A serious miscarriage of justice
How ironic and sad it is when someone whose job is to dispense justice becomes a victim of injustice himself. For doing his duty, a labor arbiter has been sentenced to seven years in prison. As if to twist the knife in the wound, the Government Service Insurance System refuses to release his retirement pay. This is what has happened to arbiter Ariel Cadiente Santos of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).
The arbiter system was instituted to make the solution to labor-management conflicts faster. The old system of going directly to the then Court of Industrial Relations where a trial is held is very slow. During the trial, the employee is at a disadvantage: He has no job and no income, and so his family starves. The employer has the advantage: While the case drags and the employee goes hungry, he is more prone to agree to a compromise where he would receive less than what the law mandates.
The arbiter aims to hasten the process. Acting like a referee, he tries to make the two sides agree to a compromise. Failing in that, he holds hearings and receives evidence. The hearings are supposed to make the resolution of the case as fast as possible.
Arbiter Santos tried to do just that, but for his efforts he was charged with graft by the employer. I wrote about his case in a much earlier column, some parts of which are repeated here.
Background: Hotel owner Conrado Tiu dismissed waiter Abraham Mose, who filed a case of illegal dismissal at the NLRC in 1979. Through the years, the case was handled by several arbiters. The last one, Andres Pulumbarit, declared Mose’s dismissal illegal on July 10, 1981, and ordered his reinstatement and the payment by the hotel owner of back wages and other benefits. The NLRC affirmed the decision. Tiu appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which also affirmed the decision. When the decision became final and executory, it was sent back to the arbiter for execution.
By that time, Ariel C. Santos, a 25-year veteran in public service, had replaced Pulumbarit as arbiter. Following the high court’s order, he issued a writ of execution for Pulumbarit’s decision. Tiu sued Santos for violation of the antigraft law, saying he issued the writ of execution despite a temporary restraining order by the NLRC, thus giving Mose undue advantage.
But the writ was issued on June 15, 1993, and the TRO was issued on June 29, 1993.
The Sandiganbayan said Santos should have known that a TRO was about to be issued, and yet still issued the writ of execution. But how could Santos have known that? No one told him beforehand about the TRO. In fact, after learning of the issuance of the TRO, Santos stopped the implementation of the writ of execution.
Until now, waiter Mose has not received from hotel owner Tiu the back wages that the high court ordered paid to him decades ago.
Santos did not violate the antigraft law by giving undue advantage to the dismissed waiter, resulting in alleged injury to his employer. What injury, when Tiu has not paid his dismissed employee a single centavo in spite of an order from the high court?
The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the administrative complaint filed by Tiu against Santos and even praised the latter: “In resolving the assailed writ of execution without resolving Motion for Reconsideration and other pending incidents,” the Ombudsman said, “respondent (Santos) was trying to uphold the constitutional mandate on speedy disposition of cases. Respondent Santos is tasked to safeguard the implementation of the Labor Code … [which] must be executed without unnecessary delay… The said resolution has become final and executory long before the issuance of the questioned order. We appreciate respondent’s effort of executing the decision with dispatch as the case has been pending since 1979 and has been handled by different Labor Arbiters.”
In the face of such findings by the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan still convicted Santos and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Santos raised the case to the Supreme Court, thinking that he would at last get justice. But the high court affirmed his conviction.
Santos filed a motion for reconsideration, pleading for the justices to look at the documentary evidence. But the justices declared that a second motion for reconsideration was prohibited and that his documentary evidence could no longer be raised on appeal. The honorable justices, instead of looking at the facts, condemned the arbiter on a technicality.
One of the principles of justice repeatedly enunciated by the high court is that in a conflict between the letter and the substance of the law, the latter should prevail, and between a technicality and the spirit of the law, the latter should have priority. Still, rather than getting deeply interested in the pursuit of truth to dispense justice fairly, the high court relied on technicalities in Santos’ case.
This is the same high court that made possible three motions for reconsideration, even after an entry of judgment, in certain cases like the land case of Barque vs Manotoc. This is the same high court that had remanded some cases to the Court of Appeals for the reception of evidence.
As if that were not enough, although Santos’ case was still pending with the high court, an eager NLRC chair, Gerardo Nograles, summarily dismissed Santos from the service, stopped the payment of his salary, and ordered the nonimplementation of Santos’ decisions in labor cases.
To be continued
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