(This is a sequel to the last two Saturdays’ “Power of selection as an element to employer-employee relationship” and “Payment of wages and power of dismissal as elements to employer-employee relationship.”)
In 1999, respondent Ricardo R. Villaflor Jr. became a missionary sponsored by Bishop Shinji Amari of the Abiko Baptist Church (BSAABC). He was appointed as an instructor at the Shinji Amari & Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary (MBIS; petitioner) effective June 1999.
In a letter dated Nov. 24, 2011, respondent was informed of his removal as a missionary of the Abiko Baptist Church, cancellation of his American Baptist Association (ABA) recommendation as a national missionary, and exclusion of his membership in the Abiko Baptist Church in Japan. Aggrieved, he filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against petitioners.
Petitioners invoked the defense that he was not their employee. On the other hand, respondent argued that he already established the presence of the elements of selection of employee, payment of wages, and power of dismissal and that the power of control is likewise present to establish employer-employee relationship between petitioners and him.
Does this argument find merit?
Lastly, as to the power of control, the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled that the duties enumerated in the Appointment Paper, together with BSAABC’s power to order respondent to areas of mission work, as well as the Mission Policy Agreement, all indicated the exercise of control.
We do not agree. The use of the Labor Arbiter and CA of the Appointment Paper, as basis of the employer-employee relationship in this case, is misplaced considering that respondent failed to establish that such duties enumerated therein are the duties only of a missionary. Again, the said document refers to respondent’s status as an instructor of MBIS.
Even then, this Court sees that respondent’s appointment as instructor of petitioners’ own educational institution was by virtue of his membership with Abiko Baptist Church. It is one of his duties as a missionary/minister of the same. He himself admitted that he was teaching “bible history, philosophy, Christian doctrine, public speaking, English and other religious subjects to seminarians in MBIS intending to be a pastor/minister.” These subject matters and how they prepare or educate their ministers are ecclesiastical in nature which the State cannot regulate unless there is clear violation of secular laws. It follows, therefore, that even his alleged exclusion as instructor is beyond the power of review by the State considering that this is purely an ecclesiastical affair. It is up to the members of the religious congregation to determine whether their minister still lives up to the beliefs they stand for, continues to share his knowledge, and remains an exemplar of faith to the members of their church.
True, the Mission Policy Agreement may show badges of control over its members and missionaries; nevertheless, respondent, as member of the religious congregation, must be subjected to a certain sense of control for the church to achieve the ends of its belief. As to the power to order respondent to areas of mission work, the Court deems it appropriate not to expound on this because aside from the fact that it is a mere allegation, it is also an ecclesiastical matter as it concerns governance of the congregation. (Bishop Shinji Amari of Abiko Baptist Church, et al. vs. Ricardo R. Villaflor Jr., G.R. 224521, Feb.17, 2020).