A group composed of some 4,000 former employees of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) cried foul over an “unjust” ruling issued by the Third Division of the Supreme Court (SC) regarding their back pay claims that amount to P11 billion.
In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, former LBP Employees Association president David Naval Jr., who represents the group, said they will ask the court en banc to look into their case and investigate an apparent collusion between LBP and top officials of the SC.
“It is a great injustice that the Third Division has been denying our motions for reconsideration and plea to elevate the case to the
court en banc for the simple reason that a second MR is a prohibited pleading and that the court en banc is not an appellate body despite the fact that in several cases, the SC has allowed even [a]fourth MR ‘for higher interest of justice’,” Naval added.
The employees won their multibillion-peso case in the lower court and in the Court of Appeals.
Naval furnished The Manila Times case records beginning in early 2000, when they first filed the claim before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 40.
It was learned that at the height of the court battle, the LBP management hired former SC Associate Justice Eduardo Nachura as consultant while the legal consultant of LBP in the case was Antonio Zulueta, a relative of the clerk of court of the Third Division “W. Lapitan.”
Also, former LBP president Jesli Lapus is a friend of Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco.
The incumbent LBP president, Gilda Pico, is the sister-in-law of SC clerk of court Zenaida Elepaño.
The petition involved the back payment of the employees’ cost of living allowances (COLA) and Bank Equity Pay (BEP) that were “invalidly integrated” into their basic salaries on May 15, 1989.
The case was filed on September 3, 2002.
The RTC, on June 7, 2004 rendered a favorable decision on the petition and asked LBP to compute and pay the workers’ back wages.
Bank executives, however, appealed the case at the CA, which affirmed the lower court’s decision on February 22, 2011.
The LBP then brought the matter to the High Court through a petition for review filed on April 7, 2011.
On April 15, 2014, in G.R. No. 195687, the tribunal reversed the decisions of the RTC and the CA in favor of the bank’s position against such claims.
“According to Landbank in its pleadings, the amount involved is P11.9 billion but based on our estimate it is only around P3 billion to P4 billion. We suspect that Landbank bloated the amount to dramatize the impact [on]its financial condition,” Naval said.
In 1989, the employees’ COLA was integrated into their basic salaries by virtue of an LBP Board resolution.
In the same year, their BEP was also integrated by virtue of the Salary Standardization Law (SSL).
In 1999, however, in the SC case De Jesus vs. COA (Commission on Audit), the High Court declared “null and void” the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the SSL for “lack of the required official publication.”
Hence, the Local Water Utilities Administration where De Jesus was an employee paid its employees allowances that were disallowed by COA. The rest of the government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs) such as the Manila International Airport Authority, Government Service Insurance System, Philippine Ports Authority, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and others followed suit and filed their petition before the courts and eventually the SC decided the cases of the GOCCs/GFIs in favor of the employees.
“We also filed our claim for COLA and BEP back pay with the RTC. I as the principal petitioner having personal knowledge of the case being the president of the LBP Employees Association from 1990 to 1999. We won the case in the RTC and the decision of the RTC was affirmed by the CA. LBP appealed the decision of the CA. Initially the SC Third Division denied the appeal of LBP but later on surprisingly reversed its decision and granted the appeal of LBP,” Naval said.
On October 13, 2015, his group filed its third MR and appeal to refer their case to the SC en banc.
“On November 2, we resorted to ‘extra legal’ means, holding a prayer rally at the gate of the SC. We are personally appealing that our case be heard by the SC en banc… We will again be holding prayer rallies, every Monday until our personal appeal is heard by the SC en banc,” the former LBP workers’ leader said.
Naval added that it would be a “great injustice” to the almost 4,000 employees of Landbank if they were deprived of their accrued allowances while their counterparts in other GFIs and GOCCs have already enjoyed theirs.
“It is a great injustice too that the jurisprudence of the SC that granted the back pay of allowances to other GOCC and GFI employees will not be applied to the employees of Landbank and it is also a great injustice that Landbank is using its resources in hiring influential consultants in order to extinguished its obligation to pay the accrued allowances of its employees,” he said.
“The court en banc must also investigate and let the Third Division explain why the typographical error and wrong grammar in the pleadings of Landbank were copied in its decision,” Naval noted.