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[G.R. No. 143753.June 27, 2001]

STA. MONICA AGRO-AQUA CORP., et al. vs. BAŅES, et al.

FIRST DIVISION

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 27 2001.

G.R. No. 143753(Sta. Monica Agro-Aqua Corp. Phase II/Sta. Ana Agro-Aqua Corp. vs. Juanita Baņes, et al.)

This is a petition for review of the Decision dated December 17, 1999 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 523911 Sta Monica Agro-Aqua Corporation, Phase II and Sta. Ana Agro-Aqua Corporation, petitioners, vs. National Labor Relations Commission (Fourth Division, Cebu City), and Juanita Baņes, et al., Respondents. affirming the decision of the National Labor Relations Commission, and the Resolution dated May 17, 2000, denying petitioners' motion for reconsideration.

The facts of the case are as follows:

Private respondents Dennis Hinayan, Jonathan Pielago and Joel Millanes were employed by petitioner corporations as pond aides. They claimed that during the time of their employment as such, they worked on twelve-hour shifts without being paid overtime pay. Private respondent Juanita Baņes, on the other hand, worked as timekeeper and warehouse woman. She claimed that she had been employed by petitioners since February 18, 1991, that she was receiving a daily wage of Seventy Pesos (P70.00), and that in January 1992, petitioner reduced her daily wage to Sixty Pesos (P60.00).

On March 15, 1993, private respondents were dismissed from their employment, allegedly due to serious business losses.

Subsequently, private respondents filed against petitioners a complaint for illegal dismissal with prayer for immediate reinstatement and payment of full backwages, wage differentials, harvest bonus, overtime pay, premium pay for holiday, holiday pay, service incentive leave pay, night shift differential,. cost of living allowance, moral damages and attorney's fees.

On August 3, 1994, the Labor Arbiter rendered its Decision ordering Sta. Clara Estate, Inc. and petitioner corporations, jointly and severally to pay Private respondents their respective wage differentials and cost of living allowances, service incentive leave, backwages and separation pay. The Labor Arbiter however dismissed private respondents' claims for harvest bonus, overtime pay, premium pay for holiday, night shift differential and damages.2 Rollo, pp. 64-82.

Aggrieved, petitioners appealed the Labor Arbiter's Decision to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). The NLRC affirmed said decision in toto. However, on motion for reconsideration by petitioners, the NLRC issued a resolution dated November 29, 1995, modifying its decision. It absolved Sta. Clara Estate, Inc. from any liability and allowed the deduction of the earnings derived elsewhere by private respondents from the award of backwages.

Not satisfied with the resolution of the NLRC, petitioners filed with this Court a petition for certiorari assailing the NLRC's ruling. The case was then referred to the Court of Appeals in accordance with the ruling in St. Martin Funeral Homes vs. National Labor Relations Commission.3 295 SCRA 494 (1998).

On December 17, 1999, the Court of Appeals rendered the assailed Decision dismissing the petition for certiorari.4 RoIlo, pp. 138-151. Petitioners' motion for reconsideration was likewise denied by the appellate court in a Resolution dated May 17, 2000.5 Id., at 160-161.

Hence, the present petition. Petitioners argue that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the Labor Arbiter's and the NLRC's computation of private respondents' backwages and separation pay based on rates for industrial and commercial establishments, since their business of prawn production is clearly agricultural in character.6 Petition, Rollo, pp. 19-21. Petitioners further maintain that there was valid cause for private respondents' retrenchment.7 Id., at 21-22.

The Court does not agree. It finds no reason to disturb the ruling of the Court of Appeals, there being no reversible error on its part in rendering the assailed Decision.

The appellate court affirmed the ruling of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC that since petitioners failed to prove by substantial evidence their allegations that they were suffering from business reverses, the retrenchment of private respondents was unjustified. The Court of Appeals, likewise, found that petitioners failed to comply with the requirement that, in cases of retrenchment, notice must be given to both the employees concerned and the Department of Labor and Employment at least one (1) month before the intended date of retrenchment, as required under Article 2838 Article 283 of the Labor Code reads:

Art. 283. Closure of establishment and reduction of personnel. - The employer may also terminate the employment of any employee due to installation of labor saving devices, redundancy, retrenchment to prevent losses or the closing or cessation of operation of the establishment or undertaking unless the closing is for the purpose of circumventing the provisions of this Title, by serving a written notice on the workers and the Ministry [now Department] of Labor and Employment at least one (1) month before the intended date thereof. In case of termination due to the installation of labor saving devices or redundancy, the worker affected thereby shall be entitled to a separation pay equivalent to at least his one (1) month pay or to at least one (1) month pay for every year of service, whichever is higher. in case of retrenchment to prevent losses and in cases of closures or cessation of operations of establishment or undertaking not due to serious business losses or financial reverses, the separation pay shall be equivalent to one (1) month pay or at least one-half (1/2) month pay for every year of service, whichever is higher. A fraction of at least six (6) months shall be considered one (1) whole year. of the Labor Code.

The rule is that findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are binding and conclusive upon this Court absent any showing that the same is not supported by the evidence on record.9 Security Bank and Trust Company vs. Triumph Lumber and Construction Corporation, 301 SCRA 537 (1999); Development Bank of the Philippines vs. Court of Appeals, 302 SCRA 362 (1999). The Court finds no reason to depart from this rule especially considering that the appellate court merely affirmed the factual findings of the NLRC. It is well-settled that the findings of administrative agencies such as the NLRC are accorded not only great weight and respect but even finality when these are supported by substantial evidence and devoid of any unfairness or arbitrariness.10 Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines, Inc. vs. National Labor Relations Commission, 315 SCRA 587 (1999).

Moreover, there is no basis for petitioners' contention that the amount of backwages and separation pay imposed by the Court of Appeals is excessive for being based on the prescribed rates for industrial and commercial establishments. It must be noted that the appellate court affirmed in toto the Decision of the NLRC dated September 6, 1995, as modified by its Resolution dated November 29, 1995. In the aforesaid Resolution, the NLRC clearly stated that "[t]he computation of the backwages should be based on the rates for agricultural plantation."11 Resolution of the NLRC dated November 29, l 995, Rollo, p. 61.

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED and the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) VIRGINIA ANCHETA-SORIANO
Clerk of Court


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