petitioners, because a lone signatory cannot be presumed to have personal knowledge of the matters required to be stated in the attestation.34 The ruling is not without exception, however. In Spouses Ortiz v. Court of Appeals35 and similar rulings, the following has always been pointed out:
Petitioners need only show, therefore, that there was reasonable cause for the failure of some of them to sign the certification against forum shopping, and that the outright dismissal of the Petition would defeat the administration of justice.
We find their reasons meritorious. First, as pointed out in the Motion for Reconsideration filed with the CA, the case dragged for an undeniably long time, because its remand to the labor arbiter forced many of the petitioners to go back to the provinces to await the final outcome, while those who remained in Metro Manila were forced out of temporary quarters every so often.36 Under these circumstances, it was extremely difficult to secure all the required signatures.
Second, it is safe to assume that the matters alleged in the certificate against forum shopping have been complied with by the non-signing petitioners. Twenty-one of the petitioners executed in favor of their counsel, a "Natatanging Gawad ng Kapangyarihan,"37 which gives him authority to represent them in all matters connected with the case. As it has not been revoked or superseded, the possibility of any of them filing another action or claim through another counsel is effectively foreclosed.
Third, the apparent merits of the substantive aspects of the case, as in Uy, should be deemed as a "special circumstance" or "compelling reason" for allowing the Petition. Pertinent thereto, the Court notes that the conflicting findings of the NLRC and of the labor arbiter -- who ruled twice in favor of petitioners -- provide ample justification for the CA's review of the merits. The outright dismissal of the Petition was therefore prejudicial to the substantial rights of the parties.
Indeed, rules of procedure are established to secure substantial justice.38 Being instruments for the speedy and efficient administration of justice, they must be used to achieve such end, not to derail it.39 Technical requirements may thus be dispensed with in meritorious appeals.40
It has been our consistent holding that the ends of justice are better served when cases are determined on the merits -- after all parties are given full opportunity to ventilate their causes and defenses -- rather than on technicality or some procedural imperfections. 41
Consequently, the case should be remanded to the CA for a proper determination of the substantive issues. Time-honored is the principle that when the law entrusts the review of factual and substantive issues to a lower court or to a quasi-judicial tribunal, that court or agency must be given the opportunity to pass upon those issues.42 Only thereafter may the parties resort to this Court.43
WHEREFORE, this Petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolutions of the Court of Appeals are SET ASIDE, and the case is remanded to the CA for a proper determination of the substantive issues. No costs.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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