By Rey Panaligan
The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the nine-month suspension of license or a fine of P450,000 imposed by the government in 2014 on a recruitment agency which withheld the passport of an applicant for overseas job employment.
Affirmed were the 2015 and 2017 resolutions issued by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) which upheld the suspension and fine imposed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in 2014 against Spring Resources Management & Promotions, Inc. (SRMPI).
The CA, in its March 14 decision written by Associate Justice Edwin D. Sorongon, ruled that “SRMPI failed to prove that DOLE committed acts tantamount to grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it affirmed the decision of the POEA Administrator.”
Case records showed that Sharon May B. Gumabay applied with SRMPI for overseas employment in Kuwait. She submitted her passport and other travel documents. The agency required her to pay P40,000 in placement fee and assured her of employment.
Gumabay withdrew her application for her failure to raise the amount for the placement fee. She then demanded the return of her passport and travel documents. When SRMPI refused, she filed a complaint with the POEA.
She charged SRMPI with violation of the POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-Based Overseas Workers, particularly on “unreasonable withholding or denying travel or other pertinent documents from workers for monetary considerations or reasons….”
Only Gumabay appeared when the POEA set three hearing dates on the complaint and despite the extension of time sought by the recruitment agency to file its answer.
Thus, the POEA, on Aug. 6, 2014, promulgated its order suspending the license of SRMPI for nine months or a fine of P450,000 since it was the agency’s second offense. It ordered the return of Gumabay’s passport and other travel documents.
SRMPI elevated the issue to DOLE and sought the lifting of the suspension. It claimed after Gumabay decided to withdrew her job application it prepared her passport for pickup but there was miscommunication. It also said that Gumabay had issued an affidavit of desistance on her complaint.
On Dec. 29, 2015, DOLE issued a resolution that treated SMRPI motion as a petition for review and dismissed it for lack of merit. When its motion for reconsideration was denied, SMRPI elevated the issue before the CA.
“Having perused the arguments advanced by SRMPI and the records of the case, this Court finds no cogent reason to reverse the findings and conclusion of DOLE,” the CA said.
It said that under POEA Rules and Regulations, withholding or denying travel or other documents from workers for monetary considerations or other reasons “is one of the grounds for the suspension or cancellation of a License” of a recruitment agency.
“The act is even tantamount to the offense of Simple Illegal Recruitment defined and penalized under Section 6 of Republic Act No. 8042. The State punishes the act of unlawful withholding of passport of any person in view of the importance that the document carries,” it said.
Citing RA No. 8239, the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, the CA said “a passport is a document issued by the Philippine government to its citizens, the issuance of which is equivalent to a request to other governments to allow Philippine citizens to pass safely and freely, and in case of need, to give them lawful aid and protection.”
“More importantly, a passport is a proclamation of the citizenship of a Filipino, hence, it is a document superior to all other official documents such that the unauthorized withholding or retention of a passport brings untold hardships to its holder whose mobility and capacity to transact are greatly impaired,” it also said citing from the provision of the law..
Affirming DOLE’s resolutions, the CA ruled:
“Here, the facts and the evidence established a prima facie case that SRMPI indeed withheld Gumabay’s passport. As found by the two (2) administrative bodies, SRMPI admitted being in possession of the said passport. Aside from the mere assertion that there was only a miscommunication as to the prompt return thereof, the agency failed to adduce corroborative and competent evidence to substantiate such claim.
“This Court cannot sustain such contention for being self-serving, conjectural and of no probative value.”