Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 172624               December 5, 2011

PABLO POLSOTIN, JR., ARWIN RAYALA, GERONIMO LIMPANTE, RAUL DOMDOM, AND OSCAR ANDRIN, Petitioners,
vs.
DE GUIA ENTERPRISES, INC., Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

A worker cannot be deprived of his job, a property right, without satisfying the requirements of due process. As enshrined in our bill of rights, no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.1

This Petition for Review on Certiorari2 assails the January 26, 2006 Decision3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 89644, which denied due course and dismissed the Petition for Certiorari filed therewith by petitioners Pablo Polsotin, Jr. (Polsotin), Arwin Rayala (Rayala), Geronimo Limpante (Limpante), Raul Domdom (Domdom) and Oscar Andrin (Andrin) and consequently, affirmed the National Labor Relations Commissionís (NLRC) dismissal of their appeal for non-compliance with procedural rules. Also assailed is the May 3, 2006 Resolution4 of the CA wherein said court likewise refused to give due course to petitionersí Motion for Reconsideration and instead affirmed and reiterated its assailed Decision.

Factual Antecedents

Petitioners Polsotin, Rayala, Limpante, Domdom and Andrin (petitioners) were bus drivers and conductors of respondent De Guia Enterprises, Inc. (respondent). Alleging that they were dismissed without cause and due process, petitioners filed on July 17, 2001 a complaint for illegal dismissal and payment of backwages and damages against respondent before the NLRC.

During the hearings set before the Labor Arbiter, respondent failed to appear despite due notice.5 It likewise failed to timely submit its position paper. Thus, on the last hearing held on January 14, 2002, the case was submitted for decision.6

On February 8, 2002, respondent filed its position paper without furnishing petitioners a copy of the same.7

Ruling of the Labor Arbiter

On December 27, 2002, the Labor Arbiter rendered a Decision8 dismissing petitionersí complaint for lack of merit. It held that petitioners were validly terminated from employment for violation of company rules and regulations as well as for gross and habitual neglect of duties as supported by petitionersí employment records submitted by respondent. The Labor Arbiter added that the

procedural requirements for dismissing petitioners were likewise satisfied.

Ruling of the National Labor Relations Commission

Without the assistance of counsel, petitioners, through Rayala as their representative, filed a Memorandum of Appeal9 with the NLRC. They contended that the Labor Arbiter committed grave abuse of discretion in rendering a decision anchored mainly on respondentís evidence. It was their assertion that by failing to appear at the scheduled hearings and to file a position paper on time without any justifiable reason, respondent should have been deemed to have waived its right to submit its own evidence. Thus, they prayed that respondentís belatedly filed position paper be considered a mere scrap of paper. They also pointed out that said position paper interposed arguments only as against petitioners Polsotin and Rayala and thus cannot be used against the other petitioners.

In a Resolution10 dated January 30, 2004, the NLRC dismissed the appeal for failure of petitioners to append thereto a certificate of non-forum shopping and proof of service upon the other party. The NLRC then affirmed the Decision appealed from.

From this resolution, petitioners moved for reconsideration by explaining that their lapses were due to their ignorance of the existence of the New Rules of Procedure of the NLRC. Nevertheless, they clarified that they managed to duly furnish the respondent a copy of their Memorandum of Appeal and that the registry receipt showing proof of service was attached to the original copy of the said pleading when it was filed with the docket section of the NLRC. Moreover, at the bottom of said motion for reconsideration is a certification that there is no pending case involving the same cause of action in any court and that petitioners did not commit forum-shopping.11

The motion for reconsideration was however denied by the NLRC in an Order12 dated February 18, 2005.

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

Petitioners filed a Petition for Certiorari13 imploring the CA to be more liberal in the application of the rules of procedure considering that their dismissal from service was effected without due process as they were not given ample opportunity to be heard and to refute respondentís allegations against them. They prayed that their appeal be given due course.

On January 26, 2006, the CA rendered a Decision14 denying due course and dismissing the petition for the following reasons: first, the verification and certification of non-forum shopping attached to the petition was not signed by all of the petitioners; and, second, there was no showing of grave abuse of discretion since the NLRC merely complied with the procedural rules governing appeals before it. Therefore, it could not be faulted in denying petitionersí appeal.

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration15 which was, however, denied by the CA in its Resolution16 dated May 3, 2006.1awphi1

Hence, petitioners, again without the benefit of counsel, brought this case before this Court to once more seek leniency in the application of the rules. It was only on September 8, 2010 or after the parties have submitted their respective Memoranda that the Public Attorneyís Office entered its appearance on behalf on the petitioners.17 On January 31, 2011, we resolved to note said entry of appearance.18

Issue

WHETHER X X X IN SPITE OF TECHNICALITIES, PETITIONERS ARE STILL ENTITLED TO X X X DUE CONSIDERATION OF THEIR PETITION X X X.19

Our Ruling

We find merit in the petition.

Strict application of technical rules should be set aside to serve the broader interest of substantial justice.

Petitionersí appeal before the NLRC was dismissed purely on technical grounds as it did not contain the required certification of non-forum shopping and proof of service upon the respondent. Immediately, petitioners rectified these lapses by filing their motion for reconsideration indicating therein that there was no intention on their part to commit forum shopping and that the registry receipt showing proof of service upon respondent was attached to their Memorandum of Appeal filed with the NLRC. With respect to their petition for certiorari with the CA, petitioners failed to affix their individual signatures on top of their typewritten names in the verification and certification of non-forum shopping attached to the petition. On this basis and on the conclusion that the NLRC did not commit grave abuse of discretion in dismissing petitionersí appeal on technical grounds, the CA denied due course to the petition and dismissed the same.

Note, however, that in both instances, petitioners were not represented by a lawyer. They had no counsel on record and had been filing and signing all pleadings only through their representative, petitioner Rayala. There was no showing that their case was directly handled or at the very least, that they were assisted by a counsel. Not being lawyers, petitionersí lack of thorough understanding of procedural rules as well as the importance of its strict observance is understandable. As held in a case,20 a non-lawyer litigant cannot be expected to be well-versed on the rules of procedure as even the most experienced lawyers get tangled in the web of procedure.

Aware that petitioners are not represented by counsel, the CA could have been more prudent by giving petitioners time to engage the services of a lawyer or at least by reminding them of the importance of retaining one. It is worthy to mention at this point that the right to counsel, being intertwined with the right to due process, is guaranteed by the Constitution to any person whether the proceeding is administrative, civil or criminal.21 The CA should have extended some degree of liberality so as to give the party a chance to prove their cause with a lawyer to represent or to assist them.

In line with this and as "the right of counsel is absolute and may be invoked at all times",22 we required petitioners to enter the appearance of a counsel.23 Upon petitionersí manifestation of their failure to secure the services of a counsel due to financial constraints, the Court resolved to appoint a counsel de oficio to assist them in litigating their case.24

It bears stressing that "the dismissal of an employeeís appeal on purely technical ground is inconsistent with the constitutional mandate on protection to labor."25 The Court has often set aside the strict application of procedural technicalities to serve the broader interest of substantial justice.26

Petitioners were denied the right to due process.

A careful consideration of the facts of the case convinces us that petitionersí appeal should have been given due course. It may be recalled that respondent failed to timely submit its position paper when required by the Labor Arbiter, hence, the case was submitted for decision sans the same. Nonetheless, when respondent filed its position paper, the Labor Arbiter admitted the same and relied on it in coming up with a decision that petitioners were validly terminated. More important is that petitioners were not even furnished a copy of respondentís position paper in order for them to refute the contents and allegations therein. And since neither did respondent appear in any of the hearings conducted before the Labor Arbiter, petitioners were never really afforded an opportunity to rebut respondentís allegations and charges against them or to introduce evidence to refute them. Petitionersí right to due process was thus clearly violated.

Indeed, labor tribunals are mandated to use all reasonable means to ascertain the facts in each case speedily, objectively and without regard to technicalities of law or procedure.27 However, in every proceeding before it, the fundamental and essential requirements of due process should not to be ignored but must at all times be respected.28 Besides, petitionersí case concerns their job, considered as a property right, of which they could not be deprived of without due process.29

From the foregoing considerations, we find that the NLRC gravely erred in denying due course to petitionersí appeal and in sustaining the Labor Arbiterís Decision as same infringed upon petitionersí right to due process. We, therefore, remand the case to the Labor Arbiter to afford petitioners the opportunity to refute the allegations advanced by respondent, with the assistance of their counsel de oficio.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The January 26, 2006 Decision and May 3, 2006 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 89644 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The case is REMANDED to the Labor Arbiter a quo for further proceedings, in consonance with the requirements of due process.

SO ORDERED.

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice
Chairperson

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
Associate Justice

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courtís Division.

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice


Footnotes

1 Constitution, Article III, Section 1.

2 Rollo, pp. 3-9.

3 CA rollo, pp. 97-103; penned by Associate Justice Jose L. Sabio, Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Jose C. Mendoza (now a member of this Court) and Arturo G. Tayag.

4 Id. at 121.

5 See Minutes of Hearing before the Labor Arbiter dated August 28, 2001, September 27, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 29, 2001, January 3, 2002 and January 14, 2002, rollo, pp 25-30.

6 Id. at 30.

7 Id. at 32.

8 CA rollo, pp. 10-14; penned by Labor Arbiter Waldo Emerson R Gan.

9 Id. at 15-18.

10 Id. at 19-21; penned by Presiding Commissioner Roy V. Señeres and concurred in by Commissioners Vicente S.E. Veloso and Romeo L. Go.

11 Petitionersí Motion for Reconsideration dated February 26, 2004, id. at 22-24.

12 Id. at 25-26.

13 Id. at 2-9.

14 Supra note 3.

15 CA rollo, pp. 106-109.

16 Id. at 121.

17 Rollo, p. 155.

18 Id. at 159.

19 Id. at 137.

20 Hilario v. People, G.R. No. 161070, April 14, 2008, 551 SCRA 191, 201.

21 Salaw v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 90786, September 27, 1991, 202 SCRA 7, 13.

22 Telan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 95026, October 4, 1991, 202 SCRA 534, 541.

23 See Courtís Minute Resolution dated September 18, 2006, rollo, p. 58.

24 See Courtís Minute Resolution dated July 28, 2010, id. at 154.

25 Pagdonsalan v. National Labor Relations Commission, 212 Phil. 426, 430 (1984).

26 Estribillo v. Department of Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 159674, June 30, 2006, 494 SCRA 218, 227; Agulto v. Tecson, 512 Phil. 760, 770 (2005); Great Southern Maritime Services Corp. v. Acuña, 492 Phil. 518, 529 (2005).

27 Labor Code, Article 221.

28 Ang Tibay v. Court of Industrial Relations, 69 Phil. 635, 641-642 (1940).

29 Globe-Mackay Cable and Radio Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 82511, March 3, 1992, 206 SCRA 701, 706; Brahm Industries, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 345 Phil. 1077, 1080 (1997).


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