On the first issue, we stress that under Article 218 of the Labor Code, the NLRC (and the labor arbiters) may hold any offending party in contempt, directly or indirectly, and impose appropriate penalties in accordance with law. The penalty for direct contempt consists of either imprisonment or fine, the degree or amount depends on whether the contempt is against the Commission or the labor arbiter. The Labor Code, however, requires the labor arbiter or the Commission to deal with indirect contempt in the manner prescribed under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court.
Rule 71 of the Rules of Court does not require the labor arbiter or the NLRC to initiate indirect contempt proceedings before the trial court. This mode is to be observed only when there is no law granting them contempt powers. As is clear under Article 218(d) of the Labor Code, the labor arbiter or the Commission is empowered or has jurisdiction to hold the offending party or parties in direct or indirect contempt. The petitioners, therefore, have not improperly brought the indirect contempt charges against the respondents before the NLRC.
The second issue pertains to the nature of contempt proceedings, especially with respect to the remedy available to the party adjudged to have committed indirect contempt or has been absolved of indirect contempt charges. In this regard, Section 11, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court states that the judgment or final order of a court in a case of indirect contempt may be appealed to the proper court as in a criminal case. This is not the point at issue, however, in this petition. It is rather the question of whether the dismissal of a contempt charge, as in the present case, is appealable. The CA held that the NLRC’s dismissal of the contempt charges against the respondents amounts to an acquittal in a criminal case and is not subject to appeal.
The CA ruling is grounded on prevailing jurisprudence.
In Yasay, Jr. v. Recto, the Court declared:
A distinction is made between a civil and [a] criminal contempt. Civil contempt is the failure to do something ordered by a court to be done for the benefit of a party. A criminal contempt is any conduct directed against the authority or dignity of the court.
The real character of the proceedings in contempt cases is to be determined by the relief sought or by the dominant purpose. The proceedings are to be regarded as criminal when the purpose is primarily punishment and civil when the purpose is primarily compensatory or remedial.
Still further, the Court held in Santiago v. Anunciacion, Jr. that:
But whether the first or the second, contempt is still a criminal proceeding in which acquittal, for instance, is a bar to a second prosecution. The distinction is for the purpose only of determining the character of punishment to be administered.
In the earlier case of The Insurance Commissioner v. Globe Assurance Co., Inc., the Court dismissed the appeal from the ruling of the lower court denying a petition to punish the respondent therein from contempt for lack of evidence. The Court said in that case:
It is not the sole reason for dismissing this appeal. In the leading case of In re Mison, Jr. v. Subido, it was stressed by Justice J.B.L. Reyes as ponente, that the contempt proceeding far from being a civil action is “of a criminal nature and of summary character in which the court exercises but limited jurisdiction.” It was then explicitly held: “Hence, as in criminal proceedings, an appeal would not lie from the order of dismissal of, or an exoneration from, a charge of contempt of court.” [footnote omitted]