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NEW RULE ON APPEAL IN LABOR CASES
(By: Atty. Isobel G. Barroso)

In what may well be his valedictory ponencia, at least in labor law, before he retired from the Supreme Court on 13 October 1998, Senior Associate Justice Florenz D. Regalado, speaking for the Court en banc, declared in the case of St. Martin Funeral Home vs. National Labor Relations Commission (G.R. No. 130866, 16 September 1988) that henceforth, petition for certiorari of decisions of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) shall be initially filed with the Court of Appeals in strict observance of the hierarchy of courts.

In said case, the High Tribunal declined to take cognizance of a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 which assailed the decision of the NLRC setting aside the findings of the Labor Arbiter that no employer-employee relationship existed between the parties therein. The High Tribunal instead remanded the petition, and forwarded all pertinent records thereof, to the Court of Appeals "for appropriate action and disposition."

In deviating from the settled practice of acquiring jurisdiction over special civil actions of certiorari of decisions of the NLRC filed by aggrieved parties, the High Tribunal states that it is now exigent and opportune to reexamine the functional validity and systematic practicability of the mode of judicial review it has long adopted in light of the increasing number of labor disputes that find their way to the Supreme Court. It prefatorily traced the legal history of the NLRC as follows:

Since the NLRC was established in the Department of Labor by Presidential Decree No. 21 on 14 October 1972, its decisions were expressly declared to be appealable to the Secretary of Labor and, ultimately, to the President of the Philippines.

On 1 May 1974, Presidential Decree No. 442 enacted the Labor Code of the Philippines which created and regulated the present NLRC as an adjunct of the Department of Labor and Employment for program and policy coordination. Initially, the Labor Code also granted an aggrieved party from the decision of the NLRC the remedy of appeal to the Secretary of Labor. Presidential Decree No. 1391 subsequently amended said provision and abolished such appeals. No appellate review has since then been provided for.

Under the present state of the law, there is no provision for appeals from the decision of the NLRC. The Supreme Court, however, justified its jurisdiction to review the decisions of the NLRC by invoking its power of judicial review, i.e., "underlying power of the courts to scrutinize the acts of such agencies on questions of law and jurisdiction even though no right of review is given by the statute; that the purpose of judicial review is to keep the administrative agency within its jurisdiction and protect the substantial rights of the parties; and that it is part of the checks and balances which restricts the separation of powers and forestalls arbitrary and unjust adjudications." (San Miguel Corp. vs. Sec. of Labor et al., G.R. No. L-39195, May 15, 1975, 64 SCRA 56; Scott vs. Inciong et al., G.R. No. L-38868, 29 December 1975, 68 SCRA 473.)

The remedy then of an aggrieved party is to timely file a motion for reconsideration as a precondition for any further or subsequent remedy and then seasonably avail itself of the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65, which, under the new rules, must be filed within sixty (60) days from notice of the decision. A special civil action of certiorari is an original action of certiorari is an original action limited to the resolution of jurisdictional issues, i.e., lack or excess of jurisdiction and, in almost all cases, grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.

On the matter of the judicial review of the decisions of the NLRC, the High Tribunal noted that originally under Section 9 of Batas Pambansa (BP) No. 129, the Intermediate Appellate Court (now Court of Appeals) has no jurisdiction, whether appellate or original, to review "decisions and interlocutory orders issued under the Labor Code of the Philippines."

Subsequently, Republic Act No. 7902 was enacted amending, among others, the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals. In particular, paragraph (3) of Section 9 thereof grants to the Court of Appeals:

"(3) Exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all final judgments, decisions, resolutions, orders or awards of Regional Trial Courts and quasi-judicial agencies, instrumentalities, boards or commissions, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, except those falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in accordance with the Constitution, the Labor Code of the Philippines under Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended, the provisions of this Act, and of subparagraph (1) of the third paragraph and subparagraph (4) of the fourth paragraph of Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1948."

As observed by the High Tribunal, the excepting clause "those falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in accordance with xxx the Labor Code xxx" contradicts what has been ruled and said all along that appeal does not lie from decisions of the NLRC. Yet, under the same clause literally construed, the appeal cannot be brought to the Court of Appeals, but to the Supreme Court by necessary implication. This was found to be "illogical and impracticable" and that Congress could not have intended the "procedural gaffe," since, as already stated, the decisions, resolutions, orders or awards promulgated by the NLRC under the Labor Code are not within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme court or any other court for that matter.

While Congress did intend to provide for judicial review of the adjudications of the NLRC in labor cases by the Supreme Court, it was pointed out that there was an inaccuracy in the use of the term "appeal" as the intended mode of review. The legislative intendment was that the special civil action of certiorari was and still is the proper vehicle for judicial review of the decisions of the NLRC. And, according to the Court, a special civil action of certiorari is within the concurrent original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. In other words, special civil actions of certiorari of the decisions of the NLRC are within the concurrent original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

This conclusion finds support in a review of the legislative records on the antecedents of Republic Act No. 7902. In his sponsorship speech of Senate Bill No. 1495, Senator Raul Roco clarified that the purpose of amending Section 9 of BP 129 was to reduce the workload of the Supreme Court. Thus:

"Mr. President, the purpose of the law is to ease the workload of the Supreme Court by the transfer of some of its burden of review of factual issues to the Court of Appeals. However, whatever benefits that can be derived from the expansion of the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals was cut short by the last paragraph of Section 9 of Batasang Pambansa Blg 129 which excludes from its coverage the `decisions and interlocutory orders issued under the Labor Code of the Philippines and the Central Board of assessment Appeals.'

Among the highest number of cases that are brought up to the Supreme Court are labor cases. Hence, Senate Bill 1495 seeks to eliminate the exceptions in Section 9 and, additionally, extends the coverage of appellate review of the Court of Appeals in the decision(s) of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Employees Compensation Commission to reduce the number of cases elevated to the Supreme Court. (Transcript of session Proceedings (TSP), S. No. 1495, 8 February 1995, 31-36. Emphasis and corrections supplied)."

The Court is of the opinion that, rather than "prolonging the process and being circuitous," initial recourse to the Court of Appeals would be advantageous to the aggrieved party on this reasoning:

"On the other hand, Mr. President, to allow these cases to be appealed to the Court of Appeals would give litigants the advantage to have all the evidence on record be reexamined and reweighed after which the findings of facts and conclusions of said bodies are correspondingly affirmed, modified or reversed.

Under such guarantee, the Supreme Court can then apply strictly the axiom that factual findings of the Court of Appeals are final and may not be reversed on appeal to the Supreme Court. A perusal of the records will reveal appeals which are factual in nature and may, therefore, be dismissed outright by minute resolutions. (TSP, S. No. 1495, 8 February 1995, pp. 32-33)."

In closing, the Supreme Court categorically declared that all references in the amended Section 9 of B.P. No. 129 to supposed appeals from the NLRC to the Supreme Court are interpreted and hereby declared to mean and refer to petitions for certiorari under Rule 65. Consequently, all such petitions shall henceforth be initially filed in the Court of Appeals in strict observance of the doctrine on the hierarchy of courts as the appropriate forum for the relief desired.

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