ABS-CBN Sued for Illegal Dismissal of Employees

The Court of Appeals (CA) has dismissed a petition filed by broadcast network ABS-CBN in connection with the labor case filed by its former talents for alleged illegal dismissal.

In its decision, the appellate court’s Special Fifteenth Division denied ABS-CBN’s petition for certiorari as it affirmed the National Labor Relations Commission’s (NLRC) ruling dated Oct. 29, 2009 and resolution dated Sept. 30, 2010.

The CA affirmed the NLRC ruling “with modification and awarded backwages in favor of Jose Rhoderick De Belen computed from 20 August 2003 until finality of this decision, and separation pay equivalent to one month salary for every year of service.”

The NLRC had declared the private respondents as regular employees of the company and declared invalid and illegal the fixed term contracts issued to the talents pursuant to the IJM program as it defeats their security of tenure with the company.

It found ABS-CBN liable to each of the private respondents for moral damages in the amount of P50,000 and exemplary damages in the same amount.

Likewise, it also found the company liable to pay the private respondents’ attorney’s fees equivalent to 10 percent of the monetary award.

“An employee who is illegally dismissed is entitled to the twin reliefs of full backwages and reinstatement. If reinstatement is not viable, separation pay is awarded to the employee. In awarding separation pay to an illegally dismissed employee, in lieu of reinstatement, the amount to be awarded shall be equivalent to one month salary for every year of service,” the CA ruling written by Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao said.

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Michael Elbinias and Socorro Inting.

“Considering that reinstatement is no longer feasible in this case, private respondent De Belen is entitled to his full backwages and separation pay,” the CA said.

De Belen, Rowena Otida, Jerome Manahan and John Cuba were dismissed by the broadcast company, prompting them to file a complaint before the NLRC.

On April 28, 2003, ABS-CBN issued Memorandum No. 10 signed by Atty. Ricardo Puno Jr., its senior vice president, mandating all undocumented personnel engaged as talents to execute their respective talent contract, denominated as Project Assignment Form, not later than May 15, 2003.

According to the talents, failure to do so would result in the cessation of talent engagement and non-payment of talent fees. They were some of the talents who signed the Project Assignment Form.

They argued that they were forced to sign the said contract for fear that they would be laid off from work.

This prompted them to file before the Labor Arbiter a case for money claim, which was later amended to include illegal dismissal, regularization and damages.

However, ABS-CBN maintained that the accreditation under the IJM System did not ensue into an employer-employee relationship.

It asserted that private respondents were independent contractors who were engaged for specific periods, and whose services may be dispensed with upon completion of their assigned projects, episodes or programs.

Otida worked as segment producer since 1994, with a monthly salary of P18,000; Manahan as researcher since 1999, receiving P14,000 monthly; Cuba as researcher since 1999, with a monthly salary of P10,800, and De Belen as researcher since 1996, with a monthly salary of P14,000. – source, PNA

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