Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 127501 May 5, 2000

CONRADO C. SALVADOR,
petitioner,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS (SPECIAL SIXTH DIVISION), HON. FULGENCIO S. FACTORAN, as the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, HON. GUILLERMO N. CARAGUE, as the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management and THE CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, respondents.

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

The instant Petition for Review seeks to set aside the September 3, 1996 Resolution1 of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 37611 entitled "Remedios T. Blaquera, et al. versus Hon. Fulgencio S. Factoran, Jr."

Petitioner Conrado C. Salvador had been a permanent employee of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (hereinafter referred to as DENR) since 1964. Sometime in 1987, reorganization of the DENR under Executive Order No. 192, dated June 10, 1987, commenced. This resulted in the conversion of the positions of several DENR employees to coterminous, with their term of office ending December 31, 1991. With such threat of termination, several of petitioner's co-employees filed on December 19, 1991 a Petition for Prohibition and Mandmus 2 to stop the DENR from terminating their services. Their case, entitled "Blaquera versus Civil Service Commission," was docketed as G.R. No. 103121.

Meanwhile, during the reorganization of the DENR, petitioner, who prior to said reorganization had held the position of Forestry Supervisor II for almost eight (8) years, was constrained to accept reappointment on September 16, 1988 as Senior Executive Assistant I, R-66/SG-17, a coterminous position with a term not to exceed three (3) years. However, petitioner filed a protest with respondent Civil Service Commission. He was later "promoted", effective February 14, 1992, to the position of Forester III, SG-18, a position still lower in rank and salary than that of Forestry Supervisor II, which he previously held.

During the pendency of G.R. No. 103121, petitioner received a letter, dated January 16, 1992, from Director Cirilo B. Serna of the Forest Management Bureau of DENR,3 informing him that he was deemed terminated from the service effective December 31, 1991, his position being a coterminous position.

Thus, on February 24, 1992, petitioner joined his co-employees as intervenor in G.R. No. 103121, believing that his removal from the service was illegal. This was followed by his Complaint-in-Intervention filed on July 20, 1993. On September 10, 1993, a Decision was rendered in G.R. No. 103121 in favor of the petitioners therein, to wit

WHEREFORE, the petition for certiorari is GRANTED. The removal of the petitioners and intervenors from office is declared null and void. The respondent Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), or his successor in office, is ordered to reinstate the petitioners to their former or equivalent positions in the DENR without loss of seniority and other benefits, and to issue regular and permanent appointments to them for the positions in the new organization and staffing pattern corresponding to their positions in the 1986 plantilla. The respondent Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management, or his successor in office, is ordered to reinstate the appropriation for the salaries of the petitioners and intervenors. The temporary restraining order which the Court issued in this case is made permanent.

The petitioners' motion to cite the public respondents for contempt of court is DENIED for having become moot after the latter's resignation from office upon the change of administration on June 30, 1992. No costs.

SO ORDERED.4

The aforesaid Decision became final and executory on October 25, 1993.

Accordingly, on December 8, 1993, respondent Civil Service Commission issued Resolution No. 94-6623 5 directing the DENR to issue appointments to the petitioners and intervenors, petitioner Conrado C. Salvador included, in G.R. No. 103121, under the same terms and conditions as their employment before the 1987 reorganization.

However, despite the Decision in G.R. No. 103121 and the above-mentioned Resolution of respondent Civil Service Commission, the DENR still failed and refused to reinstate petitioner to his former position or to an equivalent thereof. Meanwhile when a Supervising Forest Management Specialist retired, petitioner applied for that position, since it was the only vacant one equivalent to his former position as Forestry Supervisor II under the 1986 plantilla. Petitioner's application was, however, ignored and instead the Selections and Promotions Board of the Forest Management Bureau of the DENR appointed one Sofio B. Quintana to the position.6

With the continued inaction on his appointment and the appointment of another to an equivalent position as his former one, petitioner filed on February 13, 1995 with this Court a Motion to Cite Certain Respondents in Contempt7 against the chairman and members of the Selections and Promotions Board of the Forest Management Bureau of the DENR and Carlito L. Quiazon, Jr., a field officer of respondent Civil Service Commission. After respondents filed their Comment, the Motion was referred to respondent Court of Appeals where it was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 37611.

On September 3, 1996, respondent Court of Appeals issued the assailed Resolution which denied petitioner Conrado C. Salvador's Motion and ruled further that inasmuch as he was earlier given a permanent appointment in the DENR, he was no longer covered by the Decision in G.R. No. 103121. Respondent court also held that the appointing power of the DENR is discretionary and that petitioner was not entitled to the position he applied for considering that he had no vested right thereto.

Hence, the instant Petition raising the following issues

. . . whether or not the questioned resolution of the respondent Special Sixth Division of the Court of Appeals dated September 3, 1996 amounts to an amendment or modification by the respondent appellate court of the ruling of the Honorable Supreme Court en banc in Blaquera v. Civil Service Commission.

. . . whether or not the motion to cite the chairman and members of the Selections and Promotions Board of the Forest Management Bureau of the DENR as well as Civil Service Commission Field Officer Carlito L. Quiazon, Jr. in contempt of court filed by the petitioner should be granted.8

The ruling in G.R. No. 103121 called for nothing less than the reinstatement of petitioners therein (including petitioner Conrado C. Salvador as intervenor), "to their former or equivalent positions in the DENR without loss of seniority and other benefits, and to issue regular and permanent appointments to them for the positions in the new organization and staffing pattern corresponding to their positions in the 1986 plantilla."

In the assailed Resolution, respondent Court of Appeals ruled that petitioner falls outside the scope of said decision since he accepted a permanent position and thus became different from the petitioners therein who were in danger of losing their jobs. In so ruling, respondent Court of Appeals relied on a DENR Memorandum dated December 22, 1993, regarding the Decision in G.R. No. 103121. The said Memorandum provides in part, as follows

New appointments have to be issued only to the petitioners and intervenors who are still holding their coterminous positions up to the present on the strength of the Temporary Restraining Order previously issued by the High Tribunal in this case which have been made permanent by the Decision. These appointments shall cover the change of their employment status from coterminous to permanent provided they meet the minimum qualifications for the said positions. However, the following petitioners are deemed no longer covered by the Decision:

1. Those who were separated from the service by resignation, retirement, dismissal, death or transfer to other government agencies;

2. Those who accepted appointments to regular/permanent positions either by promotion, demotion or change of item (i.e., lateral movement from a co-terminous position to a similar or equivalent regular/permanent position); and

3. Those who accepted casual or contractual positions.9

The anxiety and fear of losing one's job after more than twenty-seven continuous years of service with the DENR, experienced by petitioner during the time of the reorganization of DENR, must have compelled him to accept a position which was not only lower but of a coterminous status. Any man in such an uncertain and economically threatening condition would be expected to take whatever measures are available to ensure a means of sustenance for himself and his family. This would include finding employment as soon as possible in order to meet the daily financial demands of his family. Petitioner's application for and acceptance of a lower position in the DENR, under the circumstances, was the practical and responsible thing to do, and cannot be construed against him such as to foreclose his right to question the legality of his termination and to claim the position he held previous to the reorganization. Succinctly put, applying for new employment was not a choice for petitioner but a necessity.

In East Asiastic Company Ltd. vs. CIR, 10 this Court has held that the act of finding employment elsewhere does not bar reinstatement of an illegally terminated employee. It was there ruled as follows

Accordingly, both views in the court below must be rectified and the decision appealed from accordingly modified. We hold that the ruling of the majority in the court below to the effect that the respondent Dizon is entitled to backwages only from the time of her dismissal to the date she left for the United States on July 15, 1964 is not good law, in the sense that it fails to consider that in this particular case it is undisputed that respondent's departure for the United States was to look for employment in fulfillment precisely of her obligation to minimize her damages resulting from her unjustified dismissal. As long as the reinstatement of an illegally dismissed worker or employee has not been carried out he can seek employment or work anywhere, including in a foreign country. Surely, his departure from the Philippines for such purpose should not constitute a waiver of his right to reinstatement; it is only if he unjustifiedly or unreasonably refuses to report for work with his former employer after his reinstatement has been ordered or after his employer has offered to reinstate him pursuant to the judgment of the court that he could be considered as having renounced such right. The bare fact of his being actually employed elsewhere in any capacity cannot affect his right to reinstatement, for the option is his to return or not to return to his former work upon knowing of the order or offer of reinstatement; if he opts to return, he has to be reinstated, subject to the conditions as to his backwages already elucidated above; if he refuses to return or imposes uncalled for conditions therefor, then and only then would his right to reinstatement cease, although he would nonetheless be entitled to the same backwages already discussed up to the time of such refusal. . . . . (emphasis ours).

It was thus error for respondent Court of Appeals to exclude petitioner from the coverage of the decision in G.R. No. 103121 simply because he accepted employment while said case was still pending. Petitioner had the right to live during the pendency of the case and naturally the right to accept any form of employment. 11

We now come to the issue of whether or not respondents should be held in contempt. In denying the motion to cite public respondents in contempt of court, respondent Court of Appeals held that even if petitioner was eligible for appointment, he was not entitled to the position of Supervising Forest Management Specialist as a matter of right and that the Selection Board, in appointing someone else, was merely exercising its discretionary powers.

Again, we disagree.

In Tañala vs. Legaspi, 12 it was held that a reinstatement order exacts a ministerial duty from the office concerned:

It appearing that the appellee had been acquitted of the criminal charges that had been filed against him, and the President had reversed the decision of the Commissioner of Civil Service in the administrative case which ordered his separation from the service, and the President had ordered his reinstatement to his position, it results that the suspension and the separation from the service of the appellee were thereby considered illegal. The President had declared that the appellee was entitled to reinstatement in office and the President had ordered that the appellee be reinstated immediately to his office. That order of the President was in accordance with law and it became the ministerial duty of the authorities concerned to comply with that order. When the respondent-appellant City Health Officer Dr. Carlos V. Matriano refused to reinstate the appellee in the office, said appellant had thereby unlawfully excluded the appellee from the enjoyment of a right to which he is entitled. Mandamus lies when a person unlawfully neglects the performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from an office or who unlawfully excludes another from the use or enjoyment of a right or office to which such other is entitled (Sec. 3, Rule 65, Revised Rules of Court). (emphasis ours)

This sentiment was echoed in the later case of San Luis vs. Court of Appeals 1 where it was ruled that

Since private respondent Berroya had established his clear legal right to reinstatement and back salaries under the aforementioned final and executory administrative decisions, it became a clear ministerial duty on the part of the authorities concerned to comply with the orders contained in said decisions [Tañala v. Legaspi, G.R. No. L-22537, March 31, 1965, 13 SCRA 566 at 574-575].

The established rule is that a writ of mandamus lies to enforce a ministerial duty or the 'performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from office, trust or station' [Section 3, Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court; Llanto v. Mohamad Ali Dimaporo, et al., G.R. No. L-21906 March 31, 1996, 16 SCRA 599]. In this case, the appropriate administrative agencies having determined with finality that Berroya's suspension and dismissal were without just cause, his reinstatement becomes a plain ministerial duty of the petitioner Provincial Governor, a duty whose performance may be controlled and enjoined by mandamus [Ynchausti and Co. v. Wright, 47 Phil. 866 (1925); Tee and Co. v. Wright, 53 Phil. 194 (1929); Gementiza v. Court of Appeals, G.R. Nos. L-41717-33, April 12, 1982, 113 SCRA 477; Laganapan v. Asedillo, G.R. No. L-28353, September 30, 1987, 154 SCRA 377].

In the light of these rulings and faced with the clear mandate of G.R. No. 103121 upon respondent DENR to reinstate the petitioners (and petitioner Conrado C. Salvador, as intervenor) "to their former or equivalent positions in the DENR without loss of seniority and other benefits, and to issue regular and permanent appointments to them for the positions in the new organization and staffing pattern corresponding to their positions in the 1986 plantilla," said respondent can not do otherwise but comply.

However, notwithstanding respondent's non-compliance with the decision in G.R. No. 103121, this Court believes that the same does not constitute indirect contempt of court. Disobedience of or resistance to a judgment of a court, to be punishable as contempt, must be willful. In this case, this Court finds that public respondent Secretary of the DENR acted in good faith. True, respondent Secretary committed error in judgment, but that per se cannot be considered contumacious.

WHEREFORE, based on the foregoing, the instant Petition for Review is GRANTED. The September 3, 1996 Resolution of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 37611 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Public respondents are ordered to strictly comply with the Decision in G.R. No. 103121. For the reasons aforestated, the motion to cite respondents in contempt of court is DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

Melo, Kapunan and Purisima, JJ., are on leave.

Footnotes

1 Records, CA-G.R. SP No. 37611, pp. 362-367.

2 Id., at pp. 2-50.

3 Petition for Review, Annex "A; Rollo, p. 29.

4 Decision, G.R. No. 103121, pp. 17-18; Records, CA-G.R. SP No. 37611, pp. 210-211.

5 Petition for Review, Annex "E"; Rollo, pp. 32-35.

6 See Petition for Review, Annex "F"; Rollo, p. 36.

7 Records, CA-G.R. SP No. 37611, pp. 230-236.

8 Petition for Review, p. 10; Rollo, p. 19.

9 See Rollo, p. 91.

10 G.R. No. L-29068, 40 SCRA 521, 537-538 [1971].

11 See Gonzales vs. Hernandez, G.R. No. L-15482, 2 SCRA 228, 233 [1961].

12 G.R. No. L-22537, 13 SCRA 566, 574-575 [1965].

13 G.R. No. 80160, 174 SCRA 258, 272-273 [1989].


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