Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Almirante: Representation by counsel

ON Aug. 17, 2009, respondent Helen C. Beronia filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and money claims against petitioners Barrio Fiesta Restaurant, Liberty Ilagan, Sunshine Ongpauco-Ikeda, and Marico Cristobal. The petitioners, through Atty. Richard Neil S. Chua of Ligon Solis Mejia Florendo law firm, denied the claims prayed for.

In a decision dated May 31, 2010, the labor arbiter (LA) declared that Beronia had been illegally dismissed. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) reversed the LA’s ruling in its Dec. 7, 2010 decision. Beronia moved for reconsideration of the NLRC decision. On Jan. 13, 2011, the petitioners filed their opposition to Beronia’s motion for reconsideration. The opposition was signed and personally filed by Ilagan and Ikeda. In its July 21, 2012 decision, the Court of Appeals (CA) reinstated the LA decision. On Nov. 29, 2012, the petitioners, through Real Bartolo & Real law offices, filed with the CA an entry of appearance with manifestation and motion for reconsideration.

In its April 5, 2013 resolution, the CA denied petitioners’ motion for reconsideration for being 138 days late, pointing out that petitioners’ counsel has long received a copy of its June 21, 2012 decision. Before the Supreme Court, the petitioners asked for a liberal application of the procedural rules, reasoning that they believed all the while that they were being represented by their former counsel, Ligon, et. al., through Atty. Chua. They argued that the procedural lapse before the CA was clearly due to a miscommunication with the law firm for which they should not be made to suffer, in the interest of substantial justice. Does this argument find merit?

Ruling: No.

In the present case, the only permissible consideration we can take is to determine whether circumstances exist to excuse the petitioners’ delay in the filing of their motion for reconsideration. If there are none, as indeed we find because the petitioners utterly failed to show us one, then the delay is fatal.

We note that on Jan. 13, 2011, the petitioners filed an Opposition, dated January 5, 2011, to the motion filed by Beronia seeking reconsideration of the NLRC’s Dec. 7, 2010 decision.

Significantly, this Jan. 5, 2011 opposition was signed personally by petitioners Ilagan and Ikeda, on behalf of themselves and of petitioner Barrio Fiesta, instead of by Atty. Chua for Ligon, et al. as the petitioners’ counsel.

As a rule, when a party to a proceeding is represented by counsel, it is the counsel who signs any pleading filed in the course of the proceeding. The party represented does not have to sign the pleadings, save only in the specific instances required by the rules; they appear before the court and participate in the proceedings only when specifically required by the court or tribunal.

In the petitioners’ case, they were themselves aware that Beronia sought reconsideration of the NLRC decision as they had, in fact, personally opposed this motion instead of through their counsel on record, Ligon, et al. Had they still been represented by their counsel, through Atty. Chua as they claim, the latter would have signed and filed the opposition in their behalf. Viewed in this light, the petitioners must have known that Ligon, et al. no longer represented them in this case; this was true even at the NLRC level and before the case reached the CA. (Brion, J.; SC 2nd Division, Barrio Fiesta Restaurant, et. al. vs. Helen C. Beronia, G.R. No. 206690, July 11, 2016).
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