Petitioner Virgilio S. Suelo, Jr. filed a complaint for permanent and total disability benefits, damages and attorney fees before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB). In a decision dated February 18, 2019, the Panel of Voluntary Arbitrators (VA) denied petitioner’s claim. Aggrieved, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied in a resolution dated June 28, 2019. Petitioner, through counsel received a copy of the order of the denial of the motion on July 12, 2019. On July 22, 2019, petitioner moved for a 20-day extension within which to file a petition for review before the Court of Appeals (CA) or until August 11, 2019. On August 9, 2019, petitioner filed a petition for review under Rule 43 of the Rules before the CA.

In a resolution dated September 3, 2019, the CA dismissed the petition outright citing the following procedural infirmities: (a) it was filed two days late, and (b) the affidavit of service was inaccurate since it stated that the service of the copy of the petition upon the adverse parties was done personally, when in fact it was through registered mail. With respect to the first ground, the CA explained that since petitioner received the VA’s June 28, 2019 decision denying his motion for reconsideration on July 12, 2019, he only had until August 7, 2019 reckoned from July 22, 2019 or ten days from July 12, 2019 within which to file a petition before the CA. However, he belatedly filed the same on August 9, 2019 in violation of Section 4, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court. Anent the second ground, the CA ruled that the inaccuracy of the affidavit of service was in violation of Section 13, Rule 13 of the same Rules.

Did the CA err?

Ruling: Yes.

In the recent case of Chin v. Maersk-Filipinas Crewing, Inc., G.R. No. 247338, September 2, 2020, (Chin) citing Guagua National Colleges v. CA, G.R. No. 188482, August 28, 2018, (Guagua National Colleges) the Court categorically declared that the correct period to appeal the decision or award of the Voluntary Arbitrators or Panel of Arbitrators to the CA via a Rule 43 petition for review is the fifteen (15)-day period set forth in Section 421 thereof reckoned from the notice or receipt of the VA’s resolution on the motion for reconsideration, and that the ten (10)-day period provided in Article 276 of the Labor Code refers to the period within which an aggrieved party may file said motion for reconsideration.

Moreover, under Section 4, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court, upon proper motion and the payment of the full amount of the docket fees before the expiration of the reglementary period, the CA may grant an additional period of fifteen (15) days only within which to file the petition for review, and no further extension shall be granted except for the most compelling reason and in no case shall it exceed fifteen (15) days.

ln this case, records reveal that petitioner received a copy of the VA’s Decision denying his motion for reconsideration on July 12, 2019. Thus, he had fifteen (15) days therefrom or until July 27, 2019 within which to file the petition, or to move for a 15-day extension of time to file the same. Assuming that an extension is granted, he had until August 11, 2019, reckoned from the expiration of the reglementary period on July 27, 2019, within which to file his petition.

Indeed, petitioner filed a motion for extension of time to file his Rule 43 Petition within the allowable period or on July 22, 2019. Although the Rules allow only for a 15-day extension or until August 11, 2019, he was able to file his petition on August 9, 2019, also clearly within the allowable extended period. Hence, in both instances, petitioner filed his pleadings on time. Moreover, petitioner’s error in the affidavit of service stating that he served copies of the Rule 43 Petition to the adverse parties through personal service instead of registered mail appears to have been an honest mistake. In any case, the inaccuracy in the statement of the manner of service appears inconsequential considering that, after all, he was able to serve copies of the petition to the adverse parties.

In sum, the Court finds that the CA erred in dismissing outright the Rule 43 Petition based solely on procedural grounds; therefore, a remand of the case for a resolution on the merits is warranted. Finally, following the Court’s recent disposition in Chin, the reminder to the Department of Labor and Employment and the NCMB to revise or amend the Revised Procedural Guidelines in the Conduct of Voluntary Arbitration Proceedings to reflect the ruling in the Guagua National Colleges case is hereby reiterated. (Virgilio S. Suelo, Jr. vs. MST Marine Services (Phils.), Inc.,, G.R. No. 252914, November 9, 2020).