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On August 23, 1997, TTCI retrenched some of its employees effective 30 days from September 16, 1997 due to financial heavy losses. For a second time, on October 17, 1997, TEU declared a strike against TTCI, but the DOLE issues a return-to-work order of the Labor Secretary. For disregarding the said return-to-work order, Santiago issued two notices of termination dated October 26, 1997 terminating some 106 workers and a revised list dated November 24, 1997 increasing the number of dismissed employees to 119, for participating in the illegal strike.
On May 14, 1998, petitioners Estrañero et.al filed several complaints against TTCI and MENCORP before the NLRC. However, this case was withdrawn on March 4, 1999 upon motion by the TEU’s counsel which was given due course on March 22, 1999.1
Four years later, several complaints for unfair labor practice, illegal dismissal with money claims, damages and attorney’s fees were filed against TTCI, Santiago, MENCORP and its General Manager Virginia Mendoza before the Labor Arbiter.
In response, TTCI asserted that the petitioners’ cause of action had already been barred by prescription. On June 9, 2005, the LA rendered a Decision dismissing the petitioners’ claim for unfair labor practice except for Estrañero et. Al. and money claims on the ground of prescription. The NLRC vacated and set aside the findings of the LA, upon finding that the petitioners’ complaints had already been barred by prescription.
In sustaining the NLRC decision, the appellate court ratiocinated that the illegal dismissal case was filed only in June 2002 or for more than four (4) years and seven (7) months from the time petitioners received the notices of their dismissal in November and October 1997. Clearly, the four-year prescriptive period has already elapsed. The petitioners contend that the period when they filed a labor case on May 14, 1998 but withdrawn on March 22, 1999 should be excluded from the computation of the four-year prescriptive period for illegal dismissal cases.
Whether or not the petitioners’ complaints for illegal dismissal have already prescribed?
The Court ruled that in this case, there is no question about the fact that the petitioners’ complaints for unfair labor practice and money claims have already prescribed.
While the filing of the complaint for illegal dismissal before the LA interrupted the running of the prescriptive period, its voluntary withdrawal left the petitioners in exactly the same position as though no complaint had been filed at all. The withdrawal of their complaint effectively erased the tolling of the reglementary period.
The running of the four-year prescriptive period not having been interrupted by the filing of NLRC RAB-I-01-1007, the petitioners’ cause of action had already prescribed in four years after their cessation of employment on October 26, 1997 and November 24, 1997. Consequently, when the petitioners filed their complaint for illegal dismissal, separation pay, retirement benefits, and damages in 2002, their claim, clearly, had already been barred by prescription