Just like magic! Estelito Mendoza’s letters make SC reverse ‘final decision’ in PAL labor row
It really pays to have Estelito Mendoza on your side, especially if you’re a capitalist in a heated 20-year dispute with laborers.
The Supreme Court (SC), sitting en banc, has ruled valid the retrenchment program of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) and said the flag carrier did not have to consult the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) regarding its criteria.
In a 55-page en banc decision on March 13, the SC voted 7-2-5-1 to reverse the Special 3rd Division’s October 2009 resolution that affirmed with “finality” a July 2008 decision in favor of FASAP.
The case became controversial after Mendoza reportedly wrote several letters to the SC to reopen the case despite the SC 2nd Division having dismissed a 2nd motion for reconsideration filed by PAL in September 2011.
The en banc in October 2011 recalled the 2nd Division order and reopened the case, leading to the recent decision in favor of PAL.
This became so contentious that one of the impeachment charges against then-Chief Justice Renato Corona concerned his flip-flopping on rulings just because of “mere letters” from Mendoza, a former Solicitor-General during the Marcos dictatorship.
In any case, these maneuvers worked well for PAL, which got entangled in various heated labor disputes over the decades.
The recent decision said the 3rd Division should not have disregarded PAL’s “serious financial losses” and invalidated its retrenchment program just because it was on its way to recovery.
The SC en banc also held PAL in good faith when it originally discussed with FASAP its plan to explore other cost-cutting measures, only to implement a full retrenchment program following the strike of Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines (ALPAP).
“Far from being tainted with bad faith, the recall signified PAL’s reluctance to part with the retrenched employees,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.
“As between maintaining the number of its flight crew and PAL’s survival, it was reasonable for PAL to choose the latter alternative. This Court cannot legitimately force PAL as a distressed employer to maintain its manpower despite its dire financial condition,” it added.
The SC also said PAL used a “fair and reasonable” criteria, based on efficiency and seniority, in determining which employees should be let go. It noted the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) did not impose any limitation.
It also upheld the release and quitclaim signed by the employees to claim their separation benefits on the condition that they would not sue.
The SC said the 3rd Division’s invalidation of the quitclaims was based on the “mistaken conclusion that the retrenchment had been unlawfully executed.”
Since the SC reversed the 3rd Division’s findings, it affirmed the validity of the waivers.
Concurring with Bersamin were Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires, and Alexander Gesmundo.
Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Andres Reyes dissented. Leonen stressed: “This is an extraordinary case. Like in the Book of Revelation, it involves the miraculous resurrection of the dead: in this case, a dead case.”
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Mariano Del Castillo and Francis Jardeleza took no part in the deliberations while Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is on leave.