Ex-Napoles aides win back pay ruling
The lawyer of pork scam whistle-blowers Mary Arlene Baltazar and Marina Sula yesterday welcomed the Court of Appeals decision affirming the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) ruling awarding his clients separation pay, back wages and unpaid salaries.
Baltazar and Sula secured the NLRC ruling after suing their employer, suspected scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and her company, JLN Corp. The appellate court’s Ninth Division affirmed the awards on Aug. 17.
Stephen Cascolan, lawyer of Baltazar and Sula, said the court ruling would help the government prosecutors in pursuing the plunder and malversation cases in the Sandiganbayan against Napoles, her family and staff, and other former and incumbent government officials in the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) racket.
“The more significant victory is the court’s affirmation that they are JLN Corp. employees and that Mrs. Napoles’ defense that they are not and that they are the actual perpetrators of the scam cannot now hold ground in the Sandiganbayan. Indirectly, it strengthens the prosecution case for all PDAF cases as credibility of the two whistle-blowers are now also recognized by another independent court,” Cascolan said in a text message.
“The next step is executing the judgment award. We hope we can still get it. The labor award, if actually collected, will go a long way in helping their families,” he said.
In its resolution dismissing the appeal of Napoles and JLN, the court ruled that the NLRC did not gravely abuse its discretion when it found that Baltazar and Sula were illegally dismissed.
“Private respondents (Baltazar and Sula) were able to establish by substantial evidence that they were JLN Corp.’s regular employees, albeit this employment was illegally severed by the latter without valid cause, nay, due process,” stated the court’s ruling written by Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier.
JLN has denied that Sula and Baltazar were its employees, saying that Baltazar admitted being a freelance bookkeeper while Sula admitted being president of Masagang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc., one of the allegedly fake nongovernment organizations set up by Napoles to undertake “ghost” and overpriced projects to siphon off lawmakers’ PDAF.
The court said that during the NLRC proceedings, Baltazar’s contract was found not to have precluded her from doing work for outside clients and that she performed regular tasks for JLN.
Sula, on the other hand, was able to show that her termination from JLN was planned by Napoles and was an arrangement “on paper” only. Moreover, Sula also continued to receive her salary as JLN finance clerk.
The court also dismissed JLN’s claims that Baltazar and Sula were not employees of the company because they only registered voluntarily with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System and Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
“For sure, employers cannot invoke their own intentional omission or sheer neglect in this regard to negate their real relationship with their employees,” the court said.
In denying JLN and Napoles’ appeal, the court held that the NLRC “acted in accordance with law and evidence” in finding that Sula and Baltazar were illegally dismissed, and in ordering payment of their separation pay, back wages and unpaid salaries.—Jerome Aning
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