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[G.R. No. 147461.June 20, 2001]

BATELEC II vs. CA et al.

FIRST DIVISION

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 20 2001.

G.R. No. 147461(Batangas II Electric Cooperative Inc., [BATELEC II], petitioner, vs. Court of Appeals, Jose C. del Pilar, Emelba Baliwag, Renato Bauton, Edgardo Cabrera, Bibiana Carig, Loida Dotong, Victoria Eje, Lamberto Katimbang, Nenita Lasin, Evelyn Mendoza, Padilla Regondola, Mauro Rodriguez, Ma. Salome Santoyo, Jaime Suarez, Goria Villapando, and Imelda Villena, respondents.)

This is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court of the decision of the Court of Appeals dated May 26, 2000 which awarded to herein respondents separation pay and full backwages from the time their employment was terminated up to the finality of the decision as well as its resolution dated January 11, 2001 denying the motion for reconsideration.

The pertinent facts as culled from the decision of the Court of Appeals were as follows:

NLRC Case Nos. RAB-IV-2-4204-92-B* and RAB-IV-2-4799-93** were jointly heard by Labor Arbiter Pedro Ramos. On October 15, 1993, said Labor Arbiter rendered a decision, the pertinent portions of which read --

"WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered finding the dismissal of complainants xxx as illegal.

"Respondents Batangas II Electric Cooperative, Inc., xxx are hereby ordered to:

1. Immediately REINSTATE the complainants to their former positions xxx;

2. Jointly and severally pay xxx:

(a) full BACKWAGES xxx"

Respondent BATELEC II appealed the said Decision to the NLRC and later to the Supreme Court (G.R. No. 115449); however, in compliance with law, respondent BATELEC II reinstated the complainants-petitioners in their payroll.

Even before the Labor Arbiter rendered his decision, respondent BATELEC II found itself financially strapped, hence it embarked on a major reorganization of the entire cooperative. Respondent BATELEC II informed the National Electrification Administration (NEA), the government agency which oversees electric cooperatives, about its reorganization. The NEA, in turn, interposed no objection to respondent BATELEC II's streamlining operations.

As a result of the reorganizational structuring of respondent BATELEC II, the positions used to be held by complainants-petitioners are either abolished, merged or were already occupied by someone who is also qualified to do the job. In the meantime, this Honorable Court on July 27, 1994 dismissed with finality respondent BATELEC II's petition for certiorari in G.R. No. 115449. Accordingly, on February 2, 1995, Labor Arbiter Pedro Ramos issued a writ of execution to, among others, effect the physical reinstatement of the complainants-petitioners. Although the latter were formally welcomed to the ranks of BATELEC II employees effective March 1, 1995, they were not allowed to report for work for one month until such time that the cooperative management clear up their positions with the NEA and respondent NLRC. As expected, complainants-petitioners objected to the manner in which they were received by management. On March 17, 1995, complainants-petitioners filed a Motion for contempt against respondent BATELEC II's officers.

On March 31, 1995, respondent BATELEC II filed a "Manifestation with Motion" before the Labor Arbiter stating, among others, that the complainants-petitioners can no longer be physically reinstated due to redundancy and installation of computers; and that the cooperative is willing to pay them their corresponding separation pay equivalent to one (1) month pay for every year of service.1 CA Decision pp. 2-5; Rollo. pp. 24-27.

On September 29, 1995, the Labor Arbiter found reinstatement to be physically impossible and awarded separation pay in lieu thereof. This decision was affirmed by the NLRC on April 25, 1996.

The Court of Appeals, in its assailed decision, affirmed the NLRC's resolution but modified the same in part, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the assailed Resolution of the National Labor Relations Commission is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that respondent BATELEC II is ordered to pay petitioners separation pay equivalent to one (1) month for every year of service, whichever is higher, and, in lieu of the fine of P5,000.00 for every employee, full backwages from April 1, 1995, or the time when their employments were terminated up to the time of the finality of this decision. For this purpose, this case is REMANDED to the Labor Arbiter for computation of the separation pay and backwages. Insofar as the six (6) petitioners are concerned who have executed their respective quitclaims and waivers, their petition is DISMISSED.2 Id., at 16-17; Id., at 38-39.

Hence, this petition assigning as lone error the award of full backwages to herein respondents.

Petitioner claims that respondents are not entitled to full backwages because they were not illegally dismissed but were validly separated from work due to the abolition of their respective positions Pursuant to a valid streamlining program. It is maintained that the case of Serrano vs. NLRC3 323 SCRA, 445 (2000). which was the basis of the award of full backwages does not find application to the present case because there is already a legal impossibility in reinstating petitioners and, since the positions were already abolished, there is no reason why respondents should be paid backwages.

For lack of merit, the instant petition must be dismissed.

Under Article 283 of the Labor Code, when an employee is dismissed due to (1) the installation of labor-saving devices, (2) redundancy, (3) retrenchment to prevent losses, or (4) the closing or cessation of operations of the establishment or undertaking, such dismissal is valid but a written notice at least one (1) month before the intended date of separation must be served on the employee concerned and the Department of Labor and Employment.

Both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC held that reinstatement is no longer feasible due to a valid abolition of respondents' positions pursuant to a streamlining program. The Court of Appeals affirmed such findings. Moreover, it found that petitioner was amiss in furnishing respondents at least one month advance notice of their intended termination. Hence, based on such lack of notice, the Court of Appeals applied the case of Serrano vs. NLRC,4 Supra and awarded full backwages to herein respondents.

We find such award of backwages proper. Serrano vs. NLRC is categorical in its pronouncement that full backwages should be awarded to an employee who had been laid off "without written notice at least 30 days in advance" whether the separation under Art. 283 of the Labor Code was with or without cause. Therefore, even if the termination of employment was due to any of the authorized causes under Art. 283, the lack of proper notice of such termination renders the employer liable for the payment of full backwages from the time of termination up to the finality of the decision. The case does not make any distinction as to whether or not there was physical or legal impossibility of reinstatement because the payment of backwages is intended as a penalty for the employer's failure to observe the procedure for termination of employment as set forth under Art. 283.

Since in the case under consideration, petitioner-employer BATELEC II failed to properly notify respondents of their intended termination of employment at least one month in advance, it is, therefore, liable to pay respondents full backwages from the time of their separation up to the finality of the decision.

IN VIEW THEREOF, the instant petition is hereby DISMISSED.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) VIRGINIA ANCHETA-SORIANO
Clerk of Court


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