People v. Vera Reyes, 67 Phil 190
Subject: Labor Standards
Doctrine: Police Power (Basis of State’s power to intervene)
The defendant was charged with a violation of Act No. 2549, as amended by Acts Nos. 3085 and 3958 The information alleged that from September 9 to October 28, 1936, and for the some time after, the accused, in his capacity as president and general manager of the Consolidated Mines, having engaged the services of Severa Velasco de Vera as stenographer, at an agreed salary of P35 a month willfully and illegally refused to pay the salary of said stenographer corresponding to the above-mentioned period of time, which was long due and payable, in spite of her repeated demands.
The accused interposed a demurrer on the ground that the facts alleged in the information do not constitute any offense, and that even if they did, the laws penalizing it are unconstitutional.
After the hearing, the court sustained the demurrer, declaring unconstitutional the last part of section 1 of Act No. 2549 as last amended by Act No. 3958, which considers as an offense the facts alleged in the information, for the reason that it violates the constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for debt, and dismissed the case, with costs de oficio.
In this appeal the Solicitor-General contends that the court erred in declaring Act No. 3958 unconstitutional.
ISSUE: Whether the said constitutional provision is unconstitutional.
No. The last part of section 1 considers as illegal the refusal of an employer to pay, when he can do so, the salaries of his employees or laborers on the fifteenth or last day of every month or on Saturday of every week, with only two days extension, and the nonpayment of the salary within the periods specified is considered as a violation of the law.
The same Act exempts from criminal responsibility the employer who, having failed to pay the salary, should prove satisfactorily that it was impossible to make such payment.
The court held that this provision is null because it violates the provision of section 1 (12), Article III, of the Constitution, which provides that no person shall be imprisoned for debt.
We do not believe that this constitutional provision has been correctly applied in this case. A close perusal of the last part of section 1 of Act No. 2549, as amended by section 1 of Act No. 3958, will show that its language refers only to the employer who, being able to make payment, shall abstain or refuse to do so, without justification and to the prejudice of the laborer or employee. An employer so circumstanced is not unlike a person who defrauds another, by refusing to pay his just debt. In both cases the deceit or fraud is the essential element constituting the offense. The first case is a violation of Act No. 3958, and the second isestafa punished by the Revised Penal Code. In either case the offender cannot certainly invoke the constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for debt.
Police power is the power inherent in a government to enact laws, within constitutional limits, to promote the order, safety, health, morals, and general welfare of society. (12 C. J., p. 904.) In the exercise of this power the Legislature has ample authority to approve the disputed portion of Act No. 3958 which punishes the employer who, being able to do so, refuses to pay the salaries of his laborers or employers in the specified periods of time.
Undoubtedly, one of the purposes of the law is to suppress possible abuses on the part of employers who hire laborers or employees without paying them the salaries agreed upon for their services, thus causing them financial difficulties.
Without this law, the laborers and employees who earn meager salaries would be compelled to institute civil actions which, in the majority of cases, would cost them more than that which they would receive in case of a decision in their favor.