IN 2010, respondents Elfrenito B. Bartolome and Rumby L. Yamat, applied as carpenter and tile setter, respectively, with petitioner Augustin International Center Inc. (AICI), an employment agency providing manpower to foreign corporations. They were eventually engaged by Golden Arrow Company Ltd. (Golden Arrow) which had its office in Khartoum, Republic of Sudan.
Upon their arrival in Sudan sometime in March and April 2011, Golden Arrow transferred their employment to its sister company, Al Mamoun Trading and Investment Company (Al Mamoun). On May 2, 2012, Al Mamoun served notices of termination of service to respondents, causing them to return to the Philippines. On March 22, 2012, they filed their complaint before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) seeking that AICI and Al Mamoun be held liable for illegal dismissal, breach of contract and payment of the unexpired portion of the contract.
In denying their petition, the Court of Appeals (CA) held that AICI and Al Mamoun failed to comply with the procedural and substantive due process in dismissing respondents from their employment.
AICI and Al Mamoun moved for reconsideration, arguing for the first time that they were denied due process because respondents did not first contest their termination before the Labor Attaché or any authorized representative of the Philippine embassy nearest the site of employment, as stipulated in the employment contracts, before filing the complaint before the Labor Arbiter (LA).
Does this argument find merit?
Preliminarily, it bears stressing that AICI does not assail the CA’s ruling of illegal dismissal but instead, argues that the LA incorrectly took cognizance of the case at the onset. It insists that based on the dispute settlement provision in respondents’ employment contracts, the “primary jurisdiction” to decide this case is with the “Labor Attache or any authorized representative of the Philippine Embassy nearest the site of employment” (designated person).
After a judicious review of the case, the Court denies the petition.
Section 10 of Republic Act (RA) 8042, as amended by RA 10022, explicitly provides that LAs have original and exclusive jurisdiction over claims arising out of employer-employee relations or by virtue of any law or contract involving Filipino workers for overseas deployment, as in this case. The relevant portion of the provision reads:
Section 10. Money Claims. - Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the. Labor Arbiters of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) shall have the original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide, within ninety (90) calendar days after filing of the complaint, the claims arising out of an employer-employee relationship or by virtue of any law or contract involving Filipino workers for overseas deployment including claims for actual, moral, exemplary and other forms of damages. x x x
Settled is the rule that jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred by law and cannot be acquired or waived by agreement of the parties. As herein applied, the dispute settlement provision in respondents’ employment contracts cannot divest the LA of its jurisdiction over the illegal dismissal case. Hence, it correctly took cognizance of the complaint filed by respondents before it.
Moreover, issues not raised in the previous proceedings cannot be raised for the first time at a late stage.
In this case, the Court observes that AICI failed to raise the issue of respondents’ supposed non-compliance with the dispute settlement provision before the LA, as well as before the NLRC. In fact, AICI only mentioned this issue for the first time before the CA in its motion for reconsideration. Therefore, such argument or defense is deemed waived and can no longer be considered on appeal.
Hence, the Court rules that the LA properly took cognizance of this case. (Augustin International Center, Inc. vs. Elfenito B. Bartolome and Rumby L. Yamat, G.R. No. 226578, January 28, 2019).