Case Digest: Mojar v. Agro Commercial

G.R. No. 187188 : June 27, 2012

SALVADOR O. MOJAR, ET AL., Petitioners, v. AGRO COMMERCIAL SECURITY SERVICE AGENCY, ET AL., Respondents.

SERENO,J.:


FACTS:

Petitioners were employed as security guards by respondent and assigned to the various branches of the Bank of Commerce in Pangasinan, La Union and Ilocos Sur.

In separate Office Orders dated 23 and 24 May 2002, petitioners were relieved from their respective posts and directed to report to their new assignments in Metro Manila effective 3 June 2002. They, however, failed to report for duty in their new assignments, prompting respondent to send them a letter dated 18 June 2002. It required a written explanation why no disciplinary action should be taken against them, but the letter was not heeded.

On 15 February 2005, petitioners filed a Complaint for illegal dismissal against respondent and the Bank of Commerce, Dagupan Branch, before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Petitioners claimed, among others, that their reassignment was a scheme to sever the employer-employee relationship and was done in retaliation for their pressing their claim for salary differential, which they had earlier filed against respondent and the Bank of Commerce before the NLRC. They also contended that the transfer to Manila was inconvenient and prejudicial, since they would incur additional expenses for board and lodging.

On 22 May 2006, the Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered a Decision finding that petitioners were illegally dismissed which the NLRC affirmed.

On 23 January 2008, respondent filed a Motion for Extension to file a Petition for Certiorari before the CA. In a Resolution dated 20 February 2008, the latter granted the Motion for Extension, allowing respondent until 10 February 2008 within which to file its Petition. On 9 February 2008, respondent filed its Petition for Certiorari before the appellate court. On 30 June 2008, the CA issued a Resolution noting that no comment on the Petition had been filed, and stating that the case was now deemed submitted for resolution.

On 21 July 2008, the CA rendered its Decision. Finding merit in the Petition, it found the Orders transferring petitioners to Manila to be a valid exercise of management prerogative.

On 1 August 2008, petitioner Mojar filed a Manifestation before the CA, stating that he and the other petitioners had not been served a copy of the CA Petition. He also said that they were not aware whether their counsel before the NLRC, Atty. Jose C. Espinas, was served a copy thereof, since the latter had already been bedridden since December 2007 until his demise on 25 February 2008. Neither could their new counsel, Atty. Mario G. Aglipay, enter his appearance before the CA, as petitioners failed to get the folder from the office of Atty. Espinas, as the folder can no longer be found. In a Resolution dated 16 March 2009, the CA denied the Motion to Annul Proceedings. Hence, this Petition.

ISSUE:

Whether the CA should not have taken cognizance of the petition as their actual addresses were not indicated therein

REMEDIAL LAW

Petitioners contend that the CA should not have taken cognizance of the Petition before it, as their actual addresses were not indicated therein as required under Section 3, Rule 46 of the Rules of Court, and pursuant to Cenda v. Avila. In the 2008 case Cenda, this Court ruled that the requirement that a petition forcertiorarimust contain the actual addresses of all the petitioners and the respondents is mandatory. The failure to comply with that requirement is a sufficient ground for the dismissal of a petition.

This rule, however, is not absolute. In the 2011 case Santos v. Litton Mills Incorporated, this Court ruled that where the petitioner clearly mentioned that the parties may be served with the courts notices or processes through their respective counsels, whose addresses have been clearly specified as in this case, this act would constitute substantial compliance with the requirements of Section 3, Rule 46. The Court further observed that the notice required by law is notice to counsel if the party has already appeared by counsel, pursuant to Section 2, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court. The foregoing may thus be considered as substantial compliance with Section 3, Rule 46. In any case, and as will be discussed further below, the CA had sufficient reason to take cognizance of the Petition.

REMEDIAL LAW

Section 3, Rule 46 provides that the petition for certiorari should be filed together with the proof of service thereof on the respondent. Under Section 13, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court, if service is made by registered mail, as in this case, proof shall be made by an affidavit of the person mailing and the registry receipt issued by the mailing office. Section 3, Rule 46 further provides that the failure to comply with any of the requirements shall be sufficient ground for the dismissal of the petition. Indeed, while an affidavit of service is required merely as proof that service has been made on the other party, it is nonetheless essential to due process and the orderly administration of justice.

Be that as it may, it does not escape the attention of this Court that in the CA Resolution dated 16 March 2009, the appellate court stated that their records revealed that Atty. Espinas, petitioners counsel of record at the time, was duly served a copy of the following: CA Resolution dated 20 February 2008 granting respondents Motion for Extension of Time to file the CA Petition; CA Resolution dated 24 April 2008 requiring petitioners to file their Comment on the CA Petition; and CA Resolution dated 30 June 2008, submitting the case for resolution, as no comment was filed.

Such service to Atty. Espinas, as petitioners counsel of record, was valid despite the fact he was already deceased at the time. If a party to a case has appeared by counsel, service of pleadings and judgments shall be made upon his counsel or one of them, unless service upon the party is specifically ordered by the court. It is not the duty of the courts to inquire, during the progress of a case, whether the law firm or partnership representing one of the litigants continues to exist lawfully, whether the partners are still alive, or whether its associates are still connected with the firm.

It is the duty of party-litigants to be in contact with their counsel from time to time in order to be informed of the progress of their case. It is likewise the duty of parties to inform the court of the fact of their counsels death. Their failure to do so means that they have been negligent in the protection of their cause. They cannot pass the blame to the court, which is not tasked to monitor the changes in the circumstances of the parties and their counsel.

REMEDIAL LAW

Petitioners claim that Atty. Espinas passed away on 8 February 2008. They further claim that he was already bedridden as early as December 2007, and thus they failed to get any information whether [he] was served with a copy of the [CA Petition].

Petitioners were negligent in the conduct of their litigation. Having known that Atty. Espinas was already bedridden as early as December 2007, they should have already obtained new counsel who could adequately represent their interests. The excuse that Atty. Aglipay could not enter his appearance before the CA because [petitioners] failed to get their folder from the office of Atty. Espinas is flimsy at best.

The fact that petitioners were unable to obtain their folder from Atty. Espinas is immaterial. Proof of service upon the lawyer to be substituted will suffice where the lawyers consent cannot be obtained. With respect to the records of the case, these may easily be reconstituted by obtaining copies thereof from the various courts involved.

LABOR LAW

Petitioners argue that they were illegally dismissed, based on the 1989 case Agro Commercial Security Services Agency, Inc. v. NLRC., which holds that when the floating status of employees lasts for more than six (6) months, they may be considered to have been illegally dismissed from the service.

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned case is not applicable here. In Agro, the service contracts of the security agency therein with various corporations and government agencies to which the security guards were previously assigned were terminated, generally due to the sequestration of the said offices. Accordingly, many of the security guards were placed on floating status. Floating status means an indefinite period of time when one does not receive any salary or financial benefit provided by law. In this case, petitioners were actually reassigned to new posts, albeit in a different location from where they resided. Thus, there can be no floating status or indefinite period to speak of. Instead, petitioners were the ones who refused to report for work in their new assignment.

In cases involving security guards, a relief and transfer order in itself does not sever the employment relationship between the security guards and their agency. Employees have the right to security of tenure, but this does not give them such a vested right to their positions as would deprive the company of its prerogative to change their assignment or transfer them where their services, as security guards, will be most beneficial to the client.

An employer has the right to transfer or assign its employees from one office or area of operation to another in pursuit of its legitimate business interest, provided there is no demotion in rank or diminution of salary, benefits, and other privileges; and the transfer is not motivated by discrimination or bad faith, or effected as a form of punishment or demotion without sufficient cause.

While petitioners may claim that their transfer to Manila will cause added expenses and inconvenience, we agree with the CA that, absent any showing of bad faith or ill motive on the part of the employer, the transfer remains valid.

DENIED.

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