SC ruling on PAL involves 'miraculous resurrection of the dead,' says Leonen

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2018 07:19 PM

MANILA- The Supreme Court's (SC) reversal of its earlier ruling that Philippine Airlines (PAL) illegally retrenched over 1,400 flight attendants and stewards in 1998 is an "extraordinary case" that "involves the miraculous resurrection of the dead," Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said in his dissenting opinion.

"I dissent. This is an extraordinary case. Like in the Book of Revelation, it involves the miraculous resurrection of the dead: in this case, a dead case," Leonen said.
 
In a 55-page decision, dated March 13, penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the high court reversed the decision, dated July 22, 2008, and resolution, dated October 2, 2009 of its Third Division, which found PAL guilty of unlawful retrenchment and ordered the reinstatement of the retrenched cabin crew. 

In its latest decision, the high court ruled that "PAL had met all the standards in effecting a valid retrenchment."

The ruling was in favor of PAL's motion for reconsideration (MR); petitioner Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines' (FASAP) motion for reconsideration, meantime, was junked. 

The airline embarked on a retrenchment and demotion scheme on June 15, 1998, effective July 15, 1998, due to severe financial losses.

In his dissent, Leonen said the assailed July 2008 decision and October 2009 resolution "have become immutable" and "final and executory" on November 4, 2009. 

The high court ruled on September 7, 2011 in favor of the retrenched employees, but recalled the ruling on October 4, 2011, after PAL lawyer Estelito Mendoza wrote the high court pointing out that it should have been the Third Division, not the Second Division, that decided the case. Mendoza's letters were treated as a separate administrative case.

Leonen said the decision in favor of FASAP could no longer be disturbed by PAL's 2nd MR; the September 7, 2011 resolution denying PAL's second MR; the filing of letters questioning the internal procedures of the high court; the October 4, 2011 en banc resolution recalling the September 7, 2011 resolution; and the March 13, 2012 resolution of the court en banc confirming the recall of the September 7, 2011 resolution assuming jurisdiction over the case, and ordering the re-raffle to either Justices Peralta or Bersamin, members of the original division that handled the case.

"A decision or resolution denying a motion for reconsideration of a decision becomes final and executory upon the lapse of 15 days from the party's receipt of a copy of the decision or resolution. After the lapse of the 15-day reglementary period, the finality of judgment becomes a matter of fact," Leonen said. 

"Therefore, no motion for reconsideration of a resolution denying a motion for reconsideration of a decision may be filed by the same party. Allowing second and subsequent motions for reconsideration of the same decision prevents the resolution of judicial controversies. Rule 52, Section 2 of the Rules of Court explicitly prohibits second motions for reconsideration," he added. 

A third motion for reconsideration is a disrespect to the high court and its rules of procedure, Leonen stressed, as it stops the execution of a final and executory judgment. He said third and subsequent motions for reconsideration should only be granted with a unanimous vote.

In considering the cabin crew's retrenchment valid, the high court said FASAP, based on its pleadings, "was never opposed to the retrenchment program itself, as it understands respondent PAL' s financial troubles. In fact, complainant religiously cooperated with respondents in their quest for a workable solution to the company- threatening problem."

"Retrenchment or downsizing is a mode of terminating employment initiated by the employer through no fault of the employee and without prejudice to the latter, resorted to by management during periods of business recession, industrial depression or seasonal fluctuations or during lulls over shortage of materials. It is a reduction in manpower, a measure utilized by an employer to minimize business losses incurred in the operation of its business," the decision stated.

IN THE INTEREST OF SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE 

The second opinion written by a magistrate on the decision happens to be a concurring one, penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who argued that PAL's 2nd MR, not 3rd as Leonen pointed out, and the high court's action of admitting it was granted "in the higher interest of substantial justice." 

Caguioa said the Third Division's grant on January 20, 2010 of PAL's motion to be allowed to file its second MR prevented the decision from being final and executory, contrary to Leonen's dissent. 

Caguioa insisted that the MR was only PAL's second, not third. 

"The fact that the Court granted PAL's motion for leave to file its 2nd MR means exactly that - that the 2nd MR is no longer prohibited and may be granted 'in the higher interest of substantial justice' and for 'extraordinarily persuasive reasons.' Thus, with the Court admitting the 2nd MR, this meant that the 2008 Decision and the 2009 Resolution were not rendered executory and could not have been implemented," Caguioa's concurring opinion explained. 

"Thus, the power of the Court to entertain PAL' s 2nd MR (and even a third motion for reconsideration) and to grant such motion should the interest of substantial justice so warrant is undoubtedly clear and unequivocal. Accordingly, even on the assumption that this is PAL's third motion for reconsideration (which, as explained, it is not), the power of the court to grant PAL's motion is not negated," it added.

As to Leonen raising issue with the transfer of the case to the SC en banc, Caguioa said "the court en banc may act on matters and cases that it deems of sufficient importance to merit its attention as provided in Section 3 (m), Rule 2 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court."

Caguioa also countered Leonen's position that only a unanimous vote of the court en banc could have granted PAL's MR (whether 2nd or 3rd), stressing "there is absolutely no legal or jurisprudential basis" for such position.

On the substantial aspect of the case, Caguioa agreed with the majority that FASAP's "categorical admission of PAL's dire financial condition" already proved the airline's financial losses, and, having made via pleading, is already judicial notice that no longer required proof. 

"An admission made in a pleading cannot be controverted by the party making such admission, and is conclusive as to such party," Caguioa said. 

The magistrate further echoed the position of the majority that PAL's rehabilitation was enough proof of its financial losses. 

"I submit that PAL has sufficiently shown and established the financial losses that it incurred which resulted in the implementation of the retrenchment program," Caguioa said.