Court nixes PAL's damage suit vs an ex-pilot

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2010 06:26 PM | Updated as of Aug 09 2010 02:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) threw out Philippine Airlines' (PAL) charges of alleged breach of contract by one of its former pilots.

CA Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, upheld the ruling of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City on June 19, 2008, which dismissed civil damages filed by PAL against pilot captain Antonio Halagueña.

PAL was seeking from Halagueña P1.2 million as as reimbursement and damages for his  alleged failure to comply with the terms and conditions in the training agreement he signed with the airline company.

Pizarro said the Makati RTC did no err when it dismissed PAL's suit on the ground of payment and the lack of supporting evidence for the rest of the claims.

The CA said PAL filed the suit before the trial court to seek payment of the balance on the pilot's training on May 9, 2005 or almost two years since Halagueña's wife paid the airline P401,480 representing her husband's full monetary obligations under the training agreement.

"Thus, under the principle of estoppel by laches," the CA said PAL has already waived its right to collect the supposed balance amount.

Estoppels by laches are decribed as the failure of the party to assert its right in due time, thus, leading to "a presumption that the party entitled to assert it has abandoned to defend it or has agreed to the correctness of the resolution."

"All things considered, we find and so rule that the wealth of evidence in this case sustains the conclusion of the RTC that Halagueña is no longer liable to PAL. Hence, there is no reason to depart from the said findings," the CA added.

Court records showed that PAL hired Halagueña as pilot trainee on March 11, 2002 and offered him the training program that it provides for all its pilots wishing to operate its newer aircrafts.

Halagueña underwent training until May 19, 2002, resulting to his having qualified as captain of its Airbus A320.

However, the training agreement containing the terms and conditions of the training program was signed by Halagueña only on March 22, 2003.

More than one year after completing the training, Halagueña failed to report for his flight and reserve pilot assignments and instead filed his resignation on October 31, 2003 which took effect immediately.

On November 24, 2003, PAL received from Halagueña's wife the amount of P401,480 as payment for his monetary obligations under the training agreement.

PAL claimed that such act of Halagueña was a breach of their agreement.

On January 15, 2004, PAL issued a resolution finding Halagueña guilty of abandonment and terminated his employment effective October 30, 2003.

Subsequently, PAL demanded the pilot to pay the balance amount of P252,951 representing the expenses for his training plus 14% interest pert annun.

It also demanded reimbursement from Halagueña of the expenses it incurred to train another pilot amounting to P1.05 million.

Halagueña ignored PAL's demands,prompting the airline to file a  damage suit before the Makati RTC.

While he admitted that he underwent a training from March 11 to May 19, 200, Halagueña denied that it was for the development of his skills as a pilot or for him to be able to operate PAL's newer aircraft.

He said the training was only for the purpose of determining whether he still possesses the skills he already has as a captain of PAL's airbus aircrafts since he was already qualified as such prior to his reemployment in PAL in 2002.

Halagueña said he returned to PAL the amount of P401,480 as a gesture of good faith and considering that it was the amount that PAL asked from his wife through its representative Captain Johnny Andrews.

Andrews told Halagueña's wife, Patricia, that her husband would be cleared if the said amount is reimbursed.