Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ditan vs. POEA Administrator [G.R. No. 79560 December 3, 1990]

Facts: Andres E. Ditan was recruited by private respondent Intraco Sales Corporation, through its local agent, Asia World, the other private respondent, to work in Angola as a welding supervisor. The contract was for nine months, at a monthly salary of US$1,100.00 or US$275.00 weekly, and contained the required standard stipulations for the protection of our overseas workers. Arriving on November 30, 1984, in Luanda, capital of Angola, the petitioner was assigned as an ordinary welder in the INTRACO central maintenance shop from December 2 to 25, 1984. On December 26, 1984, he was informed, to his distress that would be transferred to Kafunfo, some 350 kilometers east of Luanda. This was the place where, earlier that year, the rebels had attacked and kidnapped expatriate workers, killing two Filipinos in the raid. Naturally, Ditan was reluctant to go. However, he was assured by the INTRACO manager that Kafunfo was safe and adequately protected by government troops; moreover, he was told he would be sent home if he refused the new assignment. In the end, with much misgiving, he relented and agreed. On December 29, 1984, his fears were confirmed. The Unita rebels attacked the diamond mining site where Ditan was working and took him and sixteen other Filipino hostages, along with other foreign workers. The rebels and their captives walked through jungle terrain for 31 days to the Unita stronghold near the Namibian border. They trekked for almost a thousand kilometers. They subsisted on meager fare. Some of them had diarrhea. Their feet were blistered. It was only on March 16, 1985, that the hostages were finally released after the intercession of their governments and the International Red Cross. Six days later, Ditan and the other Filipino hostages were back in the Philippines. The repatriated workers had been assured by INTRACO that they would be given priority in re-employment abroad, and eventually eleven of them were taken back. Ditan having been excluded, he filed in June 1985 a complaint against the private respondents for breach of contract and various other claims. Specifically, he sought the amount of US$4,675.00, representing his salaries for the unexpired 17 weeks of his contract; US$25,000.00 as war risk bonus; US$2,196.50 as the value of his lost belongings; US$1,100 for unpaid vacation leave; and moral and exemplary damages in the sum of US$50,000.00, plus attorney's fees. 

All these claims were dismissed by POEA Administrator Tomas D. Achacoso in a decision dated January 27, 1987. 2 This was affirmed in toto by respondent NLRC in a resolution dated July 14, 1987, 3 which is now being challenged in this petition. 

IssueWhether or not this case is within NLRC jurisdictiona and if Ditan is entitled to any relief? 

Held: Yes. The fact that stands out most prominently in the record is the risk to which the petitioner was subjected when he was assigned, after his reluctant consent, to the rebel-infested region of Kafunfo. This was a dangerous area. The petitioner had gone to that foreign land in search of a better life that he could share with his loved ones after his stint abroad. That choice would have required him to come home empty-handed to the disappointment of an expectant family. It is not explained why the petitioner was not paid for the unexpired portion of his contract which had 17 more weeks to go. The hostages were immediately repatriated after their release, presumably so they could recover from their ordeal. The promise of INTRACO was that they would be given priority in re-employment should their services be needed. In the particular case of the petitioner, the promise was not fulfilled. It would seem that his work was terminated, and not again required, because it was really intended all along to assign him only to Kafunfo. 

The private respondents stress that the contract Ditan entered into called for his employment in Angola, without indication of any particular place of assignment in the country. This meant he agreed to be assigned to work anywhere in that country, including Kafunfo. When INTRACO assigned Ditan to that place in the regular course of its business, it was merely exercising its rights under the employment contract that Ditan had freely entered into. Hence, it is argued, he cannot now complain that there was a breach of that contract for which he is entitled to monetary redress. The private respondents also reject the claim for war risk bonus and point out that POEA Memorandum Circular No. 4, issued pursuant to the mandatory war risk coverage provision in Section 2, Rule VI, of the POEA Rules and Regulations on Overseas Employment, categorizing Angola as a war risk took effect only on February 6, 1985"after the petitioner's deployment to Angola on November 27, 1984." Consequently, the stipulation could not be applied to the petitioner as it was not supposed to have a retroactive effect. 

The paramount duty of this Court is to render justice through law. The law in this case allows two opposite interpretations, one strictly in favor of the employers and the other liberally in favor of the worker. The choice is obvious. We find, considering the totality of the circumstances attending this case, that the petitioner is entitled to relief. The petitioner went to Angola prepared to work as he had promised in accordance with the employment contract he had entered into in good faith with the private respondents. Over his objection, he was sent to a dangerous assignment and as he feared was taken hostage in a rebel attack that prevented him from fulfilling his contract while in captivity. Upon his release, he was immediately sent home and was not paid the salary corresponding to the unexpired portion of his contract. He was immediately repatriated with the promise that he would be given priority in re-employment, which never came. To rub salt on the wound, many of his co-hostages were re-employed as promised. The petitioner was left only with a bleak experience and nothing to show for it except dashed hopes and a sense of rejection. 

Under the policy of social justice, the law bends over backward to accommodate the interests of the working class on the humane justification that those with less privileges in life should have more privileges in law. 

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