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SC declares a clause in R.A. 8042 unconstitutional
By: Atty. Ricardo B. Lapesura Jr.
In a moment of triumph for the workers, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the last clause in the 5th paragraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A) No. 8042, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995, in the case of Antonio M. Serrano vs. Gallant Maritime Services, Inc., and Marlow Navigation Co., Inc., G.R. No. 167614, 24 March 2009.
As it is, Antonio M. Serrano was hired by Gallant Maritime Services, Inc. and Marlow Navigation Co., Inc. Ltd. under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) approved Contract of Employment as a Seafarer, more particularly as Chief Officer, for 12 months. When he was deployed however, on 19 March 1998, he agreed to accept the lower position of Second Officer upon the assurance of his employer that he would be made Chief Officer by the end of April 1998. When he was not made Chief Officer by the end of April 1998, he refused to remain as Second Officer. Thus, he was repatriated to the Philippines on 26 May 1998, leaving an unexpired portion of nine (9) months and twenty-three (23) days out of his 12 month contract. He filed a case against his employer for constructive dismissal and for payment of his salary for the unexpired portion of his 12 month contract.
The Labor Arbiter rendered a Decision declaring the dismissal of Antonio M. Serrano to be illegal and awarding him, among others, payment of his salary for three (3) months only out of the unexpired portion of his contract of employment. Such award was based on the 5th paragraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A) No. 8042, which provides:
“Sec.10. Money Claims. – xxx In case of termination of overseas employment without just, valid or authorized cause as defined by law or contract, the workers shall be entitled to the full reimbursement of his placement fee with interest of twelve percent (12%) per annum, plus his salaries for the unexpired portion of his employment contractor for three (3) months for every year of the unexpired term, whichever is less.”
Antonio M. Serrano was not satisfied with the award. He maintained that he should be awarded his full salary for the unexpired portion of his employment contract. He elevated his case to the Supreme Court on the ground that the last clause in the 5th paragraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A) No. 8042 is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court held that limiting the award of salaries to three (3) months only under the 5th paragraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A) No. 8042 is unconstitutional for being violative of Section 1, Article III, Section 18, Article II and Section 3, Article VIII of the Constitution.
Section 1, Article III of the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law. On the other hand, Section 18, Article II and Section 3, Article VIII grant all members of the labor sector full protection of their rights and welfare. Simply put, these constitutional provisions accord equal protection to all Filipino workers. Meaning, similarly situated workers should be treated similarly.
Under the 5th paragraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A) No. 8042, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are classified into two categories. The first category includes OFWs with fixed-period employment contracts of less than one year. In case of illegal dismissal, they are entitled to their salaries for the entire unexpired portion of their contract. The second category consists of OFWs with fixed-period employment contracts of one year or more. In case of illegal dismissal, they are entitled to monetary award equivalent to only three (3) months of the unexpired portion of their contracts.
These different ways of computing the money claims of illegally dismissed OFWs based on their employment periods discriminate one (1) category whose contracts have an unexpired portion of one year or more and subject them to the peculiar disadvantage of having their monetary awards limited to their salaries for three (3) months or for the unexpired portion thereof, whichever is less, simply because the other category’s unexpired contracts fall short of one year.
In addition, those OFWs belonging to the first category are likewise put on a disadvantaged position compared to local workers with fixed-period employment who are entitled to the award of salaries for the remainder of their fixed-term employment, in case of illegal dismissal.
Considering these circumstances, the Supreme Court held that the 5thparagraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A) No. 8042 contains a discriminatory classification, since in the computation of the monetary benefits of fixed-term employees who are illegally discharged, it imposes a 3-month cap on the claim of OFWs with an unexpired portion of one year or more in their contracts, but none on the claims of other OFWs or local workers with fixed-term employment. The subject clause unfairly singles out one classification of OFWs and burdens it with a peculiar disadvantage, thus violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Thus, Antonio M. Serrano won his case before the Supreme Court and he was awarded his salaries for the entire unexpired portion of his employment contract consisting of nine (9) months and twenty-three (23) days.
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