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Republic of the Philippines

Court of Appeals
Manila

FOURTEENTH DIVISION

MARISOL B. REYES, MAYRA P. CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662


SANGALANG, and MARIE
JANE P. LACANILAO, Members:
Petitioners,
ROSARIO, Chairperson
PERALTA, JR., E.B., and
- versus - MARTIN, R.R.B., JJ.

NATIONAL LABOR
RELATIONS COMMISSION,
FIRST CHAMPION &
INTERNATIONAL
ENTERTAINMENT, INC.
(FORMERLY FIRST
CHAMPION 1), MR. JACKSON
T. GAN, ALPHA TOMO
INTERNATIONAL MANPOWER
SERVICES, INC., EDNA S.
OSEA, and LOVE NOTE
TELEGRAM
ENTERTAINMENT,
Promulgated:
Respondents.
May 31, 2018

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION
ROSARIO, J.:

Assailed in this petition for certiorari filed by Marisol B. Reyes,


Mayra P. Sangalang and Marie Jane P. Lacanilao is the Decision dated 31
March 20171 of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC)
dismissing their appeal from the 29 November 2016 Decision2 of the labor

1
Annex "A" of the petition, rollo, pp. 35-45. Penned by Commissioner Mercedes R. Posada-Lacap, with
the concurrence of Presiding Commissioner Grace E. Maniquiz-Tan and Commissioner Dolores M.
Peralta-Beley.
2
Annex "J" of the petition, rollo, pp. 222-234. Penned by Labor Arbiter Gaudencio P. Demaisip, Jr.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 2
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arbiter who, in turn, dismissed their complaint for recovery of wages, moral
and exemplary damages, and attorney's fees. Likewise assailed is the
NLRC's 18 May 2017 Resolution3 denying reconsideration of its 31 March
2017 Decision.

On 7 July 2016, Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao filed a complaint


for underpayment of wages, moral and exemplary damages, and attorney's
fees against First Champion & International Entertainment, Inc. (First
Champion), Alpha Tomo International Manpower Services, Inc. (Alpha
Tomo), Love Note Telegram Entertainment (Love Note), Jason T. Gan, and
Edna S. Osea.

In their position paper,4 Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao alleged that


they were hired by First Champion to work as singers/musicians for its
foreign principal Love Note in Malaysia for a period of 24 months, with a
salary of six hundred US dollars ($600.00) per month. First Champion
likewise introduced Alpha Tomo as its business partner. Per Alpha Tomo's
instruction, Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao attended the pre-departure
orientation seminars conducted by National Greening Movement Foundation
and Philippine Association of Service Importers, Inc. (PASEI) on different
dates. They were also required to personally pay for the following fees:
POEA Processing, OWWA Membership, PhilHealth/Medicare and
PAGIBIG membership.

Upon their arrival in Malaysia, Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao were


made to sign another contract of employment which stated that they will be
paid a basic salary of only “five hundred Malaysian ringgit plus allowance
one hundred Malaysian ringgit, or a total of six hundred Malaysian ringgit”
per month, equivalent to seven thousand Philippine pesos (₱7,000.00).

Upon their return to the Philippines, Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao


alleged that they learned that First Champion's modus operandi was to make
it appear that six hundred US dollars is equivalent to six hundred Malaysian
ringgit. Based on the Overseas Employment Certificate 5 stating that they
were supposed to receive 600 US dollars as monthly salary, Reyes,
Sangalang and Lacanilao thus claimed entitlement to salary differential in
the amount of five hundred eight thousand eight hundred pesos each. They
further claimed for moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees.

3
Annex "B" of the petition, rollo, pp. 47-50. Same division composition.
4
Rollo, pp. 53-76, inclusive of annexes.
5
Rollo, pp. 68 and 76.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 3
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Alpha Tomo and its president Edna S. Osea denied any liability for
Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao's aforementioned claims, asserting that the
latter were never their applicants for overseas employment. Alpha Tomo
and Osea likewise denied that they facilitated Reyes, Sangalang and
Lacanilao's deployment. Alpha Tomo and Osea further denied any
connection to First Champion.

First Champion and its Chief Executive Officer Jason T. Gan likewise
denied any liability to Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao. First Champion and
Gan averred that Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao had earlier filed before the
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) an administrative
complaint against First Champion for violation of POEA's recruitment rules
and regulations. First Champion and Gan brought to fore the sworn
statements executed by Sangalang6 and Lacanilao7 before the POEA hearing
officer in connection with said administrative case. These sworn statements
also served as basis for Sangalang and Lacanilao's complaint for human
trafficking, lodged with the National Bureau for Investigation, against First
Champion.

In said sworn statements, Sangalang and Lacanilao stated that they


were recruited by a certain Venus Guevarra from Bulacan, who told them
that they would each receive a salary of thirteen thousand pesos a month as
entertainers in a KTV bar in Malaysia. Guevarra advanced the costs for
their employment requirements, with the agreement that she would be
reimbursed therefor. Guevarra also helped them in processing their visas to
Malaysia, told them to attend the pre-departure orientation seminars
conducted by PASEI and National Greening Movement Foundation, and
informed them of their date of departure to Malaysia. In their sworn
statements, Sangalang and Lacanilao recounted the ordeals they suffered
while working in Malaysia. It was only when they returned to the
Philippines that they learned that Guevarra had no authority to recruit
prospective overseas workers. Lacanilao further stated in her sworn
statement that it was only when she had returned to the Philippines that she
learned that Guevarra was not connected to First Champion.

First Champion and Tan pointed out that these sworn statements
readily show that it was Guevarra who had recruited Sangalang and
Lacanilao. To further support their defense that they had no part in the
recruitment and deployment of Sangalang and Lacanilao, First Champion
and Tan submitted the Affidavit of Withdrawal of Complaint with
Retraction, Waiver and Desistance executed by Sangalang and Lacanilao,
6
Sinumpaang Salaysay dated 5 June 2015, rollo, pp. 100-102.
7
Sinumpaang Salaysay dated 8 June 2015, rollo, pp. 97-99.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 4
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where the two women recanted their statements against First Champion and
declared that they were withdrawing their administrative and criminal
complaints against it.8

With respect to Reyes' allegations, First Champion and Tan offered


her handwritten letter9 dated 10 August 2015 where she stated that First
Champion had no knowledge, participation, nor approval of her recruitment
and deployment to Malaysia. First Champion and Tan also submitted the
Affidavit of Withdrawal of Complaint with Retraction, Waiver and
Desistance10 executed by Reyes where she recanted the allegations she made
in her sworn statement11 against First Champion and declared that she was
withdrawing her administrative complaint against said company.

Averring that they had entered into settlement of claims with Reyes,
Sangalang and Lacanilao just to buy peace and out of pity for the ordeal
Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao experienced, First Champion and Tan
offered the Quitclaim and Release12 executed by Reyes in favor of First
Champion, and the Payment Vouchers signed by Sangalang13 and
Lacanilao14 representing the payment for the final settlement of their case.
The quitclaim and payment vouchers showed that Reyes, Sangalang and
Lacanilao each received twenty-five thousand pesos.

In their reply to First Champion and Tan's position paper, Reyes,


Sangalang and Lacanilao countered that the sworn statements were not only
hearsay evidence but also immaterial to their complaint for underpayment of
wages. They likewise averred that the payment vouchers failed to show that
it was First Champion which had settled their claims, as the vouchers
indicate that it was an insurance company, and not First Champion, which
paid them twenty five thousand pesos each as settlement.

In his 29 November 2016 Decision,15 the labor arbiter found that the
sworn statements, affidavit and quitclaims executed by Reyes, Sangalang
8
See Lacanilao's Affidavit of Withdrawal of Complaint with Retraction, Waiver and Desistance dated 26
October 2015 with respect to the human trafficking case, rollo, pp. 127-128; Sangalang's Affidavit of
Withdrawal of Complaint with Retraction, Waiver and Desistance dated 26 October 2015 with respect
to the human trafficking case, id. at 129-130; Lacanilao's Affidavit of Withdrawal of Complaint with
Retraction, Waiver and Desistance dated 7 August 2015 with respect to the recruitment violation case,
id. at 133; Sangalang's Affidavit of Withdrawal of Complaint with Retraction, Waiver and Desistance
dated 7 August 2015 with respect to the recruitment violation case, id. at 134.
9
Rollo, p. 135.
10
Dated 10 August 2015, rollo, p. 132.
11
A copy of this sworn statement is not included in the record before this Court.
12
Rollo, p. 137.
13
Id. at 141.
14
Id. at 142.
15
Supra note 2.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 5
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and Lacanilao effectively refuted their allegation that they were hired by
First Champion. The labor arbiter thus disposed:

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the complaint filed in the


instant case is dismissed for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED.

Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao appealed from the above decision,


contending that the sworn statements they executed before the POEA should
not be given credence as the POEA had no jurisdiction to hear and decide
their money claims.

The NLRC dismissed their appeal in its 31 March 2017 Decision:16

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is


DENIED and the Labor Arbiter's Decision dated October 29, 2016 is
AFFIRMED.

Reyes, Sangalang and Lacanilao's motion for reconsideration was


denied by the NLRC in its 18 May 2017 Resolution.17

Hence, the present petition for certiorari filed by Reyes, Sangalang


and Lacanilao (henceforth called petitioners, for brevity) against First
Champion, Tan, Alpha Tomo, Osea and Love Note (henceforth called
private respondents, for brevity) where petitioners allege that the NLRC
gravely abused its discretion when it:

I. BELIEVED THE VERSION OF PRIVATE RESPONDENTS


THAT POEA HAS JURISDICTION OVER THE MONEY
CLAIMS OF PETITIONERS AND CONSIDERED THE
WAIVER AND QUITCLAIM AS VALID.
II. DENIED THE APPEAL OF PETITIONERS DESPITE THE
PIECES OF EVIDENCE ON RECORD SHOWING THAT
PRIVATE RESPONDENTS FAILED TO PAY THE MONEY
CLAIMS OF PETITIONERS.
III. FAILED TO EXPUNGE [THE] PLEADINGS OF PRIVATE
RESPONDENTS' COUNSEL FOR FAILURE TO COMPLY

16
Supra note 1.
17
Supra note 3.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 6
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[WITH] THE REQUIR[E]MENTS IMPOSED BY THE


SUPREME COURT.

The petition lacks merit.

Petitioners urge this Court to not give credence to the statements and
affidavits they executed before the POEA, which they contend has no
jurisdiction over their money claims as this power is lodged with the labor
arbiter.

Indeed, the labor arbiter has original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear
and decide disputes arising out of an employer-employee relationship. The
petitioners' argument that the POEA has no jurisdiction over their money
claims, however, springs from a misguided premise that in giving credence
to the sworn statements petitioners had executed before the POEA, the
NLRC merely adopted the findings of the POEA.

For easy reference, We quote the NLRC's disquisition upon the


matter:

The appeal lacks merit.


It has been ruled that in cases involving overseas contract workers,
the rights and obligations among and between the Overseas Filipino
Workers (OFWs), the local recruiter/agent and the foreign
employer/principal are governed by the employment contract. A contract
freely entered into is considered law between the parties, and hence,
should be respected.
Appellants categorically declared in their affidavits/sinumpaang
salaysay executed before the POEA Administering Officer that it was
Guevarra who recruited them from their hometown in Pampanga, the same
person who contacted and processed their employment papers. As such,
the Commission finds no reversible error on the part of the Labor Arbiter
in absolving First Champion from any liability in this case.

It should be clear from the above disquisition that the NLRC gave
credence to petitioners' sworn statements because they were written
admissions made before the administering officers of the POEA, who are
presumed to have regularly performed their official duty. No inference
could be made from the NLRC's disquisition above that the POEA had
adjudicated upon petitioners' money claims, which adjudication the NLRC
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 7
Decision

could thereafter take into consideration in deciding petitioners' appeal. We


therefore find that the first issue petitioners submit – that the POEA had no
jurisdiction over their money claims – is entirely misplaced.

From our review of the record, petitioners failed to present evidence


to overcome the disputable presumption accorded to the sworn statements
and affidavits they had made before the POEA. Petitioners did not deny the
existence of these documents. Petitioners merely insisted that these
documents should not be given credence by the labor arbiter as they were
executed in connection with the criminal case and an administrative case,
thus entirely independent from the labor case. Considering, however, that
in these documents petitioners had narrated that it was Guevarra who had
recruited them and facilitated their deployment,18 and thereafter declared that
they later learned that Guevarra was not connected to First Champion 19 and
only used its name,20 these documents could be given credence in this labor
dispute as the declarations therein have a bearing on the issue at hand, 21 if
not directly address it. These documents executed by petitioners support
First Champion's defense that it had not recruited nor deployed petitioners.
As correctly explained by the NLRC:

Here, other than their bare allegation that appellees' documentary


evidence were irrelevant and/or immaterial, appellants failed to present
substantial evidence to counter/rebut the same. It cannot be doubted that
the proceedings before the POEA pertained to the same issues
between the parties, i.e., appellants' claimed recruitment and
deployment to Malaysia through the alleged intercession of appellees
and their plight as overseas workers. As such, the Commission finds
that the evidence presented thereat are material and relevant to the
resolution of the issues raised in the present suit.22

We therefore see no reason for these documents to be considered


irrelevant or immaterial to the labor dispute. A man’s act, conduct and
declaration, wherever made, if voluntary, are admissible against him, for the
reason that it is fair to presume that they correspond with the truth, and it is
his fault if they do not.23 Both the labor arbiter and the NLRC were therefore
18
See Lacanilao's Sinumpaang Salaysay dated 8 June 2015, rollo, pp. 47-49; Sangalang's Sinumpaang
Salaysay dated 5 June 2015, id. at 100-102; Reyes' handwritten letter dated 10 August 2015, id. at 135;
Sangalang's Sinumpaang Salaysay dated 5 June 2015, id. at 100-102
19
See Lacanilao's Sinumpaang Salaysay dated 8 June 2015, rollo, pp. 47-49.
20
Reyes' handwritten letter dated 10 August 2015, id. at 135.
21
See Cañete v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 130425, 30 September 1999, 374 Phil.
272.
22
NLRC Decision, p. 9; rollo, p. 43. Emphasis supplied.
23
Prieto v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 158597, 18 June 2012, 688 Phil. 21 and United States v. Ching Po,
G.R. No. 7707, 6 December 1912, 23 Phil. 578.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 8
Decision

correct in taking these documents into consideration in the resolution of the


complaint, and thereafter the appeal.

While petitioners claimed for recovery of underpaid wages, private


respondents denied having recruited and deployed them. At this juncture, it
is worth pointing out that petitioners' claim for underpayment of wages
logically would have no leg to stand on when there is an absence of any
relationship between the parties. In this regard, both the labor arbiter and the
NLRC ruled in favor of private respondents, and absolved them of any
liability, due to the inconsistent statements made by petitioners.24

With the absence of any employment relationship between petitioners


and private respondents, petitioners do not have a claim for wages against
the latter, as wage is the renumeration payable by an employer to an
employee under a contract of employment for services rendered or to be
rendered.25 Taking this conclusion one logical step further, there could be no
underpayment of wages when the circumstances for the payment of wages
do not arise in the first place.

There is no basis, therefore, to petitioners' claim for the balance of the


wages supposedly due them. Petitioners cannot rely on the Overseas
Filipino Worker (OFW) Information sheets26 indicating that they should be
earning 600 US dollars per month, as First Champion's controverting
evidence shows that the company had no participation in the recruitment and
deployment of petitioners to Malaysia.

Lastly, petitioners point out that private respondents' counsel failed


update her Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Compliance
number in the pleadings she filed before the labor arbiter and the NLRC.
They therefore contend that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion in
failing to expunge said pleadings, pursuant to Bar Matter No. 1922, dated 3
June 2008.

Aside from the fact that the phrase "Failure to disclose the required
information would cause the dismissal of the case and the expunction of the
pleadings from the records" had already been repealed and replaced by the
phrase "Failure to disclose the required information would subject the
counsel to appropriate penalty and disciplinary action", pursuant to the
24
Labor Arbiter Decision, p. 11; rollo, p. 232. NLRC Decision, p. 7; rollo, p. 41.
25
See Labor Code, Article 97 (f). Article 97 (b) explains that "Employer" includes an person acting
directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.
26
Rollo, pp. 154-156.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 9
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Resolution of the Court En Banc dated 14 January 2014,27 Section 10, Rule
VII of the 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure, as amended, specifically
provides that –

The rules of procedure and evidence prevailing in courts of law


and equity shall not be controlling and the Commission shall use every
and all reasonable means to ascertain the facts in each case speedily and
objectively, without regard to technicalities of law or procedure, all in the
interest of due process.

Thus, in labor cases, the deciding authority is mandated to use every


reasonable means to speedily and objectively ascertain the facts, without
regard to technicalities of law and procedure. Rules of procedure may be
disregarded in order to serve the ends of justice.28

There is thus no basis for the expunction of the seemingly defective


pleadings filed before the labor arbiter and the NLRC.

Grave abuse of discretion connotes judgment exercised in a capricious


and whimsical manner that is tantamount to lack of jurisdiction. To be
considered “grave,” the discretionary authority must be exercised in a
despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and must be so
patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual
refusal to perform the duty enjoined by or to act all in contemplation of
law.29 It is clear that the NLRC's dismissal of Reyes, Sangalang and
Lacanilao's appeal is not tainted with grave abuse of discretion, as it is in
accord with law and jurisprudence.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition for certiorari filed


by Marisol B. Reyes, Mayra P. Sangalang and Marie Jane P. Lacanilao is
DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

RICARDO R. ROSARIO
Associate Justice

WE . . .
27
See OCA Circular No. 79-14, dated 26 May 2014.
28
Spic N' Span Services Corporation v. Paje, G.R. No. 174084, 25 August 2010, 643 Phil. 474.
29
Ramos v. BPI Family Savings Bank, G.R. No. 203186, 4 December 2013, 722 Phil. 816.
CA-G.R. SP NO. 151662 Page 10
Decision

. . . CONCUR:

EDUARDO B. PERALTA, JR.


Associate Justice

RONALDO ROBERTO B. MARTIN


Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Article VIII, Section 13 of the Constitution, it is hereby


certified that the conclusions in the above decision were reached in
consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the
Court (Sec. 5, Rule 8, RIRCA [a]).

RICARDO R. ROSARIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson, Fourteenth Division

RRR/cam(WBM)