Lepanto v. Icao (G.R. No. 196047; January 15, 2014)

CASE DIGEST: LEPANTO CONSOLIDATED MINING CORPORATION v. BELIO ICAOFACTS: Private respondent Belio Icao, alleged in his complaint that he was an employee of petitioner Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation (LEPANTO), assigned as lead miner in its underground mine in Paco, Mankayan, Benguet. On January 4, 2008, while taking a break from work, Security Guard Larry Bulwayan and Dale Papsa-ao pulled his skullguard harness. A few minutes later, he saw Bulwayan pick up a wrapped object at the bathing station and gave it to his companion. The two Security Guards then invited the private respondent to go with them at the investigation office to answer questions regarding the wrapped object. He was then charged with highgrading or an act of concealing, possessing or unauthorized extraction of highgrade material without proper authority. Consequently, he was dismissed from his work despite his vehement denial of the said charges.

Private respondent prayed that the petitioners be held liable for illegal dismissal, to reinstate him to his former position without loss of seniority rights and benefits, and to pay his full backwages, damages and attorneys fees. He claimed that his dismissal from work was without just or authorized cause since petitioners failed to prove by ample and sufficient evidence that he stole gold bearing highgrade ores from the company premises.

Petitioner averred that SG Bulyawan saw private respondent inserting a wrapped object inside his right rubber boot and was later found in the latters' skullguard upon inspection. The wrapped object turned out to be pieces of stone ores.

The Labor Arbiter rendered a decision on September 30, 2008, holding petitioner and its CEO liable for illegal dismissal and ordering to pay respondent his full backwages and separation pay. The alleged highgrading attributed by LCMCs security guards was found to have been fabricated; consequently, there was no just cause for the dismissal of respondent.

On December 8, 2008, petitioner and its CEO filed an Appearance with Memorandum of Appeal before the NLRC, instead of posting the required appeal bond in the form of a cash bond or a surety bond. They requested that the NLRC release the cash bond which they had posted in the separate case, Dangiw Siggaao case, which was decided earlier in its favor, and apply that same cash bond to their present appeal bond liability.

NLRC dismissed the appeal of the petitioner and the latters CEO for non-perfection. It found that they had failed to post the required appeal bond, hence, declared the Labor Arbiters decision to be final and executory. NLRC also denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by petitioner and its CEO.

The CA affirmed the Order of the NLRC. According to the Cam petitioner and the latters CEO lost the right to appeal. The CA explained that under Article 223 of the Labor Code, an appeal from the labor arbiters Decisionmust be filed within 10 calendar days from receipt of the decision. In case of a judgment involving a monetary award, the posting of a cash or surety bond in an amount equivalent to the monetary award is mandatory for the perfection of an appeal. In the instant case, the CA found that petitioner and its CEO did not pay the appeal fees and the required appeal bond equivalent to₱345,879.45. Instead, it filed a Consolidated Motion praying that the cash bond it had previously posted in another labor case be released and applied to the present one. According to the CA, this arrangement is not allowed under the rules ofprocedure of the NLRC. Nevertheless, the CA ruled that the CEO of petitioner should be drooped as a party to this case. The labor arbiter did not cite any factual or legal basis in its Decision that would render the CEO liable to respondent.

ISSUE: Did the petitioner comply with the appeal bond requirement under the Labor Code and the NLRC Rules by filing a Consolidated Motion to release cash bond it posted in another case?

HELD: Under Article 223 of the Labor Code, in appeals from any decision or order of the labor arbiter, the posting of an appeal bond is required. 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 judgment appealed from.

The 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure incorporates this requirement in Rule VI, Section 6, which provides: In case the decision of the Labor Arbiter or the Regional Director involves a monetary award, an appeal by the employer may be perfect only upon the posting of a bond.

In Viron Garments Manufacturing Co., Inc. v. NLRC, the court explained the mandatory nature of this requirement as follows: The intention of the lawmakers to make the bond an indispensable requisite for the perfection of an appeal by the employer, is clearly limned in the provision that an appeal by the employer may be perfected only upon the posting of a cash or surety bond. The word only makes it perfectly clear, that the lawmakers intended the posting of a cash or surety bond by the employer to be the exclusive means by which an employer's appeal may be perfected.

In Araneta v. Rodas, where the Court said that when the law does not clearly provide a rule or norm for the tribunal to follow in deciding a question submitted, but leaves to the tribunal the discretion to determine the case in one way or another, the judge must decide the question in conformity with justice, reason and equity, in view of the circumstances of the case.

Applying this doctrine, we rule that petitioner substantially complied with the mandatory requirement of posting an appeal bond for the reasons explained below:

First, there is no question that the appeal was filed within the 10-day reglementary period. Except for the alleged failure to post an appeal bond, the appeal to the NLRC was therefore in order.

Second, it is also undisputed that petitioner an unencumbered amount of money in the form of cash in the custody of the NLRC. To reiterate, petitioner had posted a cash bond of ₱401,610.84 in the separate case Dangiw Siggaao, which was earlier decided in its favor. As claimed by petitioner and confirmed by the Judgment Division of the Judicial Records Office of this Court, the Decision of the Court in Dangiw Siggaao had become final and executory as of 28 April 2008,or more than seven months before petitioner had to file its appeal in the present case. This fact is shown by the Entry of Judgment on file with the aforementioned office. Hence, the cash bond in that case ought to have been released to petitioner then.

Third, the cash bond in the amount of ₱401,610.84 posted in Dangiw Siggaao is more than enough to cover the appeal bond in the amount of ₱345,879.45required in the present case.

Fourth, this ruling remains faithful to the spirit behind the appeal bond requirement which is to ensure that workers will receive the money awarded in their favor when the employers appeal eventually fails. There was no showing at all of any attempt on the part of petitioner to evade the posting of the appeal bond. On the contrary, petitioners move showed a willingness to comply with the requirement. Hence, the welfare of Icao is adequately protected.

This Court has liberally applied the NLRC Rules and the Labor Code provisions on the posting of an appeal bond in exceptional cases. In Your Bus Lines v. NLRC, the Court excused the appellants failure to post a bond, because it relied on the notice of the decision. While the notice enumerated all the other requirements for perfecting an appeal, it did not include a bond in the list. In Blancaflor v. NLRC, the failure of the appellant therein to post a bond was partly caused by the labor arbiters failure to state the exact amount of monetary award due, which would have been the basis of the amount of the bond to be posted. In Cabalan Pastulan Negrito Labor Association v. NLRC, petitioner-appellant was an association of Negritos performing trash-sorting services in the American naval base in Subic Bay. The plea of the association that its appeal be given due course despite its non-posting of a bond, on account of its insolvency and poverty, was granted by this Court.

In the above cited cases, the Court found exceptional circumstance that warranted an extraordinary exercise of its power to exempt a party from the rules on appeal bond, there is all the more reason in the present case to find that petitioner substantially complied with the requirement. The Court will liberally apply the rules on in very highly exceptional cases such as this, in keeping with the dictates of justice, reason and equity. GRANTED.

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