SOLIDBANK CORP VS. ERNESTO U. GAMIER ET AL (G.R. NO. 159460, 15 NOVEMBER 2010).

 

THIS CASE IS ABOUT LABOR STRIKES. IT DISTINGUISHES LIABILITY OF A UNION OFFICER FROM LIABILITY OF MERE UNION MEMBER.

 

READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE DECISION IN jabbulao.com under the category RECENT SUPREME COURT DECISIONS.

 

THIS DIGEST ALSO APPEARS IN jabbulao.com under the category: LEGAL DIGESTS. 

 

DOCTRINE:  DEMONSTRATIONS AND WORK BOYCOTTS IN VIOLATION OF DOLE ORDER AFTER DOLE ASSUMES JURISDICTION CONSTITUTES ILLEGAL STRIKE. UNION OFFICERS CAN BE TERMINATED IF THEY PARTICIPATE IN ILLEGAL STRIKES. BUT MERE MEMBERS CAN BE TERMINATED ONLY IF THEY COMMIT ILLEGAL ACTS DURING SUCH STRIKES.

 

DIGEST:

 

FACTS:

 

XYZ BANK AND ABC LABOR UNION WERE RENEGOTIATING THEIR CBA. NOT BEING ABLE TO AGREE, ABC LABOR UNION DECLARED DEADLOCK AND FILED NOTICE TO STRIKE. DOLE ASSUMED JURISDICTION AND ISSUED AN ORDER ON THE ISSUES IN DISPUTE. DISSATISFILED WITH THE ORDER, ABC LABOR UNION FILED A MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION. WHILE FILING SUCH MOTION THEY STAGED DEMONSTRATION AT DOLE. THEY ALSO DID NOT REPORT TO WORK FOR 3 DAYS. XYZ BANK TERMINATED MANY OF THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE STRIKE. EMPLOYEES AFFECTED FILED CASE FOR ILLEGAL DISMISSAL BEFORE TWO ARBITERS. ONE ARBITER DISMISSED THE COMPLAINT. ANOTHER ARBITER RULED IN FAVOR OF EMPLOYEES. NLRC RULED THAT THE DISMISSAL WAS ILLEGAL. PARTIES APPEALED TO THE CA. CA RULED  THAT THE DISMISSAL WAS ILLEGAL. THE PROTEST ACTION STAGED BY THE EMPLOYEES BEFORE DOLE AND THEIR WALK OUT FOR 3 DAYS WAS NOT A STRIKE BUT AN EXERCISE OF RIGHT TO EXPRESS DISSATISFACTION OF DOLE DECISION. XYZ BANK FILED PETITION BEFORE THE SC.

ISSUES:

THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED IN THIS CONTROVERSY ARE: (1) WHETHER THE PROTEST RALLY AND CONCERTED WORK ABANDONMENT/BOYCOTT STAGED BY THE RESPONDENTS VIOLATED THE ORDER DATED JANUARY 18, 2000 OF THE SECRETARY OF LABOR; (2) WHETHER THE RESPONDENTS WERE VALIDLY TERMINATED; AND (3) WHETHER THE RESPONDENTS ARE ENTITLED TO SEPARATION PAY OR FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE.

RULING:

THE DEMONSTRATION AT DOLE AND THE 3 DAY BOYCOTT WAS IN VIOLATION OF THE ORDER OF DOLE. THEREFORE, SUCH CONSTITUTES AN ILLEGAL STRIKE. ONCE DOLE TAKES OVER JURISDICTION THE SAME MUST NOT BE ALLOWED.

NOT ALL EMPLOYEES CAN BE TERMINATED ON SAME GROUNDS. UNION OFFICERS CAN BE TERMINATED ON THE BASIS OF THEIR BEING INVOLVED IN ILLEGAL STRIKES. MERE UNION MEMBERS CAN BE TERMINATED ONLY IF THEY COMMIT ILLEGAL ACTS DURING THE STRIKES.

UNION MEMBERS WHO ARE DUE FOR REINSTATEMENT AFTER THEY JOINED THE ILLEGAL STRIKES CANNOT CLAIM BACKWAGES. BUT SINCE REINSTATEMENT IS NOT POSSIBLE ANYMORE, THEY ARE ENTITLED TO SEPARATION PAY.

Said the Supreme Court:

Our Ruling

          Article 212 of the Labor Code, as amended, defines strike as any temporary stoppage of work by the concerted action of employees as a result of an industrial or labor dispute. A labor dispute includes any controversy or matter concerning terms and conditions of employment or the association or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing or arranging the terms and conditions of employment, regardless of whether or not the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employers and employees.[1][41]  The term “strike” shall comprise not only concerted work stoppages, but also slowdowns, mass leaves, sitdowns, attempts to damage, destroy or sabotage plant equipment and facilities and similar activities.[2][42]  Thus, the fact that the conventional term “strike” was not used by the striking employees to describe their common course of action is inconsequential, since the substance of the situation, and not its appearance, will be deemed to be controlling.[3][43]

          After a thorough review of the records, we hold that the CA patently erred in concluding that the concerted mass actions staged by respondents cannot be considered a strike but a legitimate exercise of the respondents’ right to express their dissatisfaction with the Secretary’s resolution of the economic issues in the deadlocked CBA negotiations with petitioners.  It must be stressed that the concerted action of the respondents was not limited to the protest rally infront of the DOLE Office on April 3, 2000.  Respondent Union had also picketed the Head Office and Paseo de Roxas Branch.  About 712 employees, including those in the provincial branches, boycotted and absented themselves from work in a concerted fashion for three continuous days that virtually paralyzed the employer’s banking operations.   Considering that these mass actions stemmed from a bargaining deadlock and an order of assumption of jurisdiction had already been issued by the Secretary of Labor to avert an impending strike, there is no doubt that the concerted work abandonment/boycott was the result of a labor dispute.   

          In Toyota Motor Phils. Corp. Workers Association (TMPCWA) v. National Labor Relations Commission,[4][44] petitioners union and members held similar protest rallies infront of the offices of BLR and DOLE Secretary and at the company plants.  We declared that said mass actions constituted illegal strikes:

Petitioner Union contends that the protests or rallies conducted on February 21 and 23, 2001 are not within the ambit of strikes as defined in the Labor Code, since they were legitimate exercises of their right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Mainly relying on the doctrine laid down in the case of Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization v. Philippine Blooming Mills Co., Inc., it argues that the protest was not directed at Toyota but towards the Government (DOLE and BLR).  It explains that the protest is not a strike as contemplated in the Labor Code.  The Union points out that in Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization, the mass action staged in Malacañang to petition the Chief Executive against the abusive behavior of some police officers was a proper exercise of the employees’ right to speak out and to peaceably gather and ask government for redress of their grievances. 

The Union’s position fails to convince us.

While the facts in Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization are similar in some respects to that of the present case, the Union fails to realize one major difference: there was no labor dispute in Philippine Blooming Mills Employees OrganizationIn the present case, there was an on-going labor dispute arising from Toyota’s refusal to recognize and negotiate with the Union, which was the subject of the notice of strike filed by the Union on January 16, 2001.  Thus, the Union’s reliance on Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization is misplaced, as it cannot be considered a precedent to the case at bar.

x x x x

Applying pertinent legal provisions and jurisprudence, we rule that the protest actions undertaken by the Union officials and members on February 21 to 23, 2001 are not valid and proper exercises of their right to assemble and ask government for redress of their complaints, but are illegal strikes in breach of the Labor Code. The Union’s position is weakened by the lack of permit from the City of Manila to hold “rallies.” Shrouded as demonstrations, they were in reality temporary stoppages of work perpetrated through the concerted action of the employees who deliberately failed to report for work on the convenient excuse that they will hold a rally at the BLR and DOLE offices in Intramuros, Manila, on February 21 to 23, 2001. x x x (Emphasis supplied.)

          Moreover, it is explicit from the directive of the Secretary in his January 18, 2000 Order that the Union and its members shall refrain from committing “any and all acts that might exacerbate the situation,”[5][45] which certainly includes concerted actions.  For all intents and purposes, therefore, the respondents staged a strike ultimately aimed at realizing their economic demands. Whether such pressure was directed against the petitioners or the Secretary of Labor, or both, is of no moment.  All the elements of strike are evident in the Union-instigated mass actions.

          The right to strike, while constitutionally recognized, is not without legal constrictions.[6][46]  Article 264 (a) of the Labor Code, as amended, provides:

Art. 264. Prohibited activities. –  (a) x x x

No strike or lockout shall be declared after assumption of jurisdiction by the President or the Secretary or after certification or submission of the dispute to compulsory or voluntary arbitration or during the pendency of cases involving the same grounds for the strike or lockout.

x x x x   (Emphasis supplied.)

          The Court has consistently ruled that once the Secretary of Labor assumes jurisdiction over a labor dispute, such jurisdiction should not be interfered with by the application of the coercive processes of a strike or lockout.[7][47]  A strike that is undertaken despite the issuance by the Secretary of Labor of an assumption order and/or certification is a prohibited activity and thus illegal.[8][48]

Article 264 (a) of the Labor Code, as amended, also considers it a prohibited activity to declare a strike “during the pendency of cases involving the same grounds for the same strike.”[9][49]  There is no dispute that when respondents conducted their mass actions on April 3 to 6, 2000, the proceedings before the Secretary of Labor were still pending as both parties filed motions for reconsideration of the March 24, 2000 Order.  Clearly, respondents knowingly violated the aforesaid provision by holding a strike in the guise of mass demonstration simultaneous with concerted work abandonment/boycott. 

Notwithstanding the illegality of the strike, we cannot sanction petitioners’ act of indiscriminately terminating the services of individual respondents who admitted joining the mass actions and who have refused to comply with the offer of the management to report back to work on April 6, 2000.   The liabilities of individual respondents must be determined under Article 264 (a) of the Labor Code, as amended:

Art. 264.  Prohibited activities.— x x x

            x x x x

Any worker whose employment has been terminated as a consequence of an unlawful lockout shall be entitled to reinstatement with full back wages.  Any union officer who knowingly participates in an illegal strike and any worker or union officer who knowingly participates in the commission of illegal acts during a strike may be declared to have lost his employment status:  Provided, That mere participation of a worker in a lawful strike shall not constitute sufficient ground for termination of his employment, even if a replacement had been hired by the employer during such lawful strike.

x x x x

          The foregoing shows that the law makes a distinction between union officers and members. For knowingly participating in an illegal strike or participating in the commission of illegal acts during a strike, the law provides that a union officer may be terminated from employment.  The law grants the employer the option of declaring a union officer who participated in an illegal strike as having lost his employment. It possesses the right and prerogative to terminate the union officers from service.[10][50] 

          However, a worker merely participating in an illegal strike may not be terminated from employment.  It is only when he commits illegal acts during a strike that he may be declared to have lost employment
status.[11][51]  We have held that the responsibility of union officers, as main players in an illegal strike, is greater than that of the members and, therefore, limiting the penalty of dismissal only for the former for participation in an illegal strike is in order.[12][52]   Hence, with respect to respondents who are union officers, the validity of their termination by petitioners cannot be questioned.  Being fully aware that  the proceedings before the Secretary of Labor were still pending as in fact they filed a motion for reconsideration of the March 24, 2000 Order, they cannot invoke good faith as a defense.[13][53]

          For the rest of the individual respondents who are union members, the rule is that an ordinary striking worker cannot be terminated for mere participation in an illegal strike.  There must be proof that he or she committed illegal acts during a strike. In all cases, the striker must be identified.  But proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required. Substantial evidence available under the attendant circumstances, which may justify the imposition of the penalty of dismissal, may suffice.  Liability for prohibited acts is to be determined on an individual basis.[14][54]

          Petitioners have not adduced evidence on such illegal acts committed by each of the individual respondents who are union members.  Instead, petitioners simply point to their admitted participation in the mass actions which they knew to be illegal, being in violation of the Secretary’s assumption order.  However, the acts which were held to be prohibited activities are the following:

… where the strikers shouted slanderous and scurrilous words against the owners of the vessels; where the strikers used unnecessary and obscene language or epithets to prevent other laborers to go to work, and circulated libelous statements against the employer which show actual malice; where the protestors used abusive and threatening language towards the patrons of a place of business or against co-employees, going beyond the mere attempt to persuade customers to withdraw their patronage; where the strikers formed a human cordon and blocked all the ways and approaches to the launches and vessels of the vicinity of the workplace and perpetrated acts of violence and coercion to prevent work from being performed; and where the strikers shook their fists and threatened non-striking employees with bodily harm if they persisted to proceed to the workplace. x x x[15][55]

          The dismissal of herein respondent-union members are therefore unjustified in the absence of a clear showing that they committed specific illegal acts during the mass actions and concerted work boycott.

          Are these dismissed employees entitled to backwages and separation pay?

          The award of backwages is a legal consequence of a finding of illegal dismissal.  Assuming that respondent-union members have indeed reported back to work at the end of the concerted mass actions, but were soon terminated by petitioners who found their explanation unsatisfactory, they are not entitled to backwages in view of the illegality of the said strike. Thus, we held in G & S Transport Corporation v. Infante[16][56]

It can now therefore be concluded that the acts of respondents do not merit their dismissal from employment because it has not been substantially proven that they committed any illegal act while participating in the illegal strike. x x x

x  x  x x

With respect to backwages, the principle of a “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s labor” remains as the basic factor in determining the award thereof.  If there is no work performed by the employee there can be no wage or pay unless, of course, the laborer was able, willing and ready to work but was illegally locked out, suspended or dismissed or otherwise illegally prevented from working.  While it was found that respondents expressed their intention to report back to work, the latter exception cannot apply in this case.  In Philippine Marine Officers’ Guild v. Compañia Maritima, as affirmed in Philippine Diamond Hotel and Resort v. Manila Diamond Hotel Employees Union, the Court stressed that for this exception to apply, it is required that the strike be legal, a situation that does not obtain in the case at bar. (Emphasis supplied.)

          Under the circumstances, respondents’ reinstatement without backwages suffices for the appropriate relief. But since reinstatement is no longer possible, given the lapse of considerable time from the occurrence of the strike, not to mention the fact that Solidbank had long ceased its banking operations, the award of separation pay of one (1) month salary for each year of service, in lieu of reinstatement, is in order.[17][57]  For the twenty-one (21) individual respondents who executed quitclaims in favor of the petitioners, whatever amount they have already received from the employer shall be deducted from their respective separation pay.  

          Petitioners contended that in view of the blatant violation of the Secretary’s assumption order by the striking employees, the award of separation pay is unjust and unwarranted.  That respondent-members themselves knowingly participated in the illegal mass actions constitutes serious misconduct which is a just cause under Article 282 for terminating an employee.

          We are not persuaded.

          As we stated earlier, the Labor Code protects an ordinary, rank-and-file union member who participated in such a strike from losing his job, provided that he did not commit an illegal act during the strike.[18][58]   Article 264 (e) of the Labor Code, as amended, provides for such acts which are generally prohibited during concerted actions such as picketing:

No person engaged in picketing shall commit any act of violence, coercion or intimidation or obstruct the free ingress to or egress from the employer’s premises for lawful purposes, or obstruct public thoroughfares. (Emphasis supplied.)

          Petitioners have not adduced substantial proof that respondent-union members perpetrated any act of violence, intimidation, coercion or obstruction of company premises and public thoroughfares.   It did not submit in evidence photographs, police reports, affidavits and other available evidence. 

As to the issue of solidary liability, we hold that Metrobank cannot be held solidarily liable with Solidbank for the claims of the latter’s dismissed employees.  There is no showing that Metrobank is the successor-in-interest of Solidbank.  Based on petitioners’ documentary evidence, Solidbank was merged with FMIC, with Solidbank as the surviving corporation, and was later renamed as FMIC. While indeed Solidbank’s banking operations had been integrated with Metrobank, there is no showing that FMIC has ceased business operations. FMIC as successor-in-interest of Solidbank remains solely liable for the sums herein adjudged against Solidbank.

Neither should individual petitioners Vistan and Mendoza be held solidarily liable for the claims adjudged against petitioner Solidbank.   Article 212 (e)[19][59] does not state that corporate officers are personally liable for the unpaid salaries or separation pay of employees of the corporation.  The liability of corporate officers for corporate debts remains governed by Section 31[20][60] of the Corporation Code.          

 It is basic that a corporation is invested by law with a personality separate and distinct from those of the persons composing it as well as from that of any other legal entity to which it may be related.  Mere ownership by a single stockholder or by another corporation of all or nearly all of the capital stock of a corporation is not of itself sufficient ground for disregarding the separate corporate personality.[21][61] In labor cases, in particular, the Court has held corporate directors and officers solidarily liable with the corporation for the termination of employment of corporate employees done with malice or in bad faith.[22][62]  Bad faith is never presumed.[23][63] Bad faith does not simply connote bad judgment or negligence — it imports a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of wrong.  It means a breach of a known duty through some motive or interest or ill-will that partakes of the nature of fraud.[24][64]

Respondents have not satisfactorily proven that Vistan and Mendoza acted with malice, ill-will or bad faith. Hence, said individual petitioners are not liable for the separation pay of herein respondents-union members.

WHEREFORE, the petitions are PARTLY GRANTED.   The Decision dated March 10, 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 67730 and 70820 is hereby SET ASIDE. Petitioner Solidbank Corporation (now FMIC) is hereby ORDERED to pay each of the above-named individual respondents, except union officers who are hereby declared validly dismissed, separation pay equivalent to one (1) month salary for every year of service.  Whatever sums already received from petitioners under any release, waiver or quitclaim shall be deducted from the total separation pay due to each of them.

The NLRC is hereby directed to determine who among the individual respondents are union members entitled to the separation pay herein awarded, and those union officers who were validly dismissed and hence excluded from the said award.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

                                                MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

                                                               Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:  

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRIONAssociate Justice LUCAS P. BERSAMINAssociate Justice 
MARIA LOURDES  P. A. SERENOAssociate Justice

A T T E S T A T I O N

 

          I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

  CONCHITA CARPIO MORALESAssociate JusticeChairperson, Third Division

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

  RENATO C. CORONAChief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


[1][41] Gold City Integrated Port Service, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. Nos. 103560 & 103599, July 6, 1995, 245 SCRA 627, 635-636.

[2][42] Samahang Manggagawa sa Sulpicio Lines, Inc.-NAFLU v. Suplicio Lines, Inc.,G.R. No. 140992, March 25, 2004, 426 SCRA 319, 326, citing Sec. 2, P.D. No. 823, as amended by P.D. No. 849.

[3][43] Bangalisan v. Hon. CA, 342 Phil. 586, 594 (1997) cited in Gesite v. Court of Appeals, G.R. Nos. 123562-65, November 25, 2004, 444 SCRA 51, 57.

[4][44] G.R. Nos. 158786 & 158789, October 19, 2007, 537 SCRA 171, 200-202.

[5][45] Supra note 3.

[6][46] Philcom Employees Union v. Philippine Global Communications, G.R. No. 144315, July 17, 2006, 495 SCRA 214, 244.

[7][47] Telefunken Semiconductors Employees Union-FFW v. Court of Appeals, supra note 21 at 582.

[8][48] Philcom Employees Union v. Philippine Global Communications, supra note 46 at 243. See also  Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Brillantes, G.R. No. 119360, October 10, 1997, 280 SCRA 515, 516, citing Phil. Airlines, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor and Employment, G.R. No. 88210, January 23, 1991, 193 SCRA 223; Union of Filipro Employees v. Nestle Philippines, Inc., G.R. Nos. 88710-13, December 19, 1990, 192 SCRA 396; Federation of Free Workers v. Inciong, G.R. No. 49983, April 20, 1992, 208 SCRA 157; and St. Scholastica’s College v. Torres, G.R. No. 100158, June 29, 1992, 210 SCRA 565. 

[9][49] Philcom Employees Union v. Philippine Global Communications, id. at 246.

[10][50]         Steel Corporation of the Philippines v. SCP Employees Union-National Federation of Labor Unions, G.R. Nos. 169829-30, April 16, 2008, 551 SCRA 594, 612, citing Santa Rosa Coca-Cola Plant Employees Union v. Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils, Inc., G.R. Nos. 164302-03, January 24, 2007, 512 SCRA 437, 458-459 and Stamford Marketing Corp. v. Julian, G.R. No. 145496, February 24, 2004, 423 SCRA 633, 648.

[11][51]         Id.

[12][52]         Nissan Motors Philippines, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor and Employment, G.R. Nos. 158190-91, 158276 and 158283, June 21, 2006, 491 SCRA 604, 624, citing Association of Independent Unions in the Philippines v. NLRC, G.R. No. 120505, March 25, 1999, 305 SCRA 219.

[13][53]         See Sukhothai Cuisine and Restaurant v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 150437, July 17, 2006, 495 SCRA 336, 348, citing  First City Interlink Transportation Co., Inc. v. Sec. Confesor, 338 Phil. 635, 644 (1997).

[14][54]         Id. at 355-356, citing Samahang Manggagawa sa Sulpicio Lines, Inc.-NAFLU v. Sulpicio Lines, Inc., supra note 42 at 328 and Asso. of Independent Unions in the Phil. v. NLRC, 364 Phil. 697, 708-709 (1999).

[15][55]         Id. at 351, citing United Seamen’s Union of the Phil. v. Davao Shipowners Association, Nos. L-18778 and L-18779, August 31, 1967, 20 SCRA 1226, 1240; Cromwell Commercial Employees and Laborers Union (PTUC) v. Court of Industrial Relations, No. L-19778, September 30, 1964, 12 SCRA 124, 132; Liberal Labor Union v. Phil. Can Co., 91 Phil. 72, 78 (1952); Linn v. United Plan Guard Workers, 15 L.Ed 2d 582; 31 Am. Jur. § 245, p. 954; 116 A.L.R. 477, 505; 32 A.L.R. 756; 27 A.L.R. 375; cited in 2 C.A. Azucena, The Labor Code With Comments and Cases p. 500 (1999) and Asso. of Independent Unions in the Phil. v. NLRC, id. at 706-707.

[16][56]         G.R. No. 160303, September 13, 2007, 533 SCRA 288, 301-302.

[17][57]         Id. at 304.

[18][58] Id. at 300.

[19][59]      Art. 212.  x x x

      x x x x

      (e) “Employer” includes any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly. The term shall not include any labor organization or any of its officers or agents except when acting as employer.

[20][60]      SEC. 31. Liability of directors, trustees or officers. – Directors or trustees who willfully and knowingly vote for or assent to patently unlawful acts of the corporation or who are guilty of gross negligence or bad faith in directing the affairs of the corporation or acquire any personal or pecuniary interest in conflict with their duty as such directors or trustees shall be liable jointly and severally for all damages resulting therefrom suffered by the corporation, its stockholders or members and other persons.

            x x x x

[21][61]         Carag v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 147590, April 2, 2007, 520 SCRA 28, 55.

[22][62]         Malayang Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa M. Greenfield v. Ramos, G.R. No. 113907, April 20, 2001, 357 SCRA 77, 93-94.

[23][63]         See McLeod v. NLRC, G.R. No. 146667, January 23, 2007, 512 SCRA 222, 246, citing Lim v. Court of Appeals, 380 Phil. 60 (2000) and Del Rosario v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 85416, July 24, 1990, 187 SCRA 777.

[24][64]      Ford Philippines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 99039, February 3, 1997, 267 SCRA 320, 328.