A manpower audit conducted by respondent Philex revealed that 241 of its employees were redundant. Thus, Philex undertook a retrenchment program that resulted in the termination of petitioners’ employment. Consequently, petitioners filed a case for illegal dismissal against respondent. The case was submitted for arbitration through the NCMB.
The Voluntary Arbitrator ordered the reinstatement the Complainants and Intervenors to their former positions with back wages without loss of seniority and privileges.
On appeal, the CA ruled that while there was indeed a valid reason for retrenchment, the means employed were disadvantageous, thus inequitable, to the affected workers.
Philex filed a manifestation and motion for leave to offer separation pay to petitioners, in lieu of reinstatement, alleging that petitioners’ positions no longer existed and that there arose strained relations between the parties that effectively barred reinstatement. The motion was granted by the Arbitrator.
Consequently, petitioners filed a petition for certiorari with the CA on the ground that Arbitrator Juan Valdez acted without or in excess of jurisdiction. The CA dismissed the petition.
Hence, this petition for review.
Whether or not the order directing their reinstatement became final and executory, hence Arbitrator Valdez no longer had jurisdiction to modify the same.
A basic tenet in our rules of procedure is that an award that is final and executory cannot be amended or modified anymore. Nothing is more settled in law than that once a judgment attains finality it thereby becomes immutable and unalterable. It may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by the highest court of the land.
However, this rule is subject to exceptions as stated in the case of David vs. CA, 316 SCRA 710 (1999), cited by respondent:
One exception is that where facts and/or events transpire after a decision has become executory, which facts and/or events present a supervening cause or reason which renders the final and executory decision no longer enforceable. Under the law, the court may modify or alter a judgment even after the same has become executory whenever circumstances transpire rendering its execution unjust and inequitable, as where certain facts and circumstances justifying or requiring such modification or alteration transpired after the judgment has become final and executory.
In Deltaventures Resources Inc. vs. Cabato, 327 SCRA 521 (2000), we held that “jurisdiction once acquired is not lost upon the instance of the parties but continues until the case is terminated.” The power of a voluntary arbitrator to issue a writ of execution carries with it the power to inquire into the correctness of its execution and to consider whatever supervening events transpire during execution. Therefore, we are in agreement with the appellate court that a voluntary arbitrator has jurisdiction to amend the mode of executing an award if and when the case merits such amendment.
However, we find respondent’s reliance on the doctrine of “strained relations” misplaced. In Mercury Drug Corporation vs. Quijano, we stated that said doctrine is inapplicable to a situation where the employee has no say in the operation of the employer’s business. Petitioners herein are part of the rank-and-file workforce; they are cooks, miners, helpers and mechanics of the respondent.
As held also in the Mercury Drug case:
To protect labor’s security of tenure, we emphasize that the doctrine of strained relations should be strictly applied so as not to deprive an illegally dismissed employee of his right to reinstatement. Every labor dispute almost always results in strained relations and the phrase cannot be given an overarching interpretation, otherwise an unjustly dismissed employee can never be reinstated.
Despite our sympathy for the workers’ plight, however, we find no legal support for their opposition to the conclusion and findings of the voluntary arbitrator and the Court of Appeals.
Petition is DENIED.