G.R. No. 122955 April 15, 1998
ST. THERESA'S SCHOOL OF NOVALICHES FOUNDATION and ADORACION ROXAS, petitioners,
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and ESTHER REYES, respondents.
Justitia nemini neganda est. Justice is to be denied to none. The law, while protecting the rights of the employees, authorizes either the oppression nor destruction of the employer. 1 When the law angles the scale of Justice in favor of labor, the scale should never be so tilted if the result is an injustice to the employer. 2
The petition at bench seeks to modify the Resolution issued on November 29, 1994 by the National labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and its Decision of 29 November, 1995 in NLRC NCR Case No. 00-6078-94.
Petitioners contend that the public respondent acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in handing down its disposition wherein, notwithstanding the finding that the dismissal of private respondent was valid, it awarded backwages for the latter, computed from November 12, 1993 up to the time of rendition of the decision under attack.
Undisputed are the following facts:
Petitioner Adoracion Roxas is the president of St. Theresa's School of Novaliches Foundation. She hired private respondent, Esther Reyes, on a contract basis, for the period from June 1, 1991 to March 31, 1992. However, private respondent commenced work on May 2, 1991. During the said period of employment, private respondent became ill. She went on a leave of absence from February 17 to 21 and from February 24 to 28, 1992, such leave of absence having been duly approved by petitioner Roxas. On March 2, 1992, private respondent reported for work, but she only stayed in her place of work from 6:48 to 9:38 a.m. Thereafter, she never returned. For what reason did private respondent stop working?
Petitioners theorize that the private respondent abandoned her work. On the other hand, the latter maintains that she was replaced. When she went back to work on February 20, 1992, she found out that her table, chair, and other belongings were moved to a corner of their office, and she was replaced by Annie Roxas, daughter of petitioner Adoracion Roxas. She tried to contact her employer but the latter could not be found within the school premises.
On March 25, 1992, petitioners sent private respondent a letter by registered mall, informing her that her contract, due to expire on March 31, 1992, would not be renewed. Prior thereto, or on March 3, 1992, to be precise, the private respondent instituted NLRC NCR Case No. 00-033-01481-92 3 against the herein petitioners for "unfair labor practice based on harrassment, illegal dismissal, 13th month pay, allowances, removal of desk and chair form place of work, and refusal to communicate, moral and exemplary damages." 4 On November 12, 1993, absent any amicable settlement hammered out by the parties, the Labor Arbiter came out with a decision, disposing, thus:
WHEREFORE, responsive to the foregoing, judgment is hereby ordered declaring complainant (sic) dismissal from the service illegal. Respondent is hereby ordered to reinstate complainant to her former position without loss of seniority rights and to pay for full backwages from the time of dismissal to her actual reinstatement in the amount of Seventy Six Thousand Seven Hundred One (P76,701.00) Pesos.
Respondent is hereby ordered to pay complainant P25,000 as moral damages and P10,000 by way of exemplary damages.
Respondent (sic) are further assessed attorney's fees of 10% of the award.
On December 7, 1993, after posting the necessary supersedeas bond, petitioners appealed the aforesaid decision to the NLRC.
On January 12, 1994, private respondent presented a Motion for Partial Execution of the reinstatement aspect of the labor Arbiter's decision.
On April 5, 1994, when no action was taken by the Labor Arbiter on her motion, she filed a Motion for Immediate Resolution, and, on July 13, 1994, after three months, still without any action taken by the same Labor Arbiter on her yearning, the private respondent sent in a second Motion for Immediate Resolution. However, Labor Arbiter Raul T. Aquino was appointed as Commissioner of the NLRC, thereby leaving subject motions of private respondent unresolved.
On November 29, 1994, petitioners' appeal, docketed as NLRC NCR Case No. 006078-94, was resolved in the assailed Resolution of the Second Division of the NLRC; disposing, as follows:
WHEREFORE, all premises considered, the decision of the Labor Arbiter below dated November 12, 1993 is hereby reversed and set aside and another one rendered, declaring the separation of Esther Reyes from service legal and valid.
However, respondent is directed to pay the backwages of herein complainant from November 12, 1993 up to the date of the promulgation of this Resolution.
Therefrom, both parties moved for reconsideration; petitioners assailing the award of backwages in favor of private respondent.
On November 29, 1995, the same Second Division of NLRC rendered its challenged Decision, denying subject motions for reconsideration.
Sometime in February 1996, the private respondent filed with NLRC a Motion for Execution, through the deciding Labor Arbiter. But until now, no writ of execution issued. Unfortunately for private respondent, she never interposed any appeal from NLRC's ruling, upholding the validity of her dismissal. It is therefore settled, beyond the reach of this court's power of review, that private respondent's employment was validly terminated.
On the part of petitioners, they have come here to question the award of backwages for the private respondent, whose dismissal has been upheld with finality.
Before delving into and passing upon the propriety of the assailed award of backwages, which is the core of the Petition before us, the court takes note of the undisputed fact that private respondent was employed on a contract basis.
Article 280 of the Labor Code does not proscribe or prohibit an employment contract with a fixed period provided the same is entered into by the parties, without any force, duress or improper pressure being brought to bear upon the employee and absent any other circumstance vitiating consent. It does not necessarily follow that where the duties of the employee consist of activities usually necessary or desirable in the usual business of the employer, the parties are forbidden from agreeing on a period of time for the performance of such activities. There is thus nothing essentially contradictory between a definite period of employment and the nature of the employee's duties. 5
It goes without saying that contracts or employment govern the relationship of the parties. In this case, private respondent's contract provided for a fixed term of nine (9) months, from June 1, 1991 to March 31, 1992. Such stipulation, not being contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order and public policy, is valid, binding and must be respected. 6
It bears stressing that private teachers are subject to special rules with respect to requisites for their permanent employment and security of tenure, to wit:
1. He must be a full time teacher;
2. He must have rendered at least three consecutive years of service: and,
3. Such service must be satisfactory. 7
This is in accord with the Manual of Regulations for Private Schools issued by the then Department of Education. 8
We now tackle the pivotal point of inquiry — the award of backwages in favor of private respondent, is it proper in light of the finding that her dismissal was valid?
The term "backwages" has been defined as that for earnings lost by a worker due to his illegal dismissal. 9 Backwages are generally granted on grounds of equity. 10 Payment thereof is a form of relief that restores the income lost by reason of such unlawful dismissal. 11 It is not private compensation or damages, but is awarded in furtherance and effectuation of the public objectives of the labor Code. Nor is it a redress of a private right but, rather, in the nature of a command to the employer to make public reparation for dismissing an employee, either due to the former's unlawful act or bad faith. 12
Jurisprudence is filled to the brim with cases wherein backwages were awarded to an employee illegally dismissed. 13 But where, as in this case of a pitiful employee rendered hapless by her lawyer's inaction or ignorance, the dismissal has been adjudged valid and lawful, the challenged award of backwages is decidedly improper and contrary to law and jurisprudence.
WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED; the Decision of the respondent NLRC rendered on November 29, 1995 in NLRC NCR Case No. 00-6078-94 is hereby MODIFIED by deleting therefrom the award of backwages in question. No pronouncement as to costs.
Narvasa, C.J., Romero and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
1 Pacific Miles, Inc. v. Alonzo, 199 SCRA 617 .
2 Philippine Geothermal, Inc. v. NLRC, 236 SCRA 371 .
3 Rollo, p. 7.
5 Brent School Inc., v. Zamora, et al., G.R. No. 48494, February 5, 1990.
6 Pantranco North Express, Inc. v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 106654, December 16, 1994.
7 Cagayan Capitol College, et al., v. NLRC, et al., G.R. Nos. 90010-11, September 14, 1990.
8 Espiritu Santo Parochial School et al., v. NLRC, et al, G.R. No. 82325, September 26, 1989.
9 Citytrust Banking Corporation v. NLRC, G.R. No. 104860, July 11, 1996.
10 Belaunzaran v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 120038, December 23, 1996.
11 Espejo v. NLRC and Cooperative Insurance of the Philippines, G.R. No. 112678, March 29, 1996.
12 Imperial Textile Mills, Inc. v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 101527, January 19, 1993.
13 Indophil Acrylic Mfg. Corporation v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 96488, September 27, 1993; Lopez v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 109166, July 6, 1995; Davao Free Workers Front, et al., v. CIR, et al., G.R. No. L-29356. October 31, 1974; NASSCO v. CIR, et al., G.R. No. L-31852 June 28, 1974; Feati University, et al., G.R. No. L-31563, August 15, 1974; Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd, Employees Association v. Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd., G.R. No. L-25291, March 10, 1977; Philippine Rock Products, Inc. et al. v. PAPLU, et al., G.R. No. L-32829, August 30, 1974.
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