GOVERNMENT Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager Winston Garcia has lost his petition against seven GSIS employees before the Supreme Court five years ago.

The Supreme Court (SC) affirmed both the decision and resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA) stating that the protest staged by the seven disgruntled GSIS workers in front of their central office last May 27, 2005 cannot be considered as “prohibited concerted activity or mass action.”

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“Government workers, whatever their ranks, have as much right as any person in the land to voice out their protests against what they believe to be a violation of their rights and interests,” the High Court en banc decision dated July 27, 2010 read.

“Civil Service does not deprive them of their freedom of expression. It would be unfair to hold that by joining the government service, the members thereof have renounced or waived this basic liberty. This freedom can be reasonably regulated only, but can never be taken away,” the decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza said.

Sun. Star Cebu tried calling Garcia for his reaction about the dismissal of his petition, but he could not be reached as of press time.

Case history

The case stemmed from the charges the GSIS and Garcia, in his capacity as president and general manager of the state-operated pension firm, filed against Dinnah Villaviza, Elizabeth Duque, Adronico Echavez, Rodel Rubio, Rowena Therese Gracia,

Pilar Layco, and Antonio Jose Legarda for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to

the best interest of the service last May 27, 2005.

Garcia said the acts of the respondents violated the Rules of Procedure in Administrative Investigation (RPAI) of GSIS Employees and Officials in relation to Section 52A (3), (20), Rule IV, of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (URACCS).

Garcia charged the respondents after staging a march outside the office of the GSIS Investigation Unit along with some employees.

Protest

The employees staged a protest to show their support for their former union leader, Albert Velasco, who was inside the Investigation Unit office of the GSIS central office.

However, the GSIS management said the protest by the respondents caused alarm and heightened some employees and disrupted the work at the Investigation Unit of the

state-operated agency.

In their letter-explanation, Duque, Echavez, Rubio, Gracia, Layco, Legarda, and two other employees denied staging a planned mass action.

The GSIS employees reasoned that what they did outside GSIS Investigation Unit office was “a spontaneous reaction” after learning that Velasco was inside the office.

For her part, Villaviza submitted her separate letter explaining that she had a scheduled pre-hearing at the GSIS Investigation Unit on same date.

Guilty

However, Garcia issued a decision last June 29, 2005 finding all seven respondents guilty of the charged offenses.

Subsequently, the seven GSIS employees were suspended for one year.

The suspended GSIS employees petitioned the decision before the Civil Service Commission (CSC), which later ruled that the respondents were guilty of lesser offense of violation of Reasonable Office Rules and Regulations.

Thus, the SCS reduced the penalty from one year suspension to mere reprimand. While the respondents were given due process to refute the charges, the CSC, however, ruled there was no “substantial evidence” to hold them guilty of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service. 

Garcia filed a motion for reconsideration on the ruling of the CSC, but it was denied. Garcia later filed a petition for review with appellate court, but the CA still ruled in favor of the respondents.

The appellate court said Garcia failed to prove that the supposed concerted activity of the employees resulted in work stoppage and caused prejudice to the public service.

The CA said only 20 out of more than a hundred employees at the GSIS main office joined the protest. Garcia then filed a petition for review before the High Tribunal.

However, the SC said the petition lacked merit.

“A perusal of the decisions of the CA and of the CSC will reveal that the case was resolved against petitioners based, not on the absence of respondents’ evidence, but on the weakness of that of the petitioners,” the High Court said in its decision.

Uncertain

Upon review of Garcia’s charges against GSIS workers, the High Court said the GSIS official was even uncertain whether the respondents marched or “just simply appeared there (Investigation Unit office) simultaneously.”

The High Tribunal ruled that what the GSIS employees did was merely exercising their “freedom of speech and of expression” and that their actuations “did not amount to a prohibited concerted activity or mass action.”