Unions dare Puno’s ‘moral force’ to go beyond ‘rhetoric’

WHILE  lauding Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s seemingly quixotic “social movement” against what he calls a government plagued by severe “moral deficit” and “virus of greed,” trade union leaders are challenging him to concretize his statements or to apply them beyond the realm of the rhetoric, and to start his “moral force” crusade right in his own backyard – inside the Supreme Court.

After several months of indicating that he would lead a moral transformation campaign, Puno and his supporters formally launched on Aug. 31 the Moral Force Movement (MFM) aiming to combat widespread government corruption, to formulate the standards in choosing so-called “transformational leaders” (as opposed to “transactional leaders”) in time for the elections next year, and to revive the country’s “moral virtues and ethical principles.”

In this battle, Puno called for not staying neutral “for the surest way to lose a fight against evil is through the conspiracy of silence,” however, he ironically prescribed his movement to be “a positive-neutral” or neither anti-administration nor pro-opposition because Filipinos “need not march to the streets (or) raise our clenched fists – we need only to … listen to the whispers of our conscience …”

Daniel Edralin, chair of the Alliance of Progressive Labor, said that he believes in Puno’s good intentions but for his and the MFM objectives to be appreciated by the people and to become effective, they must not remain as merely “feel good” and ambiguous declarations, and the chief magistrate must also train his sights on his colleagues in the high tribunal.

“There is widespread perception that corruption has permeated not only the executive branch of the government, led by Malacañang, and the legislative wing or both the houses of Congress, but the judiciary as well, including the Supreme Court,” Edralin said, adding that “this is seems to be public knowledge or an open secret.”

Unions, for instance, strongly suspect that bribery and influence-peddling of the rich and powerful have played a major role in some recent Supreme Court major labor jurisprudences, which have been described as blatantly anti-worker and anti-union, if not anti-constitutional.

Edralin cited the now infamous “shaved heads are illegal strike” ruling of the court’s Second Division in 2008, which upheld the equally dubious decisions of the lower courts against one of its affiliate unions, the NUWHRAIN-Dusit Hotel Nikko Chapter (DHNC), whose officers and members were virtually decimated when management terminated them for allegedly violating the hotel’s “grooming standards.”

In January 2002 Dusit prevented its workers from reporting to work – after many male staff cropped their hairs in protest of management’s dilatory tactics in the collective bargaining negotiations – forcing them to hold a picket outside the hotel. Dusit later terminated 90 of them, including 29 union officers, and suspended 136 others, among them were women and other males who did not even cut their hairs but were union members.

Reynaldo Rasing, president of Nuwhrain-DHNC, identified one of the highlights in the unprecedented verdict penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. as the assertion that violation of the Dusit’s “grooming standards” had caused disruptions in the hotel’s operations and thus tantamount to an “unprotected” (by law) mass action “and should be considered as an illegal strike.”

Similarly, Rasing said that the Velasco ruling declared that when the employees went to work with shaven heads, there was “clearly a deliberate and concerted action to undermine the authority of and to embarrass” Dusit and, “therefore, not a protected action.”

“These and other outrageous reasoning cited in the said Dusit ruling are sadly and embarrassingly now part of the Philippine jurisprudence as G.R. 163942 and G.R. 166295,” Rasing noted.

This ruling has caused uproar even among rival labor unions prompting them to call it a “travesty of justice,” a “dangerous precedent,” an “outrageous jurisprudence,” “unconstitutional and illegal,” and a form of “judicial legislation” in which the court assumes the law-making powers of the Congress.

As if these are not enough – which further put Puno’s “moral force” campaign in the spotlight – a signatory of that Dusit ruling who recently retired was found to have signed an official court document that junked one of the several motions for reconsideration (MRs) and motions for intervention (MIs) of the union and its supporters more than a month after stepping down as a Supreme Court justice.

Former Associate Justice Ruben Reyes retired last Jan. 2 or a day before reaching the mandatory age of 70 but, according to the SC’s Clerk of Court, has participated in the drafting and signing of a Feb. 9 resolution of the SC’s Second Division, which denied one of the said MRs filed for the Dusit union’s case, particularly those that implores the Supreme Court to review en banc the Dusit case.

The Dusit Hotel union filed a disbarment case versus Reyes; but he was disbarred by the court en banc last Aug. 14 in a separate “political case” (Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong case).

Just the same, trade union leaders are wondering why the court’s Second Division “zealously” refuses to grant an en banc review of the case even if the ruling has extensive effects on the existing labor, civil or constitutional rights, which warrant its reappraisal by the entire Supreme Court.

Clearly, the Supreme Court is a litmus test for Chief Justice Puno and the MFM.

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