Case Digest: Rodriguez et al. v. PAL

G.R. No. 178501 & G.R. NO. 178510

January 11, 2016

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

The Case:


Before the Court are two consolidated Petitions for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court assailing the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 71190.

The petitioners in G.R. No. 178501 are 24 former pilots of Philippine Airlines, Inc. (PAL), namely, Rodriguez, Alisangco, Ang, Ang, Arroyo, Baquiran, Cruz, Delos Reyes, Ecarma, Galisim, Garcia, Gutiza, Jadie, Jose, Labuga, Lastimoso, Matias, Maturan, Ocharan, Piamonte, Sabado, Sanchez, Corpus, and Alcañeses, hereinafter collectively referred to as Rodriguez, et al., deemed by PAL to have lost their employment status for taking part in the illegal strike in June 1998.


The petitioner in G.R. No. 178510 is PAL, a domestic operating as a common carrier transporting passengers and cargo through aircraft. PAL named Rodriguez, et al. and Rodolfo O. Poe (Poe) as respondents in its Petition.


The Facts:


The 1st ALPAP case

On December 9, 1997, the Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines (ALPAP) filed with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) a Notice of Strike, docketed as NCMB NCR NS 12-514-97 (Strike Case), on the grounds of unfair labor practice and union-busting by PAL.


The Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) assumed jurisdiction over the Strike Case, and issued an Order on December 23, 1997 prohibiting all actual and impending strikes and lockouts. On May 25, 1998, the DOLE Secretary issued another Order reiterating the prohibition against strikes and lockouts.


Despite the abovementioned Orders of the DOLE Secretary, ALPAP filed a second Notice of Strike on June 5, 1998 and staged a strike on the same day. The DOLE Secretary immediately called PAL and ALPAP for conciliation conferences on June 6 and 7, 1998 to amicably settle the dispute between them. After his efforts failed, the DOLE Secretary issued an Order8 on June 7, 1998 (Return-to-Work Order) ordering the striking employees to return to work within 24 hours from receipt of the order and for PAL management to receive them under the same terms and conditions prior to the strike.


On June 26, 1998, the members of ALPAP reported for work but PAL did not accept them on the ground that the 24-hour period for the strikers to return set by the DOLE Secretary in his Return-to-Work Order had already lapsed, resulting in the forfeiture of their employment.


Consequently, ALPAP filed with the NLRC on June 29, 1998 a Complaint for illegal lockout against PAL, On August 21, 1998, the Acting Executive Labor Arbiter ordered the consolidation of the Illegal Lockout Case with the Strike Case pending before the DOLE Secretary.


The DOLE Secretary issued a Resolution on June 1, 1999 declaring the strike conducted by ALPAP on June 5, 1998 and thereafter illegal for being procedurally infirm and in open defiance of the return-to-work order of June 7, 1998 and consequently, the strikers are deemed to have lost their employment status. Likewise, it dismissed the complaint for illegal lockout for lack of merit.


After failing to get favorable resolutions on their motions for reconsideration with DOLE and Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 65 of the rules of court with the Court of Appeals, ALPAP elevated the case to this Court by filing a Petition for Certiorari, (1st ALPAP case). The Court dismissed the Petition of ALPAP in a minute Resolution dated April 10, 2002 for failure of ALPAP to show grave abuse of discretion on the part of the appellate court. Said Resolution dismissing the 1st ALPAP case became final and executory on August 29, 2002.


Meanwhile, 32 ALPAP members, consisting of Rodriguez, et al, Poe, Dela Cruz, Musong, Peña, Cruz, Noble, Versoza, Hinayon, hereinafter collectively referred to as complainants - filed with the NLRC on June 7, 1999 a Complaint for illegal dismissal against PAL, docketed as NLRC-NCR Case No. 00--06-06290-99 (Illegal Dismissal Case).


Complainants alleged that they were not participants of the June 5, 1998 strike of ALPAP and that they had no obligation to comply with the Return-to-Work Order of the DOLE Secretary.They alleged that PAL terminated complainants from employment together with the strikers who disobeyed the Return-to-Work Order, even though complainants had valid reasons for not reporting for work.


In its Motion to Dismiss and/or Position Paper for Respondent, PAL averred that the Complaint for illegal dismissal is an offshoot of the Strike and Illegal Lockout Cases wherein the DOLE Secretary already adjudged with finality that the striking pilots lost their employment for participating in an illegal strike and/or disobeying the Return-to-Work Order. Hence, PAL argued that the Complaint was already barred by res judicata. In addition, PAL presented the following evidence to refute complainants' allegation that they were not strikers: (a) the logbook showing that complainants belatedly complied with the Return-to-Work Order on June 26, 1998; and (b) the photographs showing that some of complainants were at the strike area or picket line.


The Labor Arbiter rendered a Decision declaring that the complainants were illegally dismissed. Moreover, the LA opined that the illegal dismissal case may proceed independently from the Strike and Lockout Cases.PAL appealed before the NLRC. The NLRC reversed the decision of the LA declaring all but Jadie legally dismissed. Aggreived, Rodriguez et al, dela Cruz and Poe filed a Petition for Certiori with the CA, assailing the NLRC decision for having been rendered with grace abuse of discretion. Dela Cruz subsequently withdrew his petition.The Court of Appeals rendered their decision favoring Rodriquez et al., and Poe. Finding them illegally dismissed, the appellate court ordered PAL to pay the complainants separation pay in lieu of reinstatement. Motions for reconderation filed by both parties were denied.


Hence, Rodriguez et al & PAL assail before this Court the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals by way of separate Petitions for review on Certiorari, docketed as G.R. No.178501 and G.R. No. 178510, respectively.


The 2nd ALPAP Case

In the meantime, during the pendency of the instant Petitions, the Court decided on June 6, 2011 Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines v. Philippine Airlines, Inc,docketed as G.R. No. 168382 (2nd ALPAP case). The 2nd ALPAP case arose from events that took place following the finality on August 29, 2002 of the Resolution dated April 10, 2002 which dismissed the 1st ALPAP case. On January 13, 2003,


ALPAP filed before the Office of the DOLE Secretary a Motion in [the Strike Case], requesting the said office to conduct an appropriate legal proceeding to determine who among its officers and members should be reinstated or deemed to have lost their employment with PAL for their actual participation in the strike conducted in June 1998.


In a decision dated on June 6, 2011, the Court declared that such proceeding would entail a reopening of a final judgement which could not be permitted. Settled in law is that once a decision has acquired finality, it becomes immutable and unalterable, thus can no longer be modified in any respect. Moreover, there is no necessity to conduct a proceeding to determine the participants in the illegal strike or those who refused to heed the return to work order because the ambiguity can be cured by reference the body of the decision and the pleadings filed.


The Decision dated June 6, 2011 of the Court in the 2nd ALPAP case became final and executory on September 9, 2011.


Issue:

Whether or not 1st and 2nd ALPAP cases constitute res judicata on the issue issue of the legality of the Rodriguez et al’s dismissal.


Ruling:

Bearing in mind the final and executory judgments in the 1st and 2nd ALPAP cases, the Court denies the Petition of Rodriguez, et al, in G.R. No. 178501 and partly grants that

of PAL in G.R. No. 178510.

The Court, in the 2nd ALPAP case, acknowledged the illegal dismissal cases instituted by the individual ALPAP members before the NLRC following their termination for the strike in June 1998 (which were apart from the Strike and Illegal Lockout Cases of ALPAP before the DOLE Secretary) and affirmed the jurisdiction of the NLRC over said illegal dismissal cases. The Court, though, also expressly pronounced in the 2nd ALPAP case that "the pendency of the foregoing cases should not and could not affect the character of our disposition over the instant case. Rather, these cases should be resolved in a manner consistent and in accord with our present disposition for effective enforcement and Execution of a final judgement.”

The Petitions at bar began with the Illegal Dismissal Case of Rodriguez, et al. and eight other former pilots of PAL before the NLRC. Among the Decisions rendered by Labor Arbiter Robles, the NLRC, and the Court of Appeals herein, it is the one by the NLRC which is consistent and in accord with the disposition for effective enforcement and execution of the final judgments in the 1st and 2nd ALPAP cases. The 1st and 2nd ALPAP cases which became final and executory on August 29, 2002 and September 9, 2011, respectively, constitute res judicata on the issue of who participated in the illegal strike in June 1998 and whose services were validly terminated.


In the 1st ALPAP case, the Court upheld the DOLE Secretary's Resolution dated June 1, 1999 declaring that the strike of June 5, 1998 was illegal and all ALPAP officers and members who participated therein had lost their employment status. The Court in the 2nd ALPAP case ruled that even though the dispositive portion of the DOLE Secretary's Resolution did not specifically enumerate the names of those who actually participated in the illegal strike, such omission cannot prevent the effective execution of the decision in the 1st ALPAP case. The Court referred to the records of the Strike and Illegal Lockout Cases, particularly, the logbook, which it unequivocally pronounced as a "crucial and vital piece of evidence." In the words of the Court in the 2nd ALPAP case, "[t]he logbook with the heading 'Return-To-Work Compliance/Returnees' bears their individual signature signifying their conformity that they were among those workers who returned to work only on June 26, 1998 or after the deadline imposed by DOLE., The logbook was similarly submitted as evidence by PAL against the complainants in the Illegal Dismissal Case now on appeal. Rodriguez, et al., except for Jadie and Baquiran, were signatories in the logbook as returnees,44 bound by the Resolution dated June 1, 1999 of the DOLE Secretary. The significance and weight accorded by the NLRC to the logbook can no longer be gainsaid considering the declarations of the Court in the 2nd ALPAP case. Moreover, the logbook entries were corroborated by photographs showing Rodriguez, et al., excluding Baquiran, Galisim, Jadie, Wilfredo S. Cruz, and Piamonte, actually participating in the strike. The objection that the photographs were not properly authenticated deserves scant consideration as rules of evidence are not strictly observed in proceedings before administrative bodies like the NLRC, where decisions may be reached on the basis of position papers only. It is also worth noting that those caught on photographs did not categorically deny being at the strike area on the time/s and date/s the photographs were taken, but assert that they were there in lawful exercise of their right while on official leave or scheduled off-duty, or in the alternative, that they were already dismissed from service as early as June 7, 1998 and their presence at the strike area thereafter was already irrelevant. The Court declared that among the petitioner-complainants Rodriguez, et al, only Jadie was illegally dismissed by PAL. During the strike, Jadie was already on maternity leave. Jadie did not join the strike and could not be reasonably expected to report back for work by June 9, 1998 in compliance with the Return-to-Work Order. Indeed, Jadie gave birth on June 24, 1998. However, as both the NLRC and the Court of Appeals had held, Jadie can no longer be reinstated for the following reasons: (1) Jadie's former position as Captain of the E-50 aircraft no longer existed as said aircraft was already returned to its lessors in accordance with the Amended and Restated Rehabilitation Plan of PAL; (2) Per ATO certification, Jadie's license expired in 1998; (3) the animosity between the parties as engendered by the protracted and heated litigation; (4) the possibility that Jadie had already secured equivalent or other employment after the significant lapse of time since the institution of the Illegal Dismissal Case; and (5) the nature of the business of PAL which requires the continuous operations of its planes and, thus, the hiring of new pilots. In lieu of reinstatement, Jadie is entitled to separation pay.




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