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[REYNALDO DELA CRUZ v. GOLAR MARITIME SERVICES](https://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/ca278?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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DIVISION

[ GR NO. 141277, Dec 16, 2005 ]

REYNALDO DELA CRUZ v. GOLAR MARITIME SERVICES +

DECISION

514 Phil. 363

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. NO. 141277, December 16, 2005 ]

REYNALDO DELA CRUZ AND ELUR S. NONO, PETITIONERS, VS. GOLAR MARITIME SERVICES, INC. AND GOTAAS LARSEN, LTD., RESPONDENTS,

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

This petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, as amended, seeks to annul and set aside the Resolutions dated 26 May 1999[1] and 16 November 1999[2] of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. SP No. 52587, dismissing the original action for certiorari for having been filed beyond the reglementary period and denying the subsequent motion for reconsideration.

The pertinent facts of the case as culled from the records are as follows:

Sometime in 1996, on different dates, petitioner employees Reynaldo Dela Cruz and Elur Nono were hired and deployed by respondent Golar Maritime Services, Inc., a manning agency, on board the vessel LNGC "Golar Freeze," owned by respondent Gotaas Larsen, Ltd., pursuant to Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) approved shipboard contracts[3] for a contract period of nine (9) months.

On 15 July 1996, before the expiration of petitioner employees' respective contracts, they were repatriated back to the country on charges of disobedience and insubordination.

On 25 October 1996, petitioner employees filed a complaint[4] alleging that they were illegally dismissed. By way of reliefs, they sought the payment of their salaries corresponding to the unexpired portion of their employment contract, reimbursement of repatriation expenses, damages and attorney's fees against respondent Golar Maritime Services, Inc. and Gotaas Larsen, Ltd.

On 16 December 1997, Labor Arbiter Potenciano S. Canizares, Jr. rendered a decision[5] in favor of petitioner employees, the fallo of which states that:
WHEREFORE, the respondents are hereby ordered to pay US$3,127.50 or Php82,253.25 to Reynaldo D. Dela Cruz for the unexpired portion of 3 months and 15 days of his contract of employment; US$5,699.00 or PhP149,883.70 to Elur S. Nono, corresponding to his salaries for the unexpired portion of 8 months and 6 days of his employment contract; US$440.00 or PhP11,572.00 as the full cost of Dela Cruz's repatriation expenses; and US$256.00 or PhP6,732.80 corresponding to Nono's repatriation expenses.

The respondents are further ordered to pay the complainants 10% of the monetary awards as attorney's fees.

Other claims are hereby dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence.

SO ORDERED.
From the adverse decision of the Labor Arbiter, respondent companies appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).[6]

Petitioner employees filed a Manifestation and Motion (to dismiss the appeal filed) before the NLRC, contending that respondent companies failed to file the required adequate or sufficient appeal bond. By reason of which, they have lost their right to appeal the decision rendered by the Labor Arbiter in favor of petitioner employees and said decision has become final and executory.

In its Decision[7] of 05 June 1998, received by petitioner employees on 18 August 1998, the NLRC vacated the aforequoted ruling of the Labor Arbiter and dismissed the instant complaint for lack of merit, viz:
WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is hereby SET ASIDE. The complaint for illegal dismissal including respondents' counterclaim is (sic) dismissed for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.
On 28 August 1998, reconsideration was sought by petitioner employees.

On 09 October 1998, petitioner employees received a copy of the NLRC Resolution[8] dated 14 September 1998 denying their motion for reconsideration.

Undaunted, on 08 December 1998, petitioners went to this Court via a "Petition for Certiorari with a Prayer for the Issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order,"[9] seeking the annulment of said decision. They alleged that the NLRC acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it reversed and set aside the decision by the Labor Arbiter after it has already attained finality.

In a Resolution dated 10 February 1999, however, we referred the petition to the Court of Appeals for appropriate action and disposition consistent with our pronouncement in the case of St. Martin Funeral Home vs. National Labor Relations Commission, et al.[10]

Acting on the petition, in a Resolution dated 26 May 1999, the Court of Appeals resolved to dismiss the same for having been filed beyond the reglementary period pursuant to Section 4 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, to wit:
Pursuant to the amendment to Section 4 of Rule 65 introduced by Supreme Court Circular No. 39-98 which took effect on 1 September 1998 "If the petitioner had filed a motion for new trial or reconsideration in due time after notice of said judgment, order or resolution the period herein fixed shall be interrupted. If the motion is denied the aggrieved party may file the petition within the remaining period but which shall not be less than five (5) days in any event, reckoned from notice of such denial. No extension of time to file the petition shall be granted except for the most compelling reason and in no case to exceed fifteen (15) days," the Court hereby RESOLVES to DISMISS the instant petition for having been filed beyond the reglementary period which expired on 28 November 1998.

SO ORDERED.
On 16 November 1999, the second assailed Resolution was promulgated denying petitioner employees' motion for reconsideration, ratiocinating that:
Settled is the rule, to the point of being elementary, that perfection of an appeal within the statutory or reglementary period is not only mandatory but also jurisdictional (citation omitted); and dismissal of an appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction based on a party's failure to perfect his appeal on time is not a technicality (citation omitted).

SO ORDERED.
Petitioner employees now come to this Court via a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.

As contained in their memorandum, petitioner employees argue that the Court of Appeals grievously erred in dismissing their petition for certiorari considering that:

I.
THE AMENDMENT TO RULE 65 HAD JUST TAKEN EFFECT WHEN THE PETITION FOR CERTIORARI WAS FILED;

II.

RULES OF PROCEDURE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO DEFEAT SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE; and

III.

THE DECISION OF THE HONORABLE LABOR ARBITER IS A FINAL AND EXECUTORY DECISION.
Simply put, the present petition raises as fundamental issues for resolution by the Court questions of procedure whether or not (1) the Court of Appeals committed reversible error in dismissing petitioner employees' petition for certiorari for being filed beyond the reglementary period[11] provided for under Section 4, Rule 65 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended by Supreme Court Circular No. 38-98; and (2) the appeal bond filed was adequate or sufficient to perfect an appeal before the NLRC.

Petitioner employees are of the view that since the amendment to Section 4 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, i.e., Supreme Court Circular No. 38-98, "was fairly new and majority of the members of the legal profession have not adopted it in their practice"[12] it was "in the best interest of justice if the petition was not dismissed." They rationalized further that "[t]he petition, after all, was only ten (10) days late when it was filed. ... [H]ad they been aware of the amendment made by the Supreme Court Circular No. 38-98, the petition would have been prepared on or before November 28, 1998 or a timely motion for extension (of time to file petition) would have been filed."[13] Hence, "[i]t was simply a case of an excusable neglect on the part of the undersigned law firm, for which the petitioners should not have been prejudiced.

At the time of the filing of the earlier[14] petition on 08 December 1998, Supreme Court Circular No. 38-98,[15] which amended Section 4 of Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, had already taken effect two months prior, or on 01 September 1998 after publication in several newspapers of general circulation. The rule, as amended by said circular, reads:
SEC. 4. Where and when petition to be filed. The petition may be filed not later than sixty (60) days from notice of the judgment, order or resolution sought to be assailed in the Supreme Court.... If it involves the acts or omissions of a quasi-judicial agency, and unless otherwise provided by law or these Rules, the petition shall be filed in and cognizable only by the Court of Appeals.

If the petitioner had filed a motion for new trial or reconsideration in due time after notice of said judgment, order or resolution, the period herein fixed shall be interrupted. If the motion is denied, the aggrieved party may file the petition within the remaining period, but which shall not be less than five (5) days in any event, reckoned from notice of such denial. No extension of time to file the petition shall be granted except for the most compelling reason and in no case to exceed fifteen (15) days. (Emphasis supplied.)
The records of the case at bar show that petitioner employees timely filed a motion for reconsideration on 28 August 1998 to the assailed NLRC decision received on 18 August 1998. A copy of the denial of said motion dated 14 September 1998 was likewise received on 09 October 1998. Applying the aforequoted amendment to the foregoing set of dates, clearly, ten (10) days have been consumed. Petitioner employees, thus, had a remaining period of fifty (50) days within which to file the petition for certiorari reckoned from 10 October 1998 or until 28 November 1998. The petition, however, was fi8. The petition, however, was fi ten (10) days beyond the reglementary period prescribed by the amended rule of civil procedure; hence its dismissal.

Be that as it may, the Resolutions of the Court of Appeals dismissing the petition have to be annulled and set aside taking into consideration further amendments made to Section 4 of Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

During the pendency of the case at bar, on 01 September 2000, Supreme Court Circular No. 56-2000[16] further amended Section 4 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The latest amendment to said section reads:
SEC. 4. When and where petition filed. The petition shall be filed not later than sixty (60) days from notice of judgment, order or resolution. In case a motion for reconsideration or new trial is timely filed, whether such motion is required or not, the sixty (60) day period shall be counted from notice of the denial of the said motion.

The petition shall be filed in the same Supreme Court or, if it relates to the acts or omissions of a lower court or of a corporation, board, officer or person, in the Regional Trial Court exercising jurisdiction over the territorial area as defined by the Supreme Court. It may also be filed in the Court of Appeals whether or not the same is in aid of its appellate jurisdiction.
The present procedural issue vexing petitioner employees had already been squarely addressed by this Court in the case of Sps. Victor & Milagros Perez and Cristina Agraviador Aviso vs. Antonio Hermano.[17] For this reason, we deem it apt to quote in toto pertinent portions of the ponencia, viz:
Under this amendment, the 60-day period within which to file the petition starts to run from receipt of notice of the denial of the motion for reconsideration, if one is filed (citation omitted).

In Narzoles v. NLRC,[18] we described this latest amendment as curative in nature as it remedied the confusion brought about by Circular No. 39-98 because, "historically, i.e., even before the 1997 revision to the Rules of Civil Procedure, a party had a fresh period from receipt of the order denying the motion for reconsideration to file a petition for certiorari." Curative statutes, which are enacted to cure defects in a prior law or to validate legal proceedings which would otherwise be void for want of conformity with certain legal requirements, by their very essence, are retroactive (citation omitted). And, being a procedural rule, we held in Sps. Ma. Carmen and Victor Javellana v. Hon. Presiding Judge Benito Legarda (citation omitted) that "procedural laws are construed to be applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage, and are deemed retroactive in that sense and to that extent."
Bearing in mind the abovequoted jurisprudence, petitioner employees 0had a "fresh" 60-day period from the time they received a copy of the assailed Court of Appeals Resolution denying their motion for reconsideration, or from 09 October 1998. Petitioner employees, accordingly, had 60 days from 09 October 1998 within which to file the petition for certiorari. Said petition was filed on 08 December 1998, or on the 60th day; hence, without a doubt, the petition was seasonably filed within the reglementary period provided by the latest amendment aforequoted.

Prescinding from the above, the Court of Appeals committed reversible error in dismissing the petition outright and denying the resultant motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner employees.

Apropos the issue respecting of perfection of respondent companies' appeal to the NLRC, We quote once more the dispositive portion of the Labor Arbiter's decision, to wit:
WHEREFORE, the respondents are hereby ordered to pay US$3,127.50 or Php82,253.25 to Reynaldo D. Dela Cruz for the unexpired portion of 3 months and 15 days of his contract of employment; US$5,699.00 or PhP149,883.70 to Elur S. Nono, corresponding to his salaries for the unexpired portion of 8 months and 6 days of his employment contract; US$440.00 or PhP11,572.00 as the full cost of Dela Cruz's repatriation expenses; and US$256.00 or PhP6,732.80 corresponding to Nono's repatriation expenses.

The respondents are further ordered to pay the complainants 10% of the monetary awards as attorney's fees.

Other claims are hereby dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence.

SO ORDERED. [Emphasis supplied]
Petitioner employees posit that the decision of the Labor Arbiter in their favor had already attained finality upon failure of respondent companies to perfect their appeal to the NLRC. They aver that the appeal bond posted by respondent companies in the amount of P275,485.92[19] was only equivalent to US$6,850.42 at the conversion rate of P39.93[20] to US$1.00. The appealed decision however involves US$9,522.50 in totality. The inadequacy or deficiency of the appeal bond filed by respondent companies was, therefore, a fatal error; not being equivalent to the monetary award as indicated in the judgment appealed from, the period for filing an appeal to the NLRC lapsed without an appeal being perfected, rendering the decision of the Labor Arbiter final and executory.

Petitioner employees cite the case of Cabalan Pastulan Negrito Labor association v. NLRC[21]:
We have no quarrel with the provision of Article 223 of the Labor Code which, in part and among others, requires that in case of a judgment involving a monetary award, an appeal by the employer may be perfected only upon posting of a cash or surety bond x x x in the amount equivalent to the monetary award in the judgment appealed from. Perfection of an appeal within the period and in the manner prescribed by law is jurisdictional and non-compliance with such legal requirements is fatal and has the effect of rendering the judgment final and executory. (Emphasis supplied by petitioner employees.)
to sustain their position that the Court of Appeals committed reversible error in dismissing their petition due to a technicality even if the decision subject of the petition was patently erroneous. Considering that they already had a vested right on the award given them by the final and executory judgment of the Labor Arbiter, as abovestated, the NLRC had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal, let alone reverse the judgment subject of said appeal.

Respondent companies, on the other hand, declare that the appeal bond posted was based on the specified Peso equivalent of the monetary award inclusive of attorney's fees; hence not inadequate nor deficient. Moreover, they argued that the Cabalan case cited was inapplicable, since in that case, the employer was not able to file an appeal bond for want of funds; while respondent companies were able to do so.

Respondent companies also pointed out that the succeeding paragraph in Cabalan made the following qualifications:
However, in a number of cases (citations omitted), the Court has eased the requirement of posting a bond, as a condition for perfection of appeals in labor cases, when to do so would bring about the immediate and appropriate resolution of controversies on the merits without over-indulgence in technicalities (citations omitted), ever mindful of the underlying spirit and intention of the Labor Code to ascertain the facts of each case speedily and objectively without regard to technical rules of law and procedure, all in the interest of due process (citations omitted.)....
They maintain that "[i]f petitioners had read the subsequent paragraph from where it got the cited syllabus in the Cabalan case, petitioners would have realized that ... bolsters respondents' contention that the procedural requirement on posting an appeal bond should be literally construed...." All the foregoing things considered, respondent companies assert that, at the very least, they substantially complied with the rules on the filing of the supersedeas or appeal bond.

We agree.

Petitioner employees' contention on the subject of the inadequacy or deficiency of the appeal bond filed by respondent companies deserves scant consideration.

An appeal bond is required for the perfection of an appeal to the NLRC. Article 223 of the Labor Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 6715,[22] specifically provides that:
ART. 223. Appeal. - ...

In case of a judgment involving a monetary award, an appeal by the employer may be perfected only upon the posting of a cash or surety bond issued by a reputable bonding company duly accredited by the Commission in the amount equivalent to the monetary award in the judgment appealed from. [Emphasis supplied.]

...
From the foregoing, it is clear that the law only requires that the amount of the appeal bond be equivalent to the monetary award in the judgment appealed from. In the case at bar, the Labor Arbiter's decision specified the Peso equivalent of the US dollar amounts awarded, such that the respondent companies could validly choose, as they so chose, to file a cash/surety bond in the specified Peso equivalent. Had the assailed decision not particularly indicated the Peso equivalent, but instead stated "or its Peso equivalent," petitioner employees' line of argument would necessarily require that the Peso equivalent be computed at the official conversion rate on the date of rendition of the decision. Anything less would inevitably result in an inadequate or deficient bond; thus, would result in non-perfection of an appeal before the NLRC. Lamentably, such is not the case here. Petitioner employees' stance failed to consider that foreign currency conversion rates, which by their very nature, are floating.

To adhere to petitioner employees' position would create confusion and possibly result in the dismissal of numerous cases for non-perfection of appeals before the NLRC. This very scenario is what is prevented by the phrase "in the judgment appealed from," which qualifies the requirement that the amount of cash/surety bond be equivalent to the monetary award. In fact, to preclude any confusion, Section 7 of then NLRC Interim Rules provided that:
" For purposes of the bond required under Article 223 of the Labor Code as amended, the monetary award computed as of the date of promulgation of the decision appealed from shall be the basis of the bond. " [Emphasis supplied.]
Furthermore, the accuracy of the Peso equivalent fixed by the Labor Arbiter, the propriety of the latter's actions in pegging the US dollar at a specific rate, and the awarding of backwages in an amount equivalent to more than three (3) months salary are not the material issues herein.

The issue is whether or not the appeal bond filed by respondent companies complied with the provisions of the Labor Code. We have already held that it does.

A final note. We feel the need to point out that the delay incurred by counsel for petitioner employees in filing the petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals was inexcusable. Their counsel's claim of ignorance exacerbates more than relieves him of accountability for his negligence. We can not over-emphasize that lawyers are duty-bound, nay, mandated, by the oath they took, to keep abreast of legal developments and to participate in continuing legal education programs.[23] To reiterate, the perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period permitted by law is not only mandatory, but also jurisdictional. The rules on periods for filing appeals are to be observed religiously, and parties who seek to avail themselves of the privilege must comply with the rules.[24]

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The assailed Resolutions dated 26 May 1999 and 16 November 1999 of the Court of Appeals, in CA G.R. SP No. 52587, are hereby vacated, and the case is REMANDED to it for proper disposition in line with the foregoing discussion.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.



[1] Penned by Court of Appeals Associate Justice Demetrio G. Demetria, with Associate Justices Ramon A. Barcelona and Mariano M. Umali concurring; Annex "A" of the Petition; Rollo, p. 32.

[2] Annex "B" of the Petition; Rollo, p. 31.

[3] Petitioner Dela Cruz's shipboard contract dated 24 January 1996, Records, p. 9; petitioner Nono's shipboard contract dated 20 June 1996, Records, p. 10.

[4] Docketed as NLRC NCR OCW Case No. (M) 00-10-2853-96; Records, p. 2.

[5] Records, pp. 88-97.

[6] Docketed as CA No. 014834-98.

[7] Records, pp. 193-212.

[8] Records, pp. 248-249.

[9] Records, pp. 273-292.

[10] 295 SCRA 494 (1998).

[11] Ten (10) days late.

[12] Petitioner employee's memorandum, p.7; Rollo, p. 420.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Said petition was originally filed with this Court before it was referred to the Court of Appeals per St. Martin Funeral Homes v. NLRC, et al.

[15] Per Supreme Court En Banc Resolution dated 21 July 1998 concerning Bar Matter No. 803-Re: Amendment to Section 4, Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

[16] Per Supreme Court En Banc Resolution dated 01 August 2000 in A.M. No. 00-2-03-SC.

[17] G.R. No. 147417, 08 July 2005.

[18] 341 SCRA 533, 538 (2000).

[19] Sum of all monetary awards in their Peso equivalent as stated in the judgment aforequoted, inclusive of 10% of said sum as attorney's fees.

[20] And that even if the conversion rate of P40.214 to US$1.00 at the time the decision was promulgated was used, according to petitioner employees, the appeal bond filed in the amount of P275,485.92 would still be inadequate for the Peso equivalent of US$9,522.50 would be equal to P382,937.81.

[21] 241 SCRA 643 (1995).

[22] Labor Code of the Philippines.

[23] Canon 5, Code of Professional Responsibility.

[24] Ditching v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 109834, 18 October 1996, 263 SCRA 343.

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