GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM (GSIS), et al, Petitioners, vs.
DINNAH VILLAVIZA, et al, Respondents. EN BANC, G.R. No. 180291, July 27, 2010
"On the merits, what needs to be resolved in the case at bench is the question of whether or not there was a violation of Section 5 of CSC Resolution No. 02-1316. Stated differently, whether or not respondents' actions on May 27, 2005 amounted to a "prohibited concerted activity or mass action." Pertinently, the said provision states:
Section 5. As used in this Omnibus Rules, the phrase ''prohibited concerted activity or mass action'' shall be understood to refer to any collective activity undertaken by government employees, by themselves or through their employees organizations, with intent of effecting work stoppage or service disruptionin order to realize their demands of force concession, economic or otherwise, from their respective agencies or the government. It shall include mass leaves, walkouts, pickets and acts of similar nature. (underscoring supplied)
In this case, CSC found that the acts of respondents in going to the GSIS-IU office wearing red shirts to witness a public hearing do not amount to a concerted activity or mass action proscribed above. CSC even added that their actuations can be deemed an exercise of their constitutional right to freedom of expression. The CA found no cogent reason to deviate therefrom.
As defined in Section 5 of CSC Resolution No. 02-1316 which serves to regulate the political rights of those in the government service, the concerted activity or mass action proscribed must be coupled with the "intent of effecting work stoppage or service disruption in order to realize their demands of force concession." Wearing similarly colored shirts, attending a public hearing at the GSIS-IU office, bringing with them recording gadgets, clenching their fists, some even badmouthing the guards and PGM Garcia, are acts not constitutive of an (i) intent to effect work stoppage or service disruption and (ii) for the purpose of realizing their demands of force concession.
Precisely, the limitations or qualifications found in Section 5 of CSC Resolution No. 02-1316 are there to temper and focus the application of such prohibition. Not all collective activity or mass undertaking of government employees is prohibited. Otherwise, we would be totally depriving our brothers and sisters in the government service of their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Government workers, whatever their ranks, have as much right as any person in the land to voice out their protests against what they believe to be a violation of their rights and interests. Civil Service does not deprive them of their freedom of expression. It would be unfair to hold that by joining the government service, the members thereof have renounced or waived this basic liberty. This freedom can be reasonably regulated only but can never be taken away.
X x x.
In the recent case of GSIS v. Kapisanan ng mga Manggagawa sa GSIS [GSIS v. Kapisanan ng mga Manggagawa sa GSIS, G.R. No. 170132, December 6, 2006, 510 SCRA 622], the Court upheld the position of petitioner GSIS because its employees, numbering between 300 and 800 each day, staged a walkout and participated in a mass protest or demonstration outside the GSIS for four straight days. We cannot say the same for the 20 or so employees in this case. To equate their wearing of red shirts and going to the GSIS-IU office for just over an hour with that four-day mass action in Kapisanan ng mga Manggagawa sa GSIS case and to punish them in the same manner would most certainly be unfair and unjust.
Recent analogous decisions in the United States, while recognizing the government's right as an employer to lay down certain standards of conduct, tend to lean towards a broad definition of "public concern speech" which is protected by their First Amendment. One such case is that of Scott v. Meters [Scott v. Meyers, 191 F.3d 82 (2d Cir. 1999)]. In said case, the New York Transit Authority (NYTA), responsible for operation of New York City's mass transit service, issued a rule prohibiting employees from wearing badges or buttons on their uniforms. A number of union members wore union buttons promoting their opposition to a collective bargaining agreement. Consequently, the NYTA tried to enforce its rule and threatened to subject these union members to discipline. The court, though recognizing the government's right to impose reasonable restrictions, held that the NYTA's rule was "unconstitutionally overboard."
In another case, Communication Workers of America v. Ector County Hospital District [Communication Workers of America v. Ector County Hospital District, 392 F.3d 733, 176 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2155, 60 Fed. R. Serv. 3d 107 (5th Cir. 2004)], it was held that,
A county hospital employee's wearing of a "Union Yes" lapel pin during a union organization drive constituted speech on a matter of public concern, and the county's proffered interest in enforcing the anti-adornment provision of its dress code was outweighed by the employee's interest in exercising his First Amendment speech and associational rights by wearing a pro-union lapel button. (id.).
Thus, respondents' freedom of speech and of expression remains intact, and CSC's Resolution No. 02-1316 defining what a prohibited concerted activity or mass action has only tempered or regulated these rights. Measured against that definition, respondents' actuations did not amount to a prohibited concerted activity or mass action. The CSC and the CA were both correct in arriving at said conclusion.
x x x."