Semblante v. CA (G.R. No. 196426; August 15, 2011)


Petitioners Marticio Semblante (Semblante) and Dubrick Pilar (Pilar) assert that they were hired by respondents-spouses Vicente and Maria Luisa Loot, the owners of Gallera de Mandaue (the cockpit), as the official masiador and sentenciador, respectively, of the cockpit sometime in 1993.

As themasiador, Semblante calls and takes the bets from the gamecock owners and other bettors and orders the start of the cockfight. He also distributes the winnings after deducting thearriba, or the commission for the cockpit. Meanwhile, as the sentenciador, Pilar oversees the proper gaffing of fighting cocks, determines the fighting cocks physical condition and capabilities to continue the cockfight, and eventually declares the result of the cockfight.

On November 14, 2003, however, petitioners were denied entry into the cockpit upon the instructions of respondents, and were informed of the termination of their services effective that date. This prompted petitioners to file a complaint for illegal dismissal against respondents.

In answer, respondents denied that petitioners were their employees and alleged that they were associates of respondents independent contractor, Tomas Vega. Respondents claimed that petitioners have no regular working time or day and they are free to decide for themselves whether to report for work or not on any cockfighting day. In times when there are few cockfights inGallera de Mandaue, petitioners go to other cockpits in the vicinity. Lastly, petitioners, so respondents assert, were only issued identification cards to indicate that they were free from the normal entrance fee and to differentiate them from the general public.

Labor Arbiter Julie C. Rendoque found petitioners to be regular employees of respondents as they performed work that was necessary and indispensable to the usual trade or business of respondents for a number of years. The Labor Arbiter also ruled that petitioners were illegally dismissed, and so ordered respondents to pay petitioners their backwages and separation pay.

Respondents counsel received the Labor Arbiters Decision on September 14, 2004. And within the 10-day appeal period, he filed the respondents appeal with the NLRC on September 24, 2004, but without posting a cash or surety bond equivalent to the monetary award granted by the Labor Arbiter. It was only on October 11, 2004 that respondents filed an appeal bond dated October 6, 2004. Hence, in a Resolution dated August 25, 2005, the NLRC denied the appeal for its non-perfection.

Subsequently, however, the NLRC, acting on respondents Motion for Reconsideration, reversed its Resolution on the postulate that their appeal was meritorious and the filing of an appeal bond, albeit belated, is a substantial compliance with the rules.The NLRC held in its Resolution of October 18, 2006 that there was no employer-employee relationship between petitioners and respondents, respondents having no part in the selection and engagement of petitioners, and that no separate individual contract with respondents was ever executed by petitioners.

The appellate court found for respondents, noting that referees and bet-takers in a cockfight need to have the kind of expertise that is characteristic of the game to interpret messages conveyed by mere gestures. Hence, petitioners are akin to independent contractors who possess unique skills, expertise, and talent to distinguish them from ordinary employees.

The CA refused to reconsider its Decision. Hence, petitioners came to this Court, arguing in the main that the CA committed a reversible error in entertaining an appeal, which was not perfected in the first place.

ISSUE: Did the CA err in entertaining an appeal which was not perfected?

HELD: Indeed, the posting of a bond is indispensable to the perfection of an appeal in cases involving monetary awards from the Decision of the Labor Arbiter. Article 223 of the Labor Code provides:

Article 223. Appeal. Decisions, awards, or orders of the Labor Arbiter are final and executory unless appealed to the Commission by any or both partieswithin ten (10) calendar days from receipt of such decisions, awards, or orders.Such appeal may be entertained only on any of the following grounds: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 bondissued by a reputable bonding company duly accredited by the Commission in the amount equivalent to the monetary award in the judgment appealed from.

Time and again, however, this Court, considering the substantial merits of the case, has relaxed this rule on, and excused the late posting of, the appeal bond when there are strong and compelling reasons for the liberality, such as the prevention of miscarriage of justice extant in the caseor the special circumstances in the case combined with its legal merits or the amount and the issue involved.After all, technical rules cannot prevent courts from exercising their duties to determine and settle, equitably and completely, the rights and obligations of the parties. This is one case where the exception to the general rule lies.

While respondents had failed to post their bond within the 10-day period provided above, it is evident, on the other hand, that petitioners are NOT employees of respondents, since their relationship fails to pass muster the four-fold test of employment We have repeatedly mentioned in countless decisions:

(1) the selection and engagement of the employee;
(2) the payment of wages;
(3) the power of dismissal; and
(4) the power to control the employees conduct, which is the most important element.

As found by both the NLRC and the CA, respondents had no part in petitioners selection and management;petitioners compensation was paid out of the arriba (which is a percentage deducted from the total bets), not by petitioners;and petitioners performed their functions as masiador and sentenciador from the direction and control of respondents. In the conduct of their work, petitioners relied mainly on their expertise that is characteristic of the cockfight gambling, and were never given by respondents any tool needed for the performance of their work.

Respondents, not being petitioners employers, could never have dismissed, legally or illegally, petitioners, since respondents were without power or prerogative to do so in the first place. The rule on the posting of an appeal bond cannot defeat the substantive rights of respondents to be free from an unwarranted burden of answering for an illegal dismissal for which they were never responsible.

Strict implementation of the rules on appeals must give way to the factual and legal reality that is evident from the records of this case.After all, the primary objective of our laws is to dispense justice and equity, not the contrary. DENIED.