Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, a constitutional law expert, said that it would be illegal for prosecutors to stage a nationwide mass leave, to protest President Arroyo’s order placing on leave of absence those involved in the Alabang Boys drug case.
Santiago was reacting to news reports that prosecutors are considering the option of going on mass leave, to express support for their colleagues whom the President placed on official leave.
At this time, a mass leave is being studied by three prosecutors’ groups: National Prosecutors’ League of the Philippines , Chief Prosecutors Association, and the State Prosecutors’ Association.
Santiago cited the 2007 decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Toyota v. NLRC
, which ruled that a strike by government employees is illegal, when it is contrary to a specific prohibition of law.
“It would be illegal for prosecutors to go on strike, because it is prohibited by a 2002 resolution of the Civil Service Commission,” Santiago said.
Santiago referred to CSC Resolution No. 021316 entitled “Omnibus rules on prohibited concerted mass actions in the public sector.”
Section 4 of the CSC resolution provides that “The right to self-organize accorded to government employees . . . shall not carry with it the right to engage in any form of prohibited concerted activity or mass action causing or intending to cause work stoppage or service disruption, albeit of temporary nature.”
The resolution goes on to define the term “prohibited concerted activity or mass action” as: “Any collective activity undertaken by government employees. . . with the intent of effecting work stoppage or service disruption . . . which shall include mass leaves.”
Santiago said that in the 2007 case of Sta. Rosa Union v. Coca-Cola Bottlers
, the Supreme Court ruled that even if employees do not use the word “strike,” there is still a prohibited strike when employees go on mass leaves.
Santiago stressed that in the 2006 case of GSIS v. Kapisanan
, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional rights of free expression and assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, do not include the right to strike.
Santiago particularly quoted this passage from the Supreme Court decision: “Any suggestion, however, about these rights as including the right on the part of government personnel to strike ought to be, as it has been thrashed . . . Employees in the public service may not engage in strikes . . . The right of government employees to organize is limited to the formation of unions or associations, without including the right to strike.”
Santiago said that the Constitution protects “the right to strike in accordance with law,” emphasizing the phrase “in accordance with law.”
“Since there are laws that prohibit mass leaves by government employees, any mass leave is illegal, and does not fall under the protection of the Constitution. Any mass leave by prosecutors would fall under the prohibition of the Civil Service Commission which was first laid down in a 1987 by means of Memorandum Circular No. 6,” she said.
Santiago said that CSC Memorandum Circular No. 6 was accompanied by Executive Order No. 180, both issued in 1987.
The senator explained that the prohibition against strikes by government employees is a rule of common law which has been adopted by the Philippine Supreme Court in a long line of cases beginning in 1983.
“The law prohibits strikes in the public sector because they prejudice public services,” she said.
Santiago cited the 1987 case of Bangalisan v. Court of Appeals
, which ruled that: “The right of government employees to organize is limited only to the formation of unions or associations, without including the right to strike . . . One wrong cannot be righted by another, and redress, for even the most justifiable cause, should not be sought by proscribed or illegal means.”
Santiago said that the remedies available to prosecutors are: the principle of “exhaustion of administrative remedies,” and a bill in Congress granting authority to, and recognizing the right of, government employees to go on strike.