PAL-FASAP case: 'SC is blind to plight of poor workers'

MANILA, Philippines – After the en banc majority declared their retrenchment valid, the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) called out the Supreme Court (SC) for a decision called by one of the dissenters a "resurrection of a dead case."

"It is a mockery of the justice system in the country where the rich and powerful can twist and turn the law in their favor. That this is controversial and scandalous does not matter to the courts, who are blind to the plight of the poor workers," FASAP said in a statement on Tuesday, March 27.

A majority of 7 justices of the SC en banc overturned two previous decisions of the SC's special 3rd division, and sided with Philippine Airlines (PAL), declaring its employees' retrenchment valid.

"This case has lingered in the courts for 20 years and FASAP has won in the Supreme Court twice already. But the powerful and influential PAL, hiring the services of highly paid lawyers, had the favorable decisions recalled and eventually flip-flopped to favor the company," said FASAP.

FASAP's 1,400 members were among the 5,000 employees retrenched by PAL in 1998 as a cost-cutting means. FASAP fought all the way up to the SC.

In a decision by the SC's special 3rd division on July 22, 2008, which was affirmed in 2009, the SC ruled that PAL was guilty of illegal dismissal when it retrenched the employees.

The SC also ordered PAL to reinstate the employees, and pay them back wages or separation pay. It also ordered the airline to pay attorney's fees.

It was a major legal victory for a labor group at the time.

"They found hope back in 2008 and 2009 when the Supreme Court then ruled in their favor and ordered PAL to reinstate them with full back wages. However, the company resisted and employed every trick in the trade to prevent the courts [from implementing] its rulings," said FASAP. 

'Shattered dreams'

In the decision written by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, PAL was declared to have validly implemented a retrenchment, citing the flag carrier's current and potential financial losses.

"PAL used fair and reasonable criteria in selecting the employees to be retrenched pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)," said the SC.

PAL chose who to retrench based on a rating system and inverse seniority. Inverse seniority is a principle in labor layoff where seniority rights are waived. PAL claims inverse seniority was laid down in the CBA. (READ: TIMELINE: PAL-FASAP retrenchment case, and what happened in 20 years)

FASAP called it a "sham rating system."

"One flight attendant was a senior employee at the time when she was illegally retrenched by PAL. She had a very good employment record and was a perfect attendance awardee for many years until she became pregnant and had to get back in shape after her delivery. Because of this, PAL included her in their hit list of crew members to be retrenched by PAL using its sham rating system," said FASAP.

FASAP added: "They were unceremoniously thrown out of their jobs 20 years ago even when most of them have been flying for a long time and have long served PAL. They have been struggling since then, with many of them unable to find work anymore and have since suffered the pain of joblessness and poverty."

FASAP president Bob Anduiza said there is no justification for the flip-flop.

"This is about the jobs and lives of hundreds of Filipino crew members. This is about food on the table and the shattered dreams and aspirations of flight attendants," Anduiza said.

Mendoza letters

After the affirmation of FASAP's victory in 2009, PAL requested and was granted the leave of court to file motions for reconsideration.

On September 7, 2011, the SC 2nd division denied PAL's 2nd motion for reconsideration pertaining to the July 22, 2008 decision.

PAL's lawyer, the sought-after counsel of the big guns, Estelito Mendoza, began sending letters to the SC. On October 4, 2011, the SC en banc recalled the September 7, 2011 resolution. (READ: The ties between Lucas Bersamin and Estelito Mendoza)

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, one of the two dissenters, said the decision "creates an ominous cloud that will besmirch our legitimacy."

Calling it the "resurrection of a dead case," Leonen said the reopening of an already decided case through letters from Mendoza was in violation of the court's rules.

FASAP said they will still pursue the case.

"No amount of the legal tactics and power play in the courts will change the truth of what happened back in 1998.... We are disappointed and disgusted. But we will never give up until truth and justice is served," said FASAP. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.