Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prescription in labor cases; Arts. 1146, 1155 of Civil Code applied

ONOFRE V. MONTERO, ET. AL. VS. TIMES TRANSPORTATION CO., INC., ET. AL., G.R. No. 190828, March 16, 2015.

“x x x.

In the case at bar, October 26, 1997 and November 24, 1997 appear on record to be the dates when the petitioners’ employment were terminated by TTCI. The antecedent facts that gave rise to the petitioners’ dismissal from employment are not disputed in this case. There is no question about the fact that the petitioners’ complaints for unfair labor practice and money claims have already prescribed. The petitioners however argue that their complaints for illegal dismissal were duly filed within the four-year prescriptive period since the period during which their cases were pending should be deducted from the period of prescription. On the other hand, the respondents insist that said complaints have already prescribed. Hence, the pivotal question in resolving the issues hinges on the resolution of whether the period during which the petitioners’ cases were pending should be excluded from the period of prescription.

Settled is the rule that when one is arbitrarily and unjustly deprived of his job or means of livelihood, the action instituted to contest the legality of one’s dismissal from employment constitutes, in essence, an action predicated upon an injury to the rights of the plaintiff, as contemplated under Article 1146⁠2 of the New Civil Code, which must be brought within four years.⁠3 

The petitioners contend that the period when they filed a labor case on May 14, 1998 but withdrawn on March 22, 1999 should be excluded from the computation of the four-year prescriptive period for illegal dismissal cases. However, the Court had already ruled that the prescriptive period continues even after the withdrawal of the case as though no action has been filed at all. The applicability of Article 1155 of the Civil Code in labor cases was upheld in the case of Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation v. Panganiban where the Court held that “although the commencement of a civil action stops the running of the statute of prescription or limitations, its dismissal or voluntary abandonment by plaintiff leaves the parties in exactly the same position as though no action had been commenced at all.” 

In like manner, while the filing of the complaint for illegal dismissal before the LA interrupted the running of the prescriptive period, its voluntary withdrawal left the petitioners in exactly the same position as though no complaint had been filed at all. The withdrawal of their complaint effectively erased the tolling of the reglementary period.

A prudent review of the antecedents of the claim reveals that it has in fact prescribed due to the petitioners’ withdrawal of their labor case docketed as NLRC RAB-I-01-1007.⁠7 Hence, while the filing of the said case could have interrupted the running of the four-year prescriptive period, the voluntary withdrawal of the petitioners effectively cancelled the tolling of the prescriptive period within which to file their illegal dismissal case, leaving them in exactly the same position as though no labor case had been filed at all. The running of the four-year prescriptive period not having been interrupted by the filing of NLRC RAB-I-01-1007, the petitioners’ cause of action had already prescribed in four years after their cessation of employment on October 26, 1997 and November 24, 1997. Consequently, when the petitioners filed their complaint for illegal dismissal, separation pay, retirement benefits, and damages in 2002, their claim, clearly, had already been barred by prescription.⁠8 

Sadly, the petitioners have no one but themselves to blame for their own predicament. By their own allegations in their respective complaints, they have barred their remedy and extinguished their right of action. Although the Constitution is committed to the policy of social justice and the protection of the working class, it does not necessary follow that every labor dispute will be automatically decided in favor of labor. The management also has its own rights. Out of concern for the less privileged in life, this Court, has more often than not inclined, to uphold the cause of the worker in his conflict with the employer. Such leaning, however, does not blind the Court to the rule that justice is in every case for the deserving, to be dispensed in the light of the established facts and applicable law and doctrine.⁠9 

X x x.”