[G.R. NO. 144322 : February 6, 2007]
METROPOLITAN BANK and TRUST COMPANY, INC., Petitioner, v. NATIONAL WAGES AND PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION and REGIONAL TRIPARTITE WAGES AND PRODUCTIVITY BOARD - REGION II, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court seeking the reversal of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated July 19, 2000 in CA-G.R. SP No. 42240 which denied the petition for certiorari and prohibition of Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, Inc. (petitioner).
The procedural antecedents and factual background of the case are as follows:
On October 17, 1995, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board, Region II, Tuguegarao, Cagayan (RTWPB), by virtue of Republic Act No. 6727 (R.A. No. 6727), otherwise known as the Wage Rationalization Act,2 issued Wage Order No. R02-03 (Wage Order), as follows:
Section 1. Upon effectivity of this Wage Order, all employees/workers in the private sector throughout Region II, regardless of the status of employment are granted an across-the-board increase of
The Wage Order was published in a newspaper of general circulation on December 2, 19954 and took effect on January 1, 1996.5 Its Implementing Rules6 were approved on February 14, 1996.7 Per Section 13 of the Wage Order, any party aggrieved by the Wage Order may file an appeal with the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) through the RTWPB within 10 calendar days from the publication of the Wage Order.
In a letter-inquiry to the NWPC dated May 7, 1996, the Bankers' Council for Personnel Management (BCPM), on behalf of its member-banks, requested for a ruling on the eligibility of establishments with head offices outside Region II to seek exemption from the coverage of the Wage Order since its member-banks are already paying more than the prevailing minimum wage rate in the National Capital Region (NCR), which is their principal place of business.8
In a letter-reply dated July 16, 1996, the NWPC stated that the member-banks of BCPM are covered by the Wage Order and do not fall under the exemptible categories listed under the Wage Order.9
In a letter-inquiry to the NWPC dated July 23, 1996, petitioner sought for interpretation of the applicability of said Wage Order.10 The NWPC referred petitioner's inquiry to the RTWPB.
In a letter-reply dated August 12, 1996, the RTWPB clarified that the Wage Order covers all private establishments situated in Region II, regardless of the voluntary adoption by said establishments of the wage orders established in Metro Manila and irrespective of the amounts already paid by the petitioner.11
On October 15, 1996, the petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with the CA seeking nullification of the Wage Order on grounds that the RTWPB acted without authority when it issued the questioned Wage Order; that even assuming that the RTWPB was vested with the authority to prescribe an increase, it exceeded its authority when it did so without any ceiling or qualification; that the implementation of the Wage Order will cause the petitioner, and other similarly situated employers, to incur huge financial losses and suffer labor unrest.12
On March 24, 1997, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed a Manifestation and Motion in lieu of Comment affirming the petitioner's claim that the RTWPB acted beyond its authority in issuing the Wage Order prescribing an across-the-board increase to all workers and employees in Region II, effectively granting additional or other benefits not contemplated by R.A. No. 6727.13
In view of the OSG's manifestation, the CA directed respondents NWPC and RTWPB to file their comment.14
On September 22, 1997, respondents filed their Comment praying that the petition should be dismissed outright for petitioner's procedural lapses; that certiorari and prohibition are unavailing since petitioner failed to avail of the remedy of appeal prescribed by the Wage Order; that the Wage Order has long been in effect; and that the issuance of the Wage Order was performed in the exercise of a purely administrative function.15
On July 19, 2000, the CA rendered its Decision denying the petition. The appellate court held that a writ of prohibition can no longer be issued since implementation of the Wage Order had long become fait accompli, the Wage Order having taken effect on January 1, 1996 and its implementing rules approved on February 14, 1996; that a writ of certiorari is improper since the Wage Order was issued in the exercise of a purely administrative function, not judicial or quasi-judicial; that the letter-query did not present justiciable controversies ripe for consideration by the respondents in the exercise of their wage-fixing function, since no appeal from the Wage Order was filed; that petitioner never brought before the said bodies any formal and definite challenge to the Wage Order and it cannot pass off the letter-queries as actual applications for relief; that even if petitioner's procedural lapse is disregarded, a regional wage order prescribing a wage increase across-the-board applies to banks adopting a unified wage system and a disparity in wages between employees holding similar positions in different regions is not wage distortion.16
Hence, the present petition anchored on the following grounds:
Following the submission of the Comment18 and Reply19 thereto, the Court gave due course to the petition and required both parties to submit their respective memoranda.20 In compliance therewith, petitioner and respondents submitted their respective memoranda.21
Petitioner poses two issues for resolution, to wit: (1) whether Wage Order No. R02-03 is void and of no legal effect; and (2) whether petitioner's recourse to a petition for certiorari and prohibition with the CA was proper.
Anent the first issue, petitioner maintains that the RTWPB, in issuing said Wage Order, exceeded the authority delegated to it under R.A. No. 6727, which is limited to determining and fixing the minimum wage rate within their respective territorial jurisdiction and with respect only to employees who do not earn the prescribed minimum wage rate; that the RTWPB is not authorized to grant a general across-the-board wage increase for non-minimum wage earners; that Employers Confederation of the Philippines v. National Wages and Productivity Commission22 (hereafter referred to as "ECOP") is not authority to rule that respondents have been empowered to fix wages other than the minimum wage since said case dealt with an across-the-board increase with a salary ceiling, where the wage adjustment is applied to employees receiving a certain denominated salary ceiling; that the Wage Order is an unreasonable intrusion into its property rights; that the Wage Order undermines the essence of collective bargaining; that the Wage Order fails to take into account the rationale for a unified wage structure.
As to the second issue, petitioner submits that ultra vires acts of administrative agencies are correctible by way of a writ of certiorari and prohibition; that even assuming that it did not observe the proper remedial procedure in challenging the Wage Order, the remedy of certiorari and prohibition remains available to it by way of an exception, on grounds of justice and equity; that its failure to observe procedural rules could not have validated the manner by which the disputed Wage Order was issued.
Respondents counter that the present petition is fatally defective from inception since no appeal from the Wage Order was filed by petitioner; that the letter-query to the NWPC did not constitute the appeal contemplated by law; that the validity of the Wage Order was never raised before the respondents; that the implementation of the Wage Order had long become fait accompli for prohibition to prosper. Respondents insist that, even if petitioner's procedural lapses are disregarded, the Wage Order was issued pursuant to the mandate of R.A. No. 6727 and in accordance with the Court's pronouncements in the ECOP case;23 that the Wage Order is not an intrusion on property rights since it was issued after the required public hearings; that the Wage Order does not undermine but in fact recognizes the right to collective bargaining; that the Wage Order did not result in wage distortion.
The Court shall first dispose of the procedural matter relating to the propriety of petitioner's recourse to the CA before proceeding with the substantive issue involving the validity of the Wage Order.
Certiorari as a special civil action is available only if the following essential requisites concur: (1) it must be directed against a tribunal, board, or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions; (2) the tribunal, board, or officer must have acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting lack or excess of jurisdiction; and (3) there is no appeal nor any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.24
On the other hand, prohibition as a special civil action is available only if the following essential requisites concur: (1) it must be directed against a tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person exercising functions, judicial, quasi-judicial, or ministerial; (2) the tribunal, corporation, board or person has acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting lack or excess of jurisdiction; and (3) there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.25
A respondent is said to be exercising judicial function where he has the power to determine what the law is and what the legal rights of the parties are, and then undertakes to determine these questions and adjudicate upon the rights of the parties.26 Quasi-judicial function is a term which applies to the action, discretion, etc., of public administrative officers or bodies, who are required to investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, and draw conclusions from them as a basis for their official action and to exercise discretion of a judicial nature.27 Ministerial function is one which an officer or tribunal performs in the context of a given set of facts, in a prescribed manner and without regard to the exercise of his own judgment upon the propriety or impropriety of the act done.28
In the issuance of the assailed Wage Order, respondent RTWPB did not act in any judicial, quasi-judicial capacity, or ministerial capacity. It was in the nature of subordinate legislation, promulgated by it in the exercise of delegated power under R.A. No. 6727. It was issued in the exercise of quasi-legislative power. Quasi-legislative or rule-making power is exercised by administrative agencies through the promulgation of rules and regulations within the confines of the granting statute and the doctrine of non-delegation of certain powers flowing from the separation of the great branches of the government.29
Moreover, the rule on the special civil actions of certiorari and prohibition equally mandate that these extra-ordinary remedies are available only when "there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law." A remedy is considered plain, speedy and adequate if it will promptly relieve the petitioner from the injurious effects of the judgment or rule, order or resolution of the lower court or agency.30
Section 13 of the assailed Wage Order explicitly provides that any party aggrieved by the Wage Order may file an appeal with the NWPC through the RTWPB within 10 days from the publication of the wage order.31 The Wage Order was published in a newspaper of general circulation on December 2, 1995.32
In this case, petitioner did not avail of the remedy provided by law. No appeal to the NWPC was filed by the petitioner within 10 calendar days from publication of the Wage Order on December 2, 1995. Petitioner was silent until seven months later, when it filed a letter-inquiry on July 24, 1996 with the NWPC seeking a clarification on the application of the Wage Order. Evidently, the letter-inquiry is not an appeal.
It must also be noted that the NWPC only referred petitioner's letter-inquiry to the RTWPB. Petitioner did not appeal the letter-reply dated August 12, 1996 of the RTWPB to the NWPC. No direct action was taken by the NWPC on the issuance or implementation of the Wage Order. Petitioner failed to invoke the power of the NWPC to review regional wage levels set by the RTWPB to determine if these are in accordance with prescribed guidelines. Thus, not only was it improper to implead the NWPC as party-respondent in the petition before the CA and this Court, but also petitioner failed to avail of the primary jurisdiction of the NWPC under Article 121 of the Labor Code, to wit:
ART. 121. Powers and Functions of the Commission. - The Commission shall have the following powers and functions:
Under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, courts cannot and will not resolve a controversy involving a question which is within the jurisdiction of an administrative tribunal, especially where the question demands the exercise of sound administrative discretion requiring the special knowledge, experience and services of the administrative tribunal to determine technical and intricate matters of fact.33
Nevertheless, the Court will proceed to resolve the substantial issues in the present petition pursuant to the well-accepted principle that acceptance of a Petition for Certiorari or prohibition as well as the grant of due course thereto is addressed to the sound discretion of the court.34 It is a well-entrenched principle that rules of procedure are not inflexible tools designed to hinder or delay, but to facilitate and promote the administration of justice. Their strict and rigid application, which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate, rather than promote substantial justice, must always be eschewed.35
As to respondents' submission that the implementation of the Wage Order can no longer be restrained since it has become fait accompli, the Wage Order having taken effect on January 1, 1996 and its implementing rules approved on February 14, 1996, suffice it to state that courts will decide a question otherwise moot if it is capable of repetition yet evading review.36 Besides, a case becomes moot and academic only when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits. Such circumstances do not obtain in the present case. The implementation of the Wage Order does not in any way render the case moot and academic, since the issue of the validity of the wage order subsists even after its implementation and which has to be determined and passed upon to resolve petitioner's rights and consequent obligations therein.
It is worthy to quote the Court's pronouncements in Tan v. Commission on Elections,37 thus:
Having disposed of this procedural issue, the Court now comes to the substance of the petition.
R.A. No. 6727 declared it a policy of the State to rationalize the fixing of minimum wages and to promote productivity-improvement and gain-sharing measures to ensure a decent standard of living for the workers and their families; to guarantee the rights of labor to its just share in the fruits of production; to enhance employment generation in the countryside through industrial dispersal; and to allow business and industry reasonable returns on investment, expansion and growth.39
In line with its declared policy, R.A. No. 672740 created the NWPC,41 vested with the power to prescribe rules and guidelines for the determination of appropriate minimum wage and productivity measures at the regional, provincial or industry levels;42 and authorized the RTWPB to determine and fix the minimum wage rates applicable in their respective regions, provinces, or industries therein and issue the corresponding wage orders, subject to the guidelines issued by the NWPC.43 Pursuant to its wage fixing authority, the RTWPB may issue wage orders which set the daily minimum wage rates,44 based on the standards or criteria set by Article 12445 of the Labor Code.
In ECOP,46 the Court declared that there are two ways of fixing the minimum wage: the "floor-wage" method and the "salary-ceiling" method. The "floor-wage" method involves the fixing of a determinate amount to be added to the prevailing statutory minimum wage rates. On the other hand, in the "salary-ceiling" method, the wage adjustment was to be applied to employees receiving a certain denominated salary ceiling. In other words, workers already being paid more than the existing minimum wage (up to a certain amount stated in the Wage Order) are also to be given a wage increase.47
To illustrate: under the "floor wage method", it would have been sufficient if the Wage Order simply set
In the present case, the RTWPB did not determine or fix the minimum wage rate by the "floor-wage method" or the "salary-ceiling method" in issuing the Wage Order. The RTWPB did not set a wage level nor a range to which a wage adjustment or increase shall be added. Instead, it granted an across-the-board wage increase of
In no uncertain terms must it be stressed that the function of promulgating rules and regulations may be legitimately exercised only for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of a law. The power of administrative agencies is confined to implementing the law or putting it into effect. Corollary to this guideline is that administrative regulation cannot extend the law and amend a legislative enactment.48 It is axiomatic that the clear letter of the law is controlling and cannot be amended by a mere administrative rule issued for its implementation.49 Indeed, administrative or executive acts, orders, and regulations shall be valid only when they are not contrary to the laws or the Constitution.50
Where the legislature has delegated to an executive or administrative officers and boards authority to promulgate rules to carry out an express legislative purpose, the rules of administrative officers and boards, which have the effect of extending, or which conflict with the authority-granting statute, do not represent a valid exercise of the rule-making power but constitute an attempt by an administrative body to legislate.51
It has been said that when the application of an administrative issuance modifies existing laws or exceeds the intended scope, as in this case, the issuance becomes void, not only for being ultra vires, but also for being unreasonable.52
Thus, the Court finds that Section 1, Wage Order No. R02-03 is void insofar as it grants a wage increase to employees earning more than the minimum wage rate; and pursuant to the separability clause53 of the Wage Order, Section 1 is declared valid with respect to employees earning the prevailing minimum wage rate.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Prior to the passage of the Wage Order, the daily minimum wage rates in Region II was set at
Although the concomitant effect of the nullity of the Wage Order to those employees who have received the mandated increase was not put in issue, this Court shall make a definite pronouncement thereon to finally put this case to rest. As ruled by the Court in Latchme Motoomull v. Dela Paz,55 "the Court will always strive to settle the entire controversy in a single proceeding leaving no root or branch to bear the seeds of future litigation."56
Applying by analogy, the Court's recent pronouncement in Philippine Ports Authority v. Commission on Audit,57 thus:
In Blaquera, the petitioners, who were officials and employees of several government departments and agencies, were paid incentive benefits pursuant to EO No. 292 and the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of EO No. 292. On January 3, 1993, then President Fidel V. Ramos issued Administrative Order (AO) No. 29 authorizing the grant of productivity incentive benefits for the year 1992 in the maximum amount of
The said ruling in Blaquera was applied in De Jesus.
In De Jesus, COA disallowed the payment of allowances and bonuses consisting of representation and transportation allowance, rice allowance, productivity incentive bonus, anniversary bonus, year-end bonus and cash gifts to members of the interim Board of Directors of the Catbalogan Water District. This Court affirmed the disallowance because petitioners therein were not entitled to other compensation except for payment of per diem under PD No. 198. However, the Court ruled against the refund of the allowances and bonuses received by petitioners, thus:
Further, in KMG, this Court applied the ruling in Blaquera and De Jesus in holding that the Social Insurance Group (SIG) personnel of the Government Service Insurance System need not refund the hazard pay received by them although said benefit was correctly disallowed by COA. The Court ruled:
In the same vein, the rulings in Blaquera, De Jesus and KMG apply to this case. Petitioners received the hazard duty pay and birthday cash gift in good faith since the benefits were authorized by PPA Special Order No. 407-97 issued pursuant to PPA Memorandum Circular No. 34-95 implementing DBM National Compensation Circular No. 76, series of 1995, and PPA Memorandum Circular No. 22-97, respectively. Petitioners at that time had no knowledge that the payment of said benefits lacked legal basis. Being in good faith, petitioners need not refund the benefits they received.58 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
employees, other than minimum wage earners, who received the wage increase mandated by the Wage Order need not refund the wage increase received by them since they received the wage increase in good faith, in the honest belief that they are entitled to such wage increase and without any knowledge that there was no legal basis for the same.
Considering the foregoing, the Court need not delve on the other arguments raised by the parties.
WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated July 19, 2000 in CA-G.R. SP No. 42240 is MODIFIED. Section 1 of Wage Order No. R02-03 issued on October 17, 1995 by the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board for Region II, Tuguegarao, Cagayan is declared VALID insofar as the mandated increase applies to employees earning the prevailing minimum wage rate at the time of the passage of the Wage Order and VOID with respect to its application to employees receiving more than the prevailing minimum wage rate at the time of the passage of the Wage Order.
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