Republic of the Philippines



G.R. No. L-39741 May 30, 1975


Pacifico C. Rosal for petitioners.

Anacleto S. Magno for private respondents.

FERNANDO, J.:+.wph!1

The assumption of jurisdiction by the then respondent Judge of the Court of First Instance of Manila, now Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals Mariano V. Agcaoili,1 is assailed by petitioner Nation Multi Service Labor Union and the individual employees concerned2 in this certiorari and prohibition proceeding, primarily on the ground that in doing so, respondent Judge acted contrary to the basic purpose of Presidential Decree No. 21 creating the now defunct National Labor Relations Commission. Its objective of assuring the effective and speedy determination of labor controversies was, so it is contended, set at naught. Petitioners find no justification in the long travail undergone by them to vindicate their rights disregarded by private respondents, needlessly prolonged. Stress is laid on the fact that the matter in controversy had been heard and passed upon first by a compulsory arbitrator, then the National Labor Relations Commission, and lastly by the Secretary of Labor. With the then respondent Judge entertaining a suit for prohibition3 filed by private respondents, there resulted a frustration of the implementation of an order that had reached the stage of finality. For it is only the President who under such decree can overrule him.4 That step private respondents did not take. Clearly the fruits of victory were in effect denied petitioners. Even on the assumption then that not even the presence of a legal question, one of constitutional dimension in the opinion of the then respondent Judge, could be relied upon for the exercise of the conceded judicial power to inquire into a grave abuse of discretion, it does not by any means follow that this present petition is lacking in merit. For a careful study of what had transpired would indicate that the alleged lack of procedural due process, merely because at the stage of appeal to the National Labor Relations Commission private respondents were not notified, would not suffice to justify judicial intervention. As admitted by them, they were heard by the compulsory arbitrator and by the Secretary of Labor. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that while the then respondent Judge could not be said to be devoid of competence, there is nothing in the prohibition suit filed by private respondents to warrant any further delay in the enforcement of the decision of the Secretary of Labor in favor of petitioners. They are thus entitled to the remedies prayed for.

There was no denial of the factual allegations in the petition in the comment of private respondents considered as their answer. The present controversy originated from three unfair labor practice cases filed with the National Labor Relations Commission created under Presidential Decree No. 21.5 A certain Francisco Jose was designated compulsory arbitrator.6 Then hearings were held with private respondents presenting their respective witnesses, two of them being Eustacio Maloles and George Crame. Documentary evidence was likewise introduced. After which, on March 25, 1974, the compulsory arbitrator handed down his decision declaring respondents guilty of unfair labor practice acts, violative of Presidential Decree No. 21.7 There was an appeal by private respondents to the National Labor Relations Commission.8 It was fruitless. After a study of the evidence, the Commission on July 19, 1974, modified the appealed decision of the compulsory arbitrator and held that private respondents are the employers of the individual petitioners. 9 Not satisfied, private respondents elevated the matter to the Secretary of Labor. 10 Petitioners interposed an objection to such appeal as it was not under oath and was moreover filed after the reglementary period. 11 Nonetheless, the Secretary considered such appeal on its merits, reviewed the evidence on record submitted by the parties during the compulsory arbitration and promulgated a resolution dated October 23, 1974 affirming in toto the decision of the NLRC en banc specifically declaring that private respondents are the employers of herein petitioners. 12 Notwithstanding the finality of the Secretary of Labor's decision, which are appealable only to the President, under Presidential Decree No. 21, private respondents on October 26, 1974, instituted with the Court of First Instance of Manila presided over by the respondent Judge, a petition for certiorari with prayer for preliminary injunction to nullify the decision of the Secretary of Labor. 13 Then, without notice and hearing, it issued the temporary restraining order dated November 8, 1974. 14

Petitioners on the above facts, to repeat, must prevail. Even if it be conceded that the Court of First Instance is vested with jurisdiction, there was a grave abuse of discretion. Certiorari and prohibition lie.

1. Petitioners have in their favor an order from the Secretary of Labor Blas F. Ople, dated October 23, 1974. It reads thus: "Respondents, through counsel, interposed this present appeal from the Decision of the National Labor Relations Commission dated 19 July 1974, ordering respondent Ambassador Hotel, Inc. to reinstate the complainants with backwages. After a review of the records we find no sufficient reason or justification to alter or modify the Decision of the Commission appealed from, and the same is hereby [affirmed]. It may, in addition, be observed that the records clearly reflect the employer-employee relationship between the individual complainants and respondent Ambassador Hotel, Inc., gleaned from the different certifications of employment and other pertinent documents issued by Ambassador's president manager, Santiago Soliven, and its executive housekeeper, Mrs. Violeta P. Coronel. [In the light of the foregoing circumstances,] and considering the dismissal of complainants from their work by reason of their union affiliations and activities, respondent Ambassador Hotel, Inc. is hereby ordered to reinstate the complainants to their former positions with backwages. Respondent's appeal is dismissed for lack of merit and the Commission decision appealed from affirmed." 15 Under Presidential Decree No. 21, it has attained the status of finality. The appropriate step to take if private respondents were dissatisfied was to appeal to the President. So it was provided in such decree. They did not do so. It would have been executed then were it not for the action instituted in the sala of respondent Judge, who is on record as entertaining such suit only because of the vehemence with which the private respondents raised the procedural due process objection. A more careful scrutiny, however, would have yielded a different conclusion. The factual basis for a binding determination was laid before the compulsory arbitrator. He sustained petitioners, except that he did not agree that there was an employer-employee relationship between individual petitioners and private respondents. There was an appeal to the former National Labor Relations Commission. He was reversed, the finding being to the effect that there was employer-employee relationship. Then the matter was elevated to the Secretary of Labor, who, as shown above, ruled squarely and categorically in favor of petitioners.

It is true that in the appeal to the National Labor Relations Commission, there was an oversight. Private respondents were not notified. That is not to be visited with fatal consequences for petitioners. At that stage, no additional factual evidence could have been introduced. The compulsory arbitrator was reversed on a question of law by the Commission. It was the ruling that he was mistaken in his appraisal of the proof offered. There was an employer-employee relationship contrary to what he did find. At any rate, private respondents still had a remedy. The Secretary of Labor was there to protect their interest assuming they had a valid grievance. An appeal was taken to him as provided in the decree. The Secretary of Labor categorically observed "that the records clearly reflect the employer-employee relationship between the individual complainants and respondent Ambassador Hotel, Inc., gleaned from the different certifications of employment and other pertinent documents issued by Ambassador's president manager, Santiago Soliven, and its executive housekeeper, Mrs. Violeta P. Coronel." 16 How can it complain then about the failure to comply with the procedural due process requirement? Only recently, in Maglasang v. Ople, 17 it was, held: "It is thus apparent that even granting the absence of any hearing at the stage of mediation and factfinding, petitioner was afforded the occasion to explain matters fully and present its controversy twice, the first time in his appeal with respondent Commission and thereafter in the review conducted by respondent Secretary of Labor. It would follow that the objection premised on lack of respect for the due process guarantee lacks support in the record." 18 Considering then the above circumstances, with private respondents having a full and unimpeded opportunity to cure any due process deficiency, its reliance on such objection is vain and futile. Such is the prevailing doctrine. Under such a view, a restraining order could have been avoided. Such an approach would be in consonance with the constitutional mandates of protection to labor 19 and social justice. 20 Petitioners are thus entitled to the remedies of certiorari and prohibition as they have clearly made out a grave abuse of discretion. 21

2. It is also a matter of significance that there was an appeal to the President. So it is explicitly provided by the Decree. That was a remedy both adequate and appropriate. It was in line with the executive determination, after the proclamation of martial law, to leave the solution of labor disputes as much as possible to administrative agencies and correspondingly to limit judicial participation. That was to reflect a trend both here and abroad to expedite the disposition of such cases. Unfortunately, private respondents were of different persuasion. They were not above the employment of a strategem the effect of which would be to countenance evasion. The judiciary must be alert to such tactics. In the more traditional language of the law, there should be an insistence on the exhaustion of administrative remedies. 22 Lastly, from the procedural standpoint, it bears repeating that prohibition is available only if there is no remedy by appeal. 23 Such is not the case here. What other conclusion is there except that the suit for prohibition filed by private respondents with respondent Judge was bereft of support in law?

3. It is to be made clear that this decision deals specifically with a proceeding before the defunct National Labor Relations Commission. Nothing in the opinion should be construed as having reference to the procedure to be followed and the role of the courts where judicial intervention is sought in controversies passed upon by the present National Labor Relations Commission created under the new Labor Code. 24

WHEREFORE, the writ of certiorari is granted, and the restraining order of the then respondent Judge dated November 8, 1974, as well as his order of November 18, 1974, are nullified, set aside and considered to be bereft of any legal force or effect. The writ of prohibition is likewise granted, and the Judge designated to take the place of the respondent Judge who had since then been appointed to the Court of Appeals is restrained from taking any further action on the petition for prohibition filed by private respondents, Civil Case No. 95831 of the Court of First Instance of Manila, Sixth Judicial District, Branch XXIX, except to dismiss it in accordance with this decision. Costs against private respondents.

Barredo, Antonio, Aquino and Concepcion, Jr., JJ., concur.1wph1.t



1 The private respondents are Ambassador Hotel, Inc. and Simeon Nicolas Chan.

2 The individual petitioners are Paulina H. de los Reyes, Eulalia Lising, Crisostomo D. Sasis, Alfredo Baes, Segundo Dominguez, Ismael Royol, Jr., Jesus Ramos, Virgilio Laureano, Hernande de Guzman, Magarlo Amisola, Alfredo Daanay, Johnny Bibit, Edgardo de Guzman, Mariano Uchi, Domingo Aquino, Jr., Mario Concepcion, Gomer Litong, Felix Dolores, Antonio Deyta, Rafael Acena, Ricardo Fetizanan, and Jose de Jesus.

3 Ambassador Hotel, Inc. and Simeon Nicholas Chan v. Hon. Blas F. Ople, Secretary of Labor and Nation Multi Service Labor Union-NATU, Civil Case No. 95831, Court of First Instance of Manila.

4 The first paragraph of Section 5 of Presidential Decree No. 21 reads as follows: "The decision of the Commission shall be immediately executory unless appealed to the Secretary of Labor who shall act on all cases within five (5) days from filing. The latter's decision is appealable to the President."

5 Petition, par. V.

6 Ibid, par. VI.

7 Ibid, par. VII.

8 Ibid, par. VIII.

9 Ibid, par. IX.

10 Ibid, par. X.

11 Ibid, pars. XI and XII.

12 Ibid, par. XII.

13 Ibid, par. XVII.

14 Ibid, par. XVIII.

15 Resolution dated October 23, 1974.

16 Ibid.

17 L-38813, April 29,1975.

18 Ibid. The following cases were cited: Demaronsing v. Tandayag, L-27057, Aug. 21, 1974, 58 SCRA 484; De Borja v. Flores, 62 Phil. 106 (1935); De Borja v. Tan, 93 Phil. 167 (1953); Flash Taxicab Co. v. Cruz, L-15464, March 30, 1963; 7 SCRA 518; Caltex (Phil.) Inc. v. Castillo, L-24657, Nov. 27, 1967, 21 SCRA 1071 and Batangas Laguna Tayabas Bus Co. v. Cadiao, L-28725, March 12, 1968, 22 SCRA 987.

19 According to Article II, Section 9 of the Constitution: "The State shall afford protection to labor, promote full employment, ensure equal work opportunities regardless of sex, race, or creed, and regulate the relations between workers and employers. The State shall assure the rights of workers to self-organization, collective bargaining, security of tenure, and just and humane conditions of work. The State may provide for compulsory arbitration."

20 According to Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution: "The State shall promote social justice to ensure the dignity, welfare, and security of all the people. Towards this end, the State shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use, enjoyment, and disposition of private property, and equitably diffuse property ownership and profits."

21 Cf. Cosmos Foundry Shop Workers Union v. Lo Bu, L-40136, March 25, 1975.

22 Cf. Secretary of Agriculture v. De los Angeles, L-30215, Feb. 20, 1972, 43 SCRA 494 tracing the growth of the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies from Ang Tuan Kai v. Import Control Commission, 91 Phil. 143 (1952) and Coloso v. Board of Accountancy, 92 Phil. 938 (1952) to Allied Brokerage Corp. v Commissioner of Customs, L-27641, Aug. 31, 1971, 40 SCRA 555. Thirty-five other decisions were cited. Since then, such a norm has been applied in the following cases: Commissioner of Immigration v. Vamenta Jr., L-34030, May 31, 1972, 45 SCRA 342; Barte v. Dichoso, L-28715, Sept. 28, 1972, 47 SCRA 77; Sanoy v. Tantuico Jr., L-31945, April 30, 1973, 50 SCRA 455; Quintos, Jr. National Stud Farm, L-37052, Nov. 29, 1973, 54 SCRA 210; Imbong Oil Industry Commission, L-34725-30 Jan. 17, 1974, 55 SCRA 95.

23 Cf. Rule 65, Section 1 of the Rules of Court.

24 Cf. Article 212 of Presidential Decree No. 442 as amended (1974).

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