ON Jan. 24, 2005, respondents Ruth N. Rodriguez, Irene P. Padrigon and Arlyn B. Rillera filed a case for illegal dismissal and money claims against petitioners Thomasites Center For International Studies (TCIS) and Dr. Cheol Je Cho (Dr. Cho). TCIS and Dr. Cho were served with summons by registry through Dr. Cho, giving them 10 days from receipt to file their position paper. TCIS and Dr. Cho did not file their position paper, but they were represented by counsel at the hearings held on Feb. 15, 2005, March 15, 2005 and April 19, 2005.
The Labor Arbiter (LA) found for respondents. During the execution stage, TCIS filed a petition for relief, with prayer for temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction, before the NLRC. It claimed that the LA did not acquire jurisdiction over it since the summons and notices were addressed to Dr. Cho, who did not represent TCIS; that the entry of appearance of lawyer Joy P. Bayona at the pre-execution conference was signed only by Dr. Cho in his capacity as therein respondent and academic dean of TCIS; that TCIS did not receive any notice of the proceedings; that although the NLRC is not bound by technical rules and procedures, TCIS’s right to due process was violated since it was deprived of the right to file its position paper.
Did the petition prosper?
In Tuason v. CA, 326 Phil. 169(1996), the Court explained the nature of a petition for relief from judgment, thus: A petition for relief from judgment is an equitable remedy; it is allowed only in exceptional cases where there is no other available or adequate remedy. When a party has another remedy available to him, which may be either a motion for new trial or appeal from an adverse decision of the trial court, and he was not prevented by fraud, accident, mistake or excusable negligence from filing such motion or taking such appeal, he cannot avail himself of this petition. Indeed, relief will not be granted to a party who seeks avoidance from the effects of the judgment when the loss of the remedy at law was due to his own negligence; otherwise the petition for relief can be used to revive the right to appeal which had been lost thru inexcusable negligence.
As provided in Section 3, Rule 38 of the Rules of Court, a party filing a petition for relief from judgment must strictly comply with two reglementary periods: first, the petition must be filed within 60 days from knowledge of the judgment, order or other proceeding to be set aside; and second, within a fixed period of six months from entry of such judgment, order or other proceeding. Strict compliance with these periods is required because a petition for relief from judgment is a final act of liberality on the part of the State, which remedy cannot be allowed to erode any further the fundamental principle that a judgment, order or proceeding must, at some definite time, attain finality in order to put an end to litigation.
The NLRC pointed out that TCIS’s petition for relief was filed beyond the period provided under Rule 38. The earliest that it could have learned of the LA’s judgment was on June 21, 2006 when Dr. Cho received a copy thereof, and the latest was during the pre-execution conference held on Sept. 22, 2006, when lawyer Bayona formally entered her appearance as counsel for TCIS and Dr. Cho. TCIS’s petition for relief was filed only on Feb. 13, 2007, well beyond the 60-day period allowed.
Moreover, the Court agrees with the CA that no fraud, accident, mistake, or excusable negligence prevented TCIS from filing an appeal from the decision of the LA, even as the NLRC also noted that the petition also lacked the requisite affidavit showing the fraud, accident, mistake or excusable negligence, and the facts constituting its good and substantial cause of action.
TCIS was afforded every opportunity to be heard. The service of summons and notices of proceedings to Dr. Cho was perfectly valid and binding upon TCIS since they were sent to him at its address, and Dr. Cho is a responsible officer of TCIS. Dr. Cho was TCIS’s academic dean who hired the respondents and also signed their termination letters. The attendance of TCIS’s counsel at the hearings held on Feb. 15, 2005, March 15, 2005, and April 19, 2005 is also proof that it was duly notified of the LA’s judgment (Reyes J.; SC Third Division, Thomasites Center For International Studies (TCIS) vs. Ruth N. Rodriguez, Irene P. Padrigon And Arlyn B. Rillera, G.R. No. 203642, January 18, 2016).