Serrano v Gallant Maritime Services, Inc.

[G.R. NO. 167614 : March 24, 2009]





Petitioner was hired by Gallant Maritime Services, Inc. and Marlow Navigation Co., Ltd. (respondents) under a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)-approved Contract of Employment with the following terms and conditions:

  1. Duration of contract  12 months
  2. Position  Chief Officer
  3. Basic monthly salary  US$1,400.00
  4. Hours of work  48.0 hours per week
  5. Overtime  US$700.00 per month
  6. Vacation leave with pay  7.00 days per month

On March 19, 1998, the date of his departure, petitioner was constrained to accept a downgraded employment contract for the position of Second Officer with a monthly salary of US$1,000.00, upon the assurance and representation of respondents that he would be made Chief Officer by the end of April 1998. Respondents did not deliver on their promise to make petitioner Chief Officer. Hence, petitioner refused to stay on as Second Officer and was repatriated to the Philippines on May 26, 1998.

Petitioner’s employment contract was for a period of 12 months or from March 19, 1998 up to March 19, 1999, but at the time of his repatriation on May 26, 1998, he had served only two (2) months and seven (7) days of his contract, leaving an unexpired portion of nine (9) months and twenty-three (23) days.

Petitioner filed with the Labor Arbiter (LA) a Complaint against respondents for constructive dismissal and for payment of his money claims in the total amount of US$26,442.73. The LA rendered a Decision dated July 15, 1999, declaring the dismissal of petitioner illegal and awarding him monetary benefits, to wit:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered declaring that the dismissal of the complainant (petitioner) by the respondents in the above-entitled case was illegal and the respondents are hereby ordered to pay the complainant [petitioner], jointly and severally, in Philippine Currency, based on the rate of exchange prevailing at the time of payment, the amount of EIGHT THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED SEVENTY U.S. DOLLARS (US $8,770.00), representing the complainant’s salary for three (3) months of the unexpired portion of the aforesaid contract of employment.

The claims of the complainant for moral and exemplary damages are hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.

In awarding petitioner a lump-sum salary of US$8,770.00, the LA based his computation on the salary period of three months only — rather than the entire unexpired portion of nine months and 23 days of petitioner’s employment contract – applying the subject clause. However, the LA applied the salary rate of US$2,590.00, consisting of petitioner’s “[b]asic salary, US$1,400.00/month + US$700.00/month, fixed overtime pay, + US$490.00/month, vacation leave pay = US$2,590.00/compensation per month.”

Respondents appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) to question the finding of the LA that petitioner was illegally dismissed.

The NLRC modified the LA Decision and corrected the LA’s computation of the lump-sum salary awarded to petitioner by reducing the applicable salary rate from US$2,590.00 to US$1,400.00 because R.A. No. 8042 “does not provide for the award of overtime pay, which should be proven to have been actually performed, and for vacation leave pay.

Petitioner filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration, but this time he questioned the constitutionality of the subject clause. The NLRC denied the motion.

Petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA, reiterating the constitutional challenge against the subject clause. After initially dismissing the petition on a technicality, the CA eventually gave due course to it, as directed by this Court in its Resolution which granted the petition for certiorari,filed by petitioner.

The CA affirmed the NLRC ruling on the reduction of the applicable salary rate; however, the CA skirted the constitutional issue raised by petitioner.

His Motion for Reconsideration having been denied by the CA, petitioner brings his cause to this Court on the following grounds:

The Court of Appeals and the labor tribunals have decided the case in a way not in accord with applicable decision of the Supreme Court involving similar issue of granting unto the migrant worker back wages equal to the unexpired portion of his contract of employment instead of limiting it to three (3) months.

Even without considering the constitutional limitations [of] Sec. 10 of Republic Act No. 8042, the Court of Appeals gravely erred in law in excluding from petitioner’s award the overtime pay and vacation pay provided in his contract since under the contract they form part of his salary.

The Court now takes up the full merit of the petition mindful of the extreme importance of the constitutional question raised therein.


  1. Whether Section 10 (par 5) of RA 8042 is unconstitutional
  2. Proper computation of the Lump-sum salary to be awarded to petitioner by reason of his illegal dismissal
  3. Whether the overtime and leave pay should form part of the salary basis in the computation of his monetary award

The unanimous finding of the LA, NLRC and CA that the dismissal of petitioner was illegal is not disputed. Likewise not disputed is the salary differential of US$45.00 awarded to petitioner in all three fora.

Applying the subject clause, the NLRC and the CA computed the lump-sum salary of petitioner at the monthly rate of US$1,400.00 covering the period of three months out of the unexpired portion of nine months and 23 days of his employment contract or a total of US$4,200.00.

Impugning the constitutionality of the subject clause, petitioner contends that, in addition to the US$4,200.00 awarded by the NLRC and the CA, he is entitled to US$21,182.23 more or a total of US$25,382.23, equivalent to his salaries for the entire nine months and 23 days left of his employment contract, computed at the monthly rate of US$2,590.00.31

Arguments of the Petitioner

For Antonio Serrano (petitioner), a Filipino seafarer, the last clause in the 5th paragraph of Section 10, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8042, violates the OFWs’ constitutional rights in that it impairs the terms of their contract, deprives them of equal protection and denies them due process.

The Arguments of Respondents

Respondents contend that the constitutional issue should not be entertained, for this was belatedly interposed by petitioner in his appeal before the CA, and not at the earliest opportunity, which was when he filed an appeal before the NLRC.40

The Arguments of the Solicitor General

The Solicitor General (OSG)41 points out that as R.A. No. 8042 took effect on July 15, 1995, its provisions could not have impaired petitioner’s 1998 employment contract. Rather, R.A. No. 8042 having preceded petitioner’s contract, the provisions thereof are deemed part of the minimum terms of petitioner’s employment, especially on the matter of money claims, as this was not stipulated upon by the parties.

Issue 1

Does the subject clause violate Section 1, Article III of the Constitution, and Section 18, Article II and Section 3, Article XIII on Labor as protected sector?

The answer is in the affirmative.

Section 1, Article III of the Constitution guarantees: No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law.

Section 18, Article II and Section 3, Article XIII accord all members of the labor sector, without distinction as to place of deployment, full protection of their rights and welfare.

To Filipino workers, the rights guaranteed under the foregoing constitutional provisions translate to economic security and parity: all monetary benefits should be equally enjoyed by workers of similar category, while all monetary obligations should be borne by them in equal degree; none should be denied the protection of the laws which is enjoyed by, or spared the burden imposed on, others in like circumstances.

Imbued with the same sense of “obligation to afford protection to labor,” the Court in the present case also employs the standard of strict judicial scrutiny, for it perceives in the subject clause a suspect classification prejudicial to OFWs.

Upon cursory reading, the subject clause appears facially neutral, for it applies to all OFWs. However, a closer examination reveals that the subject clause has a discriminatory intent against, and an invidious impact on OFWs

The subject clause does not state or imply any definitive governmental purpose; and it is for that precise reason that the clause violates not just petitioner’s right to equal protection, but also her right to substantive due process under Section 1, Article III of the Constitution.

Issue 2

It is plain that prior to R.A. No. 8042, all OFWs, regardless of contract periods or the unexpired portions thereof, were treated alike in terms of the computation of their monetary benefits in case of illegal dismissal. Their claims were subjected to a uniform rule of computation: their basic salaries multiplied by the entire unexpired portion of their employment contracts.

The enactment of the subject clause in R.A. No. 8042 introduced a differentiated rule of computation of the money claims of illegally dismissed OFWs based on their employment periods, in the process singling out one category whose contracts have an unexpired portion of one year or more and subjecting them to the peculiar disadvantage of having their monetary awards limited to their salaries for 3 months or for the unexpired portion thereof, whichever is less, but all the while sparing the other category from such prejudice, simply because the latter’s unexpired contracts fall short of one year.

Prior to R.A. No. 8042, a uniform system of computation of the monetary awards of illegally dismissed OFWs was in place. This uniform system was applicable even to local workers with fixed-term employment.

The subject clause does not state or imply any definitive governmental purpose; and it is for that precise reason that the clause violates not just petitioner’s right to equal protection, but also her right to substantive due process under Section 1, Article III of the Constitution.

The subject clause being unconstitutional, petitioner is entitled to his salaries for the entire unexpired period of nine months and 23 days of his employment contract, pursuant to law and jurisprudence prior to the enactment of R.A. No. 8042.

Issue 3

Petitioner contends that his overtime and leave pay should form part of the salary basis in the computation of his monetary award, because these are fixed benefits that have been stipulated into his contract.

Petitioner is mistaken.

The word salaries in Section 10(5) does not include overtime and leave pay. For seafarers like petitioner, DOLE Department Order No. 33, series 1996, provides a Standard Employment Contract of Seafarers, in which salary is understood as the basic wage, exclusive of overtime, leave pay and other bonuses; whereas overtime pay is compensation for all work “performed” in excess of the regular eight hours, and holiday pay is compensation for any work “performed” on designated rest days and holidays.

In the same vein, the claim for the day’s leave pay for the unexpired portion of the contract is unwarranted since the same is given during the actual service of the seamen.

WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the Petition. The subject clause “or for three months for every year of the unexpired term, whichever is less” in the 5th paragraph of Section 10 of Republic Act No. 8042 is DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL; and the December 8, 2004 Decision and April 1, 2005 Resolution of the Court of Appeals are MODIFIED to the effect that petitioner is AWARDED his salaries for the entire unexpired portion of his employment contract consisting of nine months and 23 days computed at the rate of US$1,400.00 per month.

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