Case Digest: Estate of Dulay v. Aboitiz Jebsen

G.R. No. 172642 : June 13, 2012




Since 1986, Nelson Dulay was employed as an ordinary seaman and later as bosun on contractual basis by General Charters, Inc,, a subsidiary of Aboitiz Jebsen Maritime. From September 3, 1999 up to July 19, 2000, Nelson was detailed in petitionersvessel, the MV Kickapoo Belle.

At the time of his death on August 13, 2000, he was a bona fide member of the AMOSUP, GCI collective bargaining agent. Nelson widow, Merridy Jane, thereafter claimed for death benefits through the grievance procedure of the CBA between AMOSUP and GCI. However, on January 29, 2001, the grievance procedure was "declared deadlocked" as petitioners refused to grant the benefits sought by the widow.

On March 5, 2001, Merridy Jane filed a complaint with the NLRC against GCI for death and medical benefits and damages. Merridy Jane claimed $90,000.00 however, CGI awarded P20,000.00 to Nelson brother. Merridy Jane is now claiming the $90,000.00 less the P20,000.00 that Nelson brother received.

Respondents asserted that the NLRC had no jurisdiction over the action on account of the absence of employer-employee relationship between GCI and Nelson at the time of the latter death. Nelson also had no claims against petitioners for sick leave allowance/medical benefit by reason of the completion of his contract with GCI.

The Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of petitioner and ordered respondents to pay P4,621,300.00, the equivalent of US$90,000.00 less P20,000.00, at the time of judgment. The Labor Arbiter also ruled that the proximate cause of Nelson death was not work-related.

On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the Labor Arbiter decision as to the grant of death benefits under the CBA but reversed the latter ruling as to the proximate cause of Nelson death.

A special civil action for certiorari was filed with the CA. The appellate court granted the petition and referred the case to the NCMB for the appropriate resolution of the issue on the matter of the applicable CBA provision.

The CA ruled that while the suit filed by Merridy Jane is a money claim, the same basically involves the interpretation and application of the provisions in the subject CBA. As such, jurisdiction belongs to the voluntary arbitrator and not the labor arbiter.

ISSUE: Whether or not the CA committed error in ruling that the Labor Arbiter has no jurisdiction over the case?


Petitioner contends that Section 10 of Republic Act (R.A.) 8042, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, vests jurisdiction on the appropriate branches of the NLRC to entertain disputes regarding the interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement involving migrant or overseas Filipino workers. Petitioner argues that the abovementioned Section amended Article 217 (c) of the Labor Code which, in turn, confers jurisdiction upon voluntary arbitrators over interpretation or implementation of collective bargaining agreements and interpretation or enforcement of company personnel policies.

It is true that R.A. 8042 is a special law governing overseas Filipino workers. However, there is no specific provision thereunder which provides for jurisdiction over disputes or unresolved grievances regarding the interpretation or implementation of a CBA. Section 10 of R.A. 8042, which is cited by petitioner, simply speaks, in general, of "claims arising out of an employer-employee relationship or by virtue of any law or contract involving Filipino workers for overseas deployment including claims for actual, moral, exemplary and other forms of damages."

On the other hand, Articles 217(c) and 261 of the Labor Code are very specific in stating that voluntary arbitrators have jurisdiction over cases arising from the interpretation or implementation of collective bargaining agreements. Stated differently, the instant case involves a situation where the special statute (R.A. 8042) refers to a subject in general, which the general statute (Labor Code) treats in particular.

In the present case, the basic issue raised by Merridy Jane in her complaint filed with the NLRC is: which provision of the subject CBA applies insofar as death benefits due to the heirs of Nelson are concerned. The Court agrees with the CA in holding that this issue clearly involves the interpretation or implementation of the said CBA. Thus, the specific or special provisions of the Labor Code govern.

In any case, the Court agrees with petitioner's contention that the CBA is the law or contract between the parties.

Upon this Court reading of the pertinent provisions of the CBA, it is clear that the parties really intended to bring to conciliation or voluntary arbitration any dispute or conflict in the interpretation or application of the provisions of their CBA. It is settled that when the parties have validly agreed on a procedure for resolving grievances and to submit a dispute to voluntary arbitration then that procedure should be strictly observed.

It may not be amiss to point out that the CBA are in consonance with Rule VII, Section 7 of the present Omnibus Rules and Regulations Implementing the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, as amended by Republic Act No. 10022, which states that "[f]or OFWs with collective bargaining agreements, the case shall be submitted for voluntary arbitration in accordance with Articles 261 and 262 of the Labor Code." The Court notes that the said Omnibus Rules and Regulations were promulgated by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and that these departments were mandated to consult with the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment and the House of Representatives Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.

In consultation with the counterparts of the DOLE in the respective committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as the DFA and the POEA is that with respect to disputes involving claims of Filipino seafarers wherein the parties are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the dispute or claim should be submitted to the jurisdiction of a voluntary arbitrator or panel of arbitrators. It is only in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement that parties may opt to submit the dispute to either the NLRC or to voluntary arbitration. It is elementary that rules and regulations issued by administrative bodies to interpret the law which they are entrusted to enforce, have the force of law, and are entitled to great respect. Such rules and regulations partake of the nature of a statute and are just as binding as if they have been written in the statute itself.