581 Phil. 517

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 168985, July 23, 2008 ]

ACCESSORIES SPECIALIST INC., A.K.A. ARTS 21 CORPORATION, AND TADAHIKO HASHIMOTO, PETITIONERS, VS. ERLINDA B. ALABANZA, FOR AND IN BEHALF OF HER DECEASED HUSBAND, JONES B. ALABANZA, RESPONDENT.

DECISION

NACHURA, J.:

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision[1] dated April 15, 2005 and the Resolution[2] dated July 12, 2005 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 84206.

The Facts

The facts of the case, as narrated in the Decision of the CA:
On September 27, 2002, private respondent Erlinda B. Alabanza (Erlinda, for brevity), for and in behalf of her husband Jones B. Alabanza (Jones, for brevity) filed a complaint against petitioners Accessories Specialists, Inc. (ASI, for brevity) also known as ARTS 21 Corporation, and Tadahiko Hashimoto for non-payment of salaries, separation pay, and 13th month pay.

In her position paper, respondent Erlinda alleged, among others, that her husband Jones was the Vice-President, Manager and Director of ASI.  Jones rendered outstanding services for the petitioners from 1975 to October 1997. On October 17, 1997, Jones was compelled by the owner of ASI, herein petitioner Tadahiko Hashimoto, to file his involuntary resignation on the ground that ASI allegedly suffered losses due to lack of market and incurred several debts caused by a slam in the market.  At the time of his resignation, Jones had unpaid salaries for eighteen (18) months from May 1995 to October 1997 equivalent to P396,000.00 and US$38,880.00.  He was likewise not paid his separation pay commensurate to his 21 years of service in the amount of P462,000.00 and US$45,360.00 and 13th month pay amounting to P33,000.00.  Jones demanded payment of his money claims upon resignation but ASI informed him that it would just settle first the money claims of the rank- and-file employees, and his claims will be paid thereafter.  Knowing the predicament of the company, Jones patiently waited for his turn to be paid.  Several demands were made by Jones but ASI just kept on assuring him that he will be paid his monetary claims.  Jones died on August 5, 2002 and failed to receive the same.

On the other hand, the petitioners contend that Jones voluntarily resigned on October 31, 1997.  Thus, Erlinda's cause of action has already prescribed and is forever barred on the ground that under Article 291 of the Labor Code, all money claims arising from an employer-employee relationship shall be filed within three (3) years from the time the cause of action accrues.  Since the complaint was filed only on September 27, 2002, or almost five (5) years from the date of the alleged illegal dismissal of her husband Jones, Erlinda's complaint is now barred.

On September 14, 2003, Labor Arbiter Reynaldo V. Abdon rendered a decision ordering the petitioners to pay Erlinda the amount of P693,000.00 and US$74,040.00 or its equivalent in peso or amounting to a total of P4,765,200.00 representing her husband's unpaid salaries, 13th month pay, and separation pay, and five [percent] (5%) on the said total award as attorney's fees.

On October 10, 2003, the petitioners filed a notice of appeal with motion to reduce bond and attached thereto photocopies of the receipts for the cash bond in the amount of P290,000.00, and appeal fee in the amount of P170.00.

On January 15, 2004, public respondent NLRC issued an order denying the petitioner's motion to reduce bond and directing the latter to post an additional bond, and in case the petitioners opted to post a surety bond, the latter were required to submit a joint declaration, indemnity agreement and collateral security within ten (10) days from receipt of the said order, otherwise their appeal shall be dismissed. The pertinent portion of such order reads:
After a review however of respondents-appellants['] instant motion, We find that the same does not proffer any valid or justifiable reason that would warrant a reduction of the appeal bond.  Hence, the same must be denied.

WHEREFORE, respondents-appellants are hereby ordered to post a cash or surety bond in the amount equivalent to the monetary award of Four Million Seven Hundred Sixty-Five Thousand and Two Hundred Pesos (P4,765,200.00) granted in the appealed Decision (less the Two Hundred and Ninety Thousand Pesos [P290,000.00] cash bond already posted), and joint declaration, indemnity agreement and collateral security in case respondents-appellants opted to post a surety bond, as required by Art. 223 of the Labor Code as amended and Section 6, Rule VI of the NLRC New Rules of Procedure as amended within an unextendible period of ten (10) calendar days from receipt of this Order; otherwise, the appeal shall be dismissed for non-perfection thereof.

SO ORDERED.
On February 19, 2004, the petitioners moved for a reconsideration of the said order.  However, the public respondent in its resolution dated March 18, 2004 denied the same and dismissed the appeal of the petitioners, thus:
The reduction of appeal bond is not a matter of right but rests upon our sound discretion.  Thus, after We denied respondents-appellants['] Motion to Reduce [B]ond, they should have immediately complied with our 15 January 2004 Order directing them to post an additional cash or surety bond in the amount equivalent to the judgment award less the cash bond already posted within the extended period of ten (10) days.  In all, respondents had twenty (20) days, including the ten (10)-day period, prescribed under Article 223 of the Labor Code and under Section 6, Rule VI of the NLRC New Rules of Procedure, within which to post a cash or surety bond.  To seek a reconsideration of our 15 January 2004 order is tantamount to seeking another extension of the period within which to perfect an appeal, which is however, not allowed under Section 7, Rule VI of the NLRC Rule. x x x

x x x x

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Motion for Reconsideration filed by respondents-appellants is hereby DENIED and the instant appeal DISMISSED for non-perfection thereof.

SO ORDERED.
On April 22, 2004, the aforesaid resolution became final and executory.  Thus, herein private respondent Erlinda filed a motion for execution.

On May 31, 2004, the petitioners filed an opposition to the said motion for execution.  On June 11, 2004, Labor Arbiter Reynaldo Abdon issued an order directing the issuance of a writ of execution.[3]
On May 28, 2004, petitioners filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the CA and prayed for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a writ of preliminary injunction.  On June 30, 2004, the CA issued a TRO directing the respondents, their agents, assigns, and all persons acting on their behalf to refrain and/or cease and desist from executing the Decision dated September 14, 2003 and Resolution dated March 18, 2004 of the Labor Arbiter (LA).

On April 15, 2005, the CA issued the assailed Decision dismissing the petition. Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration. On July 12, 2005, the CA issued the assailed Resolution denying the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.

On September 8, 2005, petitioners posted the instant petition presenting the following grounds in support of their arguments: 1) the cause of action of respondent has already prescribed; 2) the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) gravely abused its discretion when it dismissed the appeal of petitioners for failure to post the complete amount of the appeal bond; and 3) the monetary claim was resolved by the LA with uncertainty.

The Issues

The following are the issues that should be resolved in order to come up with a just determination of the case:
  1. Whether the cause of action of respondents has already prescribed;

  2. Whether the posting of the complete amount of the bond in an appeal from the decision of the LA to the NLRC is an indispensable requirement for the perfection of the appeal despite the filing of a motion to reduce the amount of the appeal bond; and

  3. Whether there were sufficient bases for the grant of the monetary award of the LA to the respondent.
The Ruling of the Court

We resolve to deny the petition.

I

Petitioners aver that the action of the respondents for the recovery of unpaid wages, separation pay and 13th month pay has already prescribed since the action was filed almost five years from the time Jones severed his employment from ASI. Jones filed his resignation on October 31, 1997, while the complaint before the LA was instituted on September 29, 2002. Petitioners contend that the three-year prescriptive period under Article 291[4] of the Labor Code had already set-in, thereby barring all of respondent's money claims arising from their employer-employee relations.

Based on the findings of facts of the LA, it was ASI which was responsible for the delay in the institution of the complaint. When Jones filed his resignation, he immediately asked for the payment of his money claims. However, the management of ASI promised him that he would be paid immediately after the claims of the rank-and-file employees had been paid. Jones relied on this representation.  Unfortunately, the promise was never fulfilled even until the time of Jones' death.

In light of these circumstances, we can apply the principle of promissory estoppel, which is a recognized exception to the three-year prescriptive period enunciated in Article 291 of the Labor Code.

Promissory estoppel may arise from the making of a promise, even though without consideration, if it was intended that the promise should be relied upon, as in fact it was relied upon, and if a refusal to enforce it would virtually sanction the perpetration of fraud or would result in other injustice.[5] Promissory estoppel presupposes the existence of a promise on the part of one against whom estoppel is claimed. The promise must be plain  and   unambiguous and   sufficiently  specific  so  that the  court  can understand the obligation assumed and enforce the promise according to its terms.[6]

In order to make out a claim of promissory estoppel, a party bears the burden of establishing the following elements: (1) a promise was reasonably expected to induce action or forbearance; (2) such promise did, in fact, induce such action or forbearance; and (3) the party suffered detriment as a result.[7]

All the requisites of promissory estoppel are present in this case. Jones relied on the promise of ASI that he would be paid as soon as the claims of all the rank-and-file employees had been paid.  If not for this promise that he had held on to until the time of his death, we see no reason why he would delay filing the complaint before the LA.  Thus, we find ample justification not to follow the prescriptive period imposed under Article 291 of the Labor Code. Great injustice will be committed if we will brush aside the employee's claims on a mere technicality, especially when it was petitioner's own action that prevented respondent from interposing the claims within the required period.[8]

II

Petitioners argue that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing their appeal for failure to post the complete amount of the bond. They assert that they cannot post an appeal bond equivalent to the monetary award rendered by the LA due to financial incapacity. They say that strict enforcement of the NLRC Rules of Procedure[9]  that the appeal bond shall be equivalent to the monetary award is oppressive and would have the effect of depriving petitioners of their right to appeal.[10]

Article 223 of the Labor Code mandates that in case of a judgment of the LA involving a monetary award, an appeal by the employer to the NLRC may be perfected only upon the posting of a cash or surety bond issued by a reputable bonding company duly accredited by the Commission, in the amount equivalent to the monetary award in the judgment appealed from.

The posting of a bond is indispensable to the perfection of an appeal in cases involving monetary awards from the decision of the LA.[11] The intention of the lawmakers to make the bond a mandatory requisite for the perfection of an appeal by the employer is clearly limned in the provision that an appeal by the employer may be perfected "only upon the posting of a cash or surety bond." The word "only" makes it perfectly plain that the lawmakers intended the posting of a cash or surety bond by the employer to be the essential and exclusive means by which an employer's appeal may be perfected. The word "may" refers to the perfection of an appeal as optional on the part of the defeated party, but not to the compulsory posting of an appeal bond, if he desires to appeal. The meaning and the intention of the legislature in enacting a statute must be determined from the language employed; and where there is no ambiguity in the words used, then there is no room for construction.[12]

The filing of the bond is not only mandatory but also a jurisdictional requirement that must be complied with in order to confer jurisdiction upon the NLRC.[13] Non-compliance therewith renders the decision of the LA final and executory.[14] This requirement is intended to assure the workers that if they prevail in the case, they will receive the money judgment in their favor upon  the dismissal of  the  employer's appeal.  It  is  intended to discourage employers from using an appeal to delay or evade their obligation to satisfy their employees' just and lawful claims.[15]

In the instant case, the failure of petitioners to comply with the requirement of posting a bond equivalent in amount to the monetary award is fatal to their appeal. Section 6 of the New Rules of Procedure of the NLRC mandates, among others, that no motion to reduce bond shall be entertained except on meritorious grounds and upon the posting of a bond in a reasonable amount in relation to the monetary award.  The NLRC has the full discretion to grant or deny their motion to reduce the amount of the appeal bond. The finding of the NLRC that petitioners did not present sufficient justification for the reduction thereof is generally conclusive upon this Court absent a showing that the denial was tainted with bad faith.

Furthermore, we would like to reiterate that appeal is not a constitutional right, but a mere statutory privilege.  Thus, parties who seek to avail themselves of it must comply with the statutes or rules allowing it. Perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period permitted by law is mandatory and jurisdictional. The requirements for perfecting an appeal must, as a rule, be strictly followed. Such requirements are considered indispensable interdictions against needless delays and are necessary for the orderly discharge of the judicial business. Failure to perfect the appeal renders the judgment of the court final and executory.  Just as a losing party has the privilege to file an appeal within the prescribed period, so does the winner also have the correlative right to enjoy the finality of the decision.[16]

III

The propriety of the monetary award of the LA is already binding upon this Court. As we have repeatedly pointed out, petitioners' failure to perfect their appeal in the manner and period required by the rules makes the award final and executory. Petitioners' stance that there was no sufficient basis for the award of the payment of withheld wages, separation pay and 13th month pay must fail. Such matters are questions of facts requiring the presentation of evidence. Findings of facts of administrative and quasi-judicial bodies, which have acquired expertise on specific matters, are accorded weight and respect by the Court. They are deemed final and conclusive, unless compelling reasons are presented for us to digress therefrom.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The Decision dated April 15, 2005 and the Resolution dated July 12, 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 84206 are hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, (Chairperson), Austria-Martinez, and Reyes, JJ., concur.



*  In lieu of Associate Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario per Special Order No. 508 dated June 25, 2008.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis, with Associate Justices Perlita J. Tria Tirona and Jose C. Reyes, Jr., concurring; rollo, pp. 38-47.

[2] Rollo, p. 49.

[3]  Id. at 39-42.

[4] ART. 291.  MONEY CLAIMS. - All money claims arising from employer-employee relations accruing during the effectivity of this Code shall be filed within three (3) years from the time the cause of action accrued; otherwise they shall be forever barred.

[5] Ramos v. Central Bank of the Philippines, No. L-29352, October 4, 1971, 41 SCRA 565.

[6] National Power Corporation v. Hon. Alonzo-Legasto, G.R. No. 148318, November 22, 2004, 443 SCRA 342, 371.

[7] Mendoza v. Court of Appeals, 412 Phil. 14, 29 (2001).

[8] Ludo & Luym Corporation v. Saornido, 443 Phil. 554 (2003).

[9] The applicable NLRC Rules of Procedure in this case is the one that took effect on January 1, 2000, as amended by Resolution No. 01-02, Series of 2002, otherwise known as the New Rules of Procedure of the National Labor Relations Commission.

A revised NLRC Rules of Procedure was promulgated in 2005.

[10] The LA in its Order dated January 15, 2004 and Resolution dated March 18, 2004, ratiocinated Sections 6 and 7 of the New Rules of Procedure of the National Labor Relations Commission, viz.:

SECTION 6.
  BOND.  In case the decision of the Labor Arbiter or the Regional Director involves a monetary award, an appeal by the employer may be perfected only upon the posting of a cash or surety bond.  The appeal bond shall either be in cash or surety in an amount equivalent to the monetary award, exclusive of damages and attorney's fees.

In case of surety bond, the same shall be issued by a reputable bonding company duly accredited by the Commission or the Supreme Court, and shall be accompanied by:

a) a joint declaration under oath by the employer, his counsel, and the bonding company, attesting that the bond posted is genuine, and shall be in effect until final disposition of the case.

b) a copy of the indemnity agreement between the employer-appellant and bonding company; and

c) a copy of security deposit or collateral securing the bond.

A certified true copy of the bond shall be furnished by the appellant to the appellee who shall verify the regularity and genuineness thereof and immediately report to the Commission any irregularity.

Upon verification by the Commission that the bond is irregular or not genuine, the Commission shall cause the immediate dismissal of the appeal.

No motion to reduce bond shall be entertained except on meritorious grounds and upon the posting of a bond in a reasonable amount in relation to the monetary award.

The filing of the motion to reduce bond without compliance with the requisites in the preceding paragraph shall not stop the running of the period to perfect an appeal. (Emphasis supplied.)

Section 7No extension of Period. - No motion or request for extension of the period within which to perfect an appeal shall be allowed.

[11] Quiambao v. NLRC, 324 Phil. 455, 461 (1996).

[12] Viron Garments Manufacturing Co., Inc. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 97357, March 18, 1992, 207 SCRA 339, citing Provincial Board of Cebu v. Presiding Judge of Cebu Court of First Instance, 171 SCRA 1 (1989).

[13] Section 4 of the New Rules of Procedure of the National Labor Relations Commission requires the posting of cash or surety bond as a requisite for the perfection of the appeal, viz.:

SECTION 4.  REQUISITES FOR PERFECTION OF APPEAL.  a) The appeal shall be filed within the reglementary period as provided in Section 1 of this Rule; shall be verified by appellant himself in accordance with Section 4, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court, with proof of payment of the required appeal fee and the posting of a cash or surety bond as provided in Section 6 of this Rule; shall be accompanied by memorandum of appeal in three (3) legibly typewritten copies which shall state the grounds relied upon and the arguments in support thereof; the relief prayed for, and a statement of the date when the appellant received the appealed decision, resolution or order and a certificate of non-forum shopping with proof of service on the other party of such appeal. A mere notice of appeal without complying with the other requisites aforestated shall not stop the running of the period for perfecting an appeal.

b) The appellee may file with the Regional Arbitration Branch or Regional Office where the appeal was filed, his answer or reply to appellant's memorandum of appeal, not later than ten (10) calendar days from receipt thereof.  Failure on the part of the appellee who was properly furnished with a copy of the appeal to file his answer or reply within the said period may be construed as a waiver on his part to file the same.

c) Subject to the provisions of Article 218, once the appeal is perfected in accordance with these Rules, the Commission shall limit itself to reviewing and deciding specific issues that were elevated on appeal. (Emphasis supplied.)

[14] Quiambao v. NLRC, supra note 11.

[15] Viron Garments Manufacturing Co., Inc. v. NLRC, supra note 12.

[16] Cuevas v. Bais Steel Corporation, 439 Phil. 793, 805 (2002).



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