Case Digest: Aro v. NLRC

G.R. No. 174792 : March 7, 2012

WILFREDO ARO, RONILO TIROL, JOSE PACALDO, PRIMITIVO CASQUEJO and MARCIAL ABGO,Petitioners, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, fourth division and benthel development corporation, Respondents.



Several employees of private respondent Benthel Development Corporation, including the petitioners, filed a Complaint for illegal dismissal with the NLRC. Labor Arbiter Ernesto F. Carreon rendered a decision finding private respondent guilty of illegal dismissal and ordering it to pay its thirty-six (36) employees their separation pay. The employees, including the petitioners herein, appealed from the said decision. The NLRC affirmed the decision of Labor Arbiter with the modification that private respondent pay backwages computed from the respective dates of dismissal until finality of the decision. Aggrieved, private respondent filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA but the latter dismissed the same for non-payment of docket fees and insufficiency of form. The SC affirmed the CAs decision.

The employees filed a Motion for Execution before the Labor Arbiter and the latter ordered for the issuance of a writ of execution directing the computation of the awards. Fifteen (15) employees have executed Affidavits of Full Settlement after having settled amicably with the private respondent. Labor Arbiter Violeta Ortiz-Bantug issued an Order dated July 31, 2003 for the issuance of a writ of execution only for the payment of the claims of the twenty-one (21) remaining employees, which included attorney's fees equivalent to ten (10%) percent of the sum received as settlement by the fifteen (15) employees who had earlier settled with the private respondent.

Private respondent appealed to public respondent NLRC contending that the computation for backwages must be only until the completion of the project and not until the finality of the decision. Public respondent affirmed the Order of Labor Arbiter Bantug. As a recourse, private respondent filed a petition for certiorari with the CA and the latter granted the petition, therefore, annulling and setting aside the decision and resolution of the NLRC as to the award for backwages.

ISSUE: Whether or not petitioners are regular employees.

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is affirmed.


As pointed out by private respondent, and not disputed by petitioners, the present petition was filed out of time. Nevertheless, this Court did not dismiss the present petition and required private respondent to file its Comment. Consequently, a Reply from petitioners and eventually, both parties' respective memorandum were filed. In view of that premise and in the interest of justice, this Court shall forego the technicalities and is constrained to resolve the present petition as a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, since the main issue raised by petitioners is whether or not the CA committed grave abuse of discretion which amounted to lack or excess of its jurisdiction.

Petitioners argue that the CA should have dismissed private respondent's petition, since there was already a finality of the judgment of the NLRC. It is not disputed that on January 31, 2000, the CA, through its 17thDivision, issued a Resolution dismissing private respondent's petition for certiorari (docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. UDK 3092. Subsequently, the same private respondent filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated June 8, 2000. Not contented, private respondent filed a petition with this Court, which the latter denied, through its Second Division (G.R. No. 144433), in its Resolution dated September 20, 2000. Still aggrieved, private respondent filed a second motion for reconsideration, which was dismissed by this Court. Thus, according to petitioners, there was already a finality of judgment.

On the other hand, private respondent insists that the inequitable, nay illegal, in a decision cannot lapse into finality, referring to the computation of the backwages which is not commensurate to the factual findings of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC. Basically, according to private respondent, the CA merely sought to correct the NLRC's and the Labor Arbiter's one-sided and blind adherence to and/or misguided application of strict technical rules, and their overzealous partiality in favor of labor. Private respondent further claims that the issues presented in their earlier petitions with the CA and this Court (CA-G.R. SP No. UDK 3092 and SC G.R. No. 144433, respectively) are not the same issues raised in the petition for certiorari later filed with the CA and the decision of which is now the subject of herein petition. Private respondent clarifies that there is no final and executory ruling that petitioners were regular and not just project employees, hence, there was a need to file a petition with the CA.

The issue as to whether petitioners were project employees or regular employees is factual in nature. It is well-settled in jurisprudence that factual findings of administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, which are deemed to have acquired expertise in matters within their respective jurisdictions, are generally accorded not only respect but even finality, and bind the Court when supported by substantial evidence. The Court may take cognizance of and resolve factual issues, only when the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Labor Arbiter or the NLRC are inconsistent with those of the CA. In the present case, the NLRC and the CA have opposing views.

According to the CA, petitioners are project employees as found by Labor Arbiter Ernesto Carreon in his Decision dated May 28, 1998, because they were hired for the construction of the Cordova Reef Village Resort in Cordova, Cebu, which was later on affirmed by the NLRC in its January 12, 1999 decision. The only discrepancy is the Order of the NLRC that petitioners are entitled to backwages up to the finality of its decision, when as project employees, private respondents are only entitled to payment of backwages until the date of the completion of the project. In a later resolution on private respondent's motion for reconsideration of its January 12, 1999 decision, the NLRC changed its findings by ruling that petitioners herein were regular employees and, therefore, entitled to full backwages, until finality of the decision, citing that petitioners repeated rehiring over a long span of time made them regular employees.

It is not disputed that petitioners were hired for the construction of the Cordova Reef Village Resort in Cordova, Cebu. By the nature of the contract alone, it is clear that petitioners' employment was to carry out a specific project. Hence, the CA did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it affirmed the findings of the Labor Arbiter.

Therefore, being project employees, petitioners are only entitled to full backwages, computed from the date of the termination of their employment until the actual completion of the work. Illegally dismissed workers are entitled to the payment of their salaries corresponding to the unexpired portion of their employment where the employment is for a definite period. In this case, as found by the CA, the Cordova Reef Village Resort project had been completed in October 1996 and private respondent herein had signified its willingness, by way of concession to petitioners, to set the date of completion of the project as March 18, 1997; hence, the latter date should be considered as the date of completion of the project for purposes of computing the full backwages of petitioners.