The Filipino workers may not realize it but they have just scored a significant victory in the latest amendments to the rules of procedure promulgated by the Supreme Court. In a yet another effort to speed up proceedings in cases, the highest tribunal approved amendments to Rules 41, 45, 58 and 65 of the Rules of Court which took effect on Dec. 27, 2008.
Let me preface before I get down to the nitty gritty. On Monday mornings, as part of his routine, my husband reads my column in The Manila Standard Today before embarking on anything else. Knowing him to be a merciless critic, I am happiest when he gives me a thumbs-up approval of what I had written. A cold silence after his reading would mean he wasn’t exactly moved. In my article today, I do not expect to see a happy look on my husband’s face. Being a management lawyer, he may be jolted at the implications of the amended rules of court on labor cases.
One of the most significant amendments is the new provision in Section 5 Rule 58 of the Rules of Court which says that trial courts and appellate courts which issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction against a lower court or a quasi-judicial body must decide the petition filed before it within six (6) months. What makes this new provision significant? Setting a limit of only six months for a higher court to decide on a petition will mean that the principal case filed in a lower court or an administrative body that exercises quasi-judicial powers will not suffer too much delay. And the party which stands to win, or has already won, will not wait too long before he attains justice even when his opponent obtains a restraining order from a higher court.
This provision was amended precisely because, very often, while a case is ongoing in a court or a tribunal, a party who wishes to cause delay goes up to a higher court on a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 to question an order of a judge or a magistrate. The oft-used ground is that the order of the judge was issued without, or in excess of the judge’s jurisdiction, or in grave abuse of discretion, amounting to a lack or excess of jurisdiction. This has been an overused and abused strategy by lawyers to stall the proceedings in a lower court or tribunal. It has also been a major source of corruption in the Judiciary. Litigants who are out to delay a case are often all-too-willing to cough up any amount just so a higher court will issue a restraining order or even better, a preliminary injunction, preventing a lower court from proceeding with the main case. This strategy has long worked to stall the proceedings in cases for years.
With the new provision requiring judges or justices who issue a restraining order or injunction, to decide the petition within six months, paying magistrates grease money to cause delay will no longer be worth it. Because you see, the delay will only be for a maximum of six months.
The impact of the amended rules is even more significant in labor cases. Under the old rules, the scenario was like this: A worker files a complaint for illegal dismissal against his employer. If the worker wins the case at the level of the labor arbiter and there is an order for his reinstatement with full back-wages, the reinstatement aspect is immediately executory. This means that the worker may go back to his job promptly even while his employer goes up on appeal to the National Labor Relations Commission. The same is not true, however, when the arbiter does not order reinstatement and it is the Commission, deciding on appeal, which orders the worker’s reinstatement and payment of full back-wages. The Commission’s order of reinstatement, under the law, is not immediately executory. Thus, the employer is given time to seek a reconsideration of the decision and subsequently, to file a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 to the Court of Appeals. This petition almost always involves asking the Court of Appeals to issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction to stop the NLRC from executing its decision pending the resolution of the petition. Once the Court of Appeals issues a preliminary injunction, the worker is literally left in limbo, uncertain when he would finally be reinstated or when he would finally be given his back-wages. On the average, it takes two years before a decision is rendered by the appeals court. Out of desperation, the worker who filed the case would sometimes accept as settlement, any amount, certainly much smaller than that awarded him, and would waive his right to be reinstated. Even sadder is that often, by the time a decision is rendered by the appeals court, the defendant company will either no longer have money or assets (because it has diverted them to escape liability) or, had closed shop, leaving the worker holding an empty bag.
Also, in labor relations cases, the issuance of a temporary restraining order, and subsequently, a preliminary injunction by the Court of Appeals effectively delays the certification of a winning union. More often than not, by the time the case is resolved, the workers will either have lost interest; or the union will have been busted; or the company will have shut down.
With the amended rules, however, companies will be discouraged from spending money on bribery to obtain a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction because they will not succeed in delaying the execution of an award or the certification of a winning union for too long anyway. Courts which issue preliminary injunctions to prevent a lower court or tribunal from proceeding with a case are now mandated to render a decision on the petition within six months. What is a greater deterrent is this. Now, it is risky for lawyers and litigants whose only intention is to cause delay, to file petitions for certiorari. Section 8 of Rule 65 now says that the court, with which a petition for certiorari is filed, may dismiss the petition if it is patently and clearly without merit. This court may also order the party who files a baseless petition to pay the other party the equivalent of triple the expenses he incurred to defend himself in the legal suit. The petitioner’s lawyer who assists him in filing a baseless petition could be made solidarily liable for the payment of the monetary penalty. To top it all, the lawyer of the petitioner who files a baseless petition may be slapped with disciplinary sanctions by the court. This could range from a fine, to a reprimand, or to suspension from the practice of law.
Under the amended rules, no lawyer, who still has his wits intact, will dare file frivolous petitions for certiorari only to occasion a minor delay of only six months. This is, no doubt, a blessing to workers. But one may ask, what about the hundreds of labor cases still pending with the Court of Appeals? They comprise about 35 percent of cases up for resolution by the appellate court. Will the new rules have retroactive effect so that the unresolved cases which have stopped the implementation and execution of awards to workers be now quickly resolved? To my mind, the answer should be a ‘yes’ to give life to the spirit of the amended rules of court—to avert delays in the resolution of cases and to deliver quality justice with dispatch.–Atty. Rita Linda V. Jimeno, Manila Standard