AFTER a growing clamor to impeach some Supreme Court justices who allegedly delay the impeachment suit against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, several labor groups have also called for the ouster from the high court of anti-union magistrates, led by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr.
“It is high time to cleanse the supposedly anti-graft court of the Ombudsman as well as the venerable Supreme Court not only from crooks in robes and protector of robbers and tyrants, such as the erstwhile Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime, but also from the lackeys of unscrupulous employers,” Daniel L. Edralin, chairperson of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), announced.
Edralin cited Velasco’s leading role as the ponente or writer of the infamous “shaved heads are illegal strike” ruling in the Dusit Hotel Nikko case, which “dangerously altered the meaning of strike and threatened many labor and trade union rights and even basic civil liberties.”
Handed down by the Second Division of the Supreme Court in November 2008, the Velasco ruling set off howls of protests from across labor spectrum and prompted an investigation by the International Labor Organization, through its Committee on Freedom of Association.
Last November, the ILO Committee released its findings and recommendations that, though coated with diplomatic and prudent words, were essentially a rebuke of the actions of Dusit versus its protesting workers and the Supreme Court verdict as well.
In particular, the ILO suggested to the Philippine government to ensure its adherence to ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining), which the country has ratified as early as 1953 and which have both emerged as focal issues in the Dusit case.
The Dusit workers were forced to stage a picket – which is different from a full-blown strike – in January 2002 after they were prevented by the hotel from reporting for work after many male staff cropped their hairs in protest of the obviously dilatory tactics of management in the collective bargaining talks, which had dragged on for about 15 months already.
On January 26, 2002 Dusit terminated 90 of the workers, including 29 union officers of the Nuwhrain-Dusit Hotel Nikko Chapter that virtually decimated the union leadership, and suspended 136 other employees, among them women and other males who did not even cut their hairs but were union members.
Unfortunately, the National Labor Relations Commission and later the Eight Division of the Court of Appeals both favored the Dusit actions pushing the case to the Supreme Court.
However, the highly anomalous rulings of the NLRC and the CA’s 8th Division could have been rectified – which could have revived the people’s trust to the judiciary – when the Dusit case was elevated to the Supreme Court; but its Second Division not only affirmed the earlier glaringly flawed decisions, it had even further legitimized and reinforced them, while adding new and paradoxical legal doctrines, the APL said.
The Velasco ruling declared that when the workers “violated” the Dusit “grooming standards,” it caused disruptions in the hotel operations and thus tantamount to an “unprotected” mass action or not sanctioned by law and “should be considered as an illegal strike.”
It also asserted 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” – again.
These and other “outrageous reasoning” cited in the Dusit ruling are described by the APL as “sadly and embarrassingly now part of the Philippine jurisprudence as G.R. 163942 and G.R. 166295.”
The NUWHRAIN-DHNC and later by at least 20 other different labor organizations filed several motions – for reconsideration and to intervene (MRs and MIs) – for the Supreme Court to review en banc the Velasco ruling especially since the latter has wide-ranging effects on the current labor, civil and constitutional rights, including the very basic freedom of speech and expression, thus warranting an automatic reappraisal of the entire high court, the APL said.
But all the MRs and MIs were quickly rejected by the Supreme Court’s Second Division forcing the petitioners as well as an allied trade union group abroad to file two related complaints in 2009 to the said ILO body in Geneva. Moreover, according to the then SC’s Clerk of Court, one of those who participated in the drafting and signing of the Feb. 9, 2009 resolution denying the MR was Associate Justice Ruben Reyes, who already retired a little over a month earlier or on Jan. 2. The Dusit union later filed disbarment case against Reyes.