1. REMEDIAL LAW; EVIDENCE; FINDINGS OF FACT OF THE LABOR ARBITER AND NLRC; ACCORDED GREAT RESPECT BY THE COURT. — In a long line of cases, this Court has consistently accorded great respect to the findings of fact of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC. As long as their decision is supported by facts and the evidence, the matter of evaluating the merits and demerits of the case is left to their sound discretion and, in the absence of any arbitrariness in the process of their deduction from the evidence adduced, their findings may not be left at issue before this Court.
2. LABOR AND SOCIAL LEGISLATION; TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT; MINOR MISCONDUCT IS NOT A VALID GROUND FOR DISMISSAL UNDER THE LABOR CODE. — We agree with the public respondents that the termination of employment of petitioner Villaflores on account of a minor misconduct was illegal because Art. 282 of the Labor Code mentions "serious misconduct" as a cause for cessation of employment.
3. ID.; ID.; RIGHTS OF AN ILLEGALLY DISMISSED EMPLOYEE. — Art. 279 of the Labor Code provides that an illegal dismissal gives rise to payment of full backwages and the reinstatement, without loss of seniority rights, of the dismissed employee. Full backwages should be given petitioner Villaflores from the time his compensation was withheld from him until the finality of the Decision.
4. ID.; ID.; ID.; PAYMENT OF SEPARATION PAY IN LIEU OF REINSTATEMENT; CASE AT BAR. — The company’s failure to take seasonable steps for its "self-preservation," the company may not now claim all previous infractions allegedly committed by Villaflores as contributory reasons for dismissing him. After all, the immediate cause of his dismissal was the incident with Mattus, obviously a Braga protege. As such, in the interest of both the company and Villaflores, in lieu of reinstatement, he shall receive separation pay of one month for every year of service or as provided for in the, then prevailing collective bargaining agreement, whichever would result in a higher award.
The issue in these two consolidated 1 petitions for certiorari
is whether or not the Radio Communications of the Philippines, Inc. (RCPI) illegally terminated the services of its Assistant Vice-President for Management Services, Mario Danilo B. Villaflores, on the grounds of gross misconduct and loss of confidence.
Villaflores was employed by the RCPI on July 1, 1975. A certified public accountant (CPA), who finished the law course while working, he also took units in Master of Laws at the University of Sto. Tomas. In the course of his employment, he became the Internal Auditor, Acting Assistant Vice-President for Finance and Comptroller, and Assistant Vice-President for Management Services. At the time of the incident here involved, Villaflores was receiving P8,200.00 as basic monthly salary and representation and transportation allowances of P5,300.00.
As determined by Labor Arbiter Arthur L. Amansec and affirmed on appeal by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), the facts which gave rise to these petitions are as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
German Bernardo Mattus was hired by RCPI on July 2, 1990 as manager of its Management Information System Department. He was under the division of Villaflores but he was required to report directly to Norberto T. Braga, the Executive Vice-President (EVP) for Corporate Services.
On October 29, 1990, Mattus posted a copy of an invitation to a computer seminar on the bulletin board without having sought the permission of Villaflores. When the latter arrived and saw the poster, he asked his secretary, Lydia Henares, to remove it from the bulletin board. Lydia Henares followed Villaflores’ order. When Mattus learned of its removal, he took the poster from Lydia Henares and sought out Villaflores.
Mattus found Villaflores at work in the computer room. He said, "Ano ba ito, Danny?" Villaflores replied, "Hindi puede," at the same time getting a stapler with the apparent intention of throwing it at Mattus. When a co-employee grabbed the stapler from Villaflores, the latter snatched the poster from Mattus, tore and crumpled it, and threw the pieces at Mattus but missed. Had it not yet been for the timely intervention of the other employees present, the two would have assaulted each other. As Mattus was leaving the room, Villaflores shouted invectives such as "bullshit ka," "baboy ka" and "gago ka" at him.
On the same day, Mattus lodged a complaint against Villaflores for: (a) conduct unbecoming of an assistant vice-president of the company; (b) threatening a subordinate with physical injury, and (c) shouting invectives at a subordinate in the presence of the Management Services staff. 2
The next day, EVP Braga asked Villaflores to explain why no administrative action should be taken against him "for provoking and instigating a fight within company premises, using abusive and dirty language directed to your Manager, and for threatening the MIS Manager." 3
In his explanation, Villaflores claimed that after he had instructed his secretary to remove all the publications posted on the bulletin board, Mattus rushed into the computer room and shouted at the top of his voice, "Ano ito, Danny?" Mattus, who was bigger than Villaflores, allegedly attempted to attack him but was prevented by co-employees from doing so. Villaflores admitted having uttered "shit, baboy" but these were mere expressions of disgust at and by way of objecting to the imminent attack against his person and dignity. 4
The RCPI management scheduled a formal investigation and summoned several employees who witnessed the incident. Both parties, however, agreed to forego the "trial-type" investigation, opting instead to submit their formal explanations. Mattus submitted his explanation on November 13, 1990 while Villaflores submitted his on November 26, 1990.
On December 10, 1990, RCPI, through EVP Braga, placed Villaflores under preventive suspension, at the same time giving him a final chance to explain further "why no drastic administrative action should be taken against him for serious misconduct" and "for acts unbecoming of a company official." 5 On December 13, 1990, Villaflores submitted his final explanation. 6
After investigation and personally evaluating all the evidence presented by both parties, EVP Braga issued a memorandum dated January 18, 1991 advising Villaflores of the termination of his services effective December 10, 1990 on grounds of gross misconduct unbecoming of a company official in gross violation of Rules 52, 53 and 55 of the Company Rules and Regulations. 7 As a consequence, the company had lost trust and confidence in him. 8
On December 19, 1990, several of Villaflores’ co-employees wrote Braga a letter stating that the penalty imposed upon Villaflores appeared "to be not commensurate and too harsh a penalty for the alleged offense committed" and praying that the penalty imposed upon Villaflores be reconsidered, 9 but the plea was ignored.
On January 25, 1991, Villaflores filed before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Arbitration Branch in the National Capital Region a complaint against RCPI for illegal dismissal, illegal suspension, illegal deduction of allowances and nonpayment of 13th month pay with claim for moral damages of P1,000,000.00, exemplary damages of P200,000.00 and attorney’s fees of P10,000.00. 10
On November 4, 1992, Labor Arbiter Amansec rendered a decision, the pertinent portions of which read:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"We reviewed the entire records of the case and arrived at the finding that complainant was not guilty of serious misconduct. Complainant reacted to the posting by Mattus of a poster at the bulletin board without his consent and the latter’s angrily barging into the room where he was seated but his reaction — his attempt to throw a stapler at Mattus and, thereafter, his uttering foul language at him although constituting misconduct cannot, we are confident, fall under the category of a serious misconduct. Complainant was provoked by Mattus who unjustifiably barged into his room. Complainant did not actually throw a stapler at Mattus. He could have just tried to scare him with the stapler. He allowed himself to be pacified by cooler heads. These attending circumstances removed complainant’s reaction from the classification of a serious misconduct.
We find Mattus to be guilty of disrespect to complainant, his superior officer. Firstly, he posted a material on the bulletin board without complainant’s consent. Secondly, he barged into complainant’s room. A respectful subordinate should have secured his prior permission to post a material at the bulletin board and a respectful subordinate should have controlled himself and desisted from barging into the room where his superior is working. Even if he believed the superior to be at fault or to have erred in ordering the removal of the poster, proper decorum would have caused him to bring his case to the superior officer in a mild and respectful manner. Respect to authority is the tie that binds society. Disrespect to superiors in the office, persons or authority like policemen and judges, or parents is a certain step to a chaotic society where everyone wants his wishes to prevail. If complainant unduly reacted when Mattus angrily barged into his room, it was because the barging was improper."cralaw virtua1aw library
Expressing disapproval of Villaflores’ attempt to throw a stapler at Mattus, the Labor Arbiter added that Villaflores "should not have met anger with anger but with sobriety and authority" for he "degraded his position by engaging a subordinate in a shouting match of foul language." The Labor Arbiter concluded that Villaflores was guilty of minor misconduct. However, he held that the latter may not be reinstated considering that the relationship between "the parties" had "unduly soured and strained." He stated that since Villaflores was "not entirely blameless in the incident," it would be unfair to require his reinstatement to RCPI which, rightly or wrongly," had lost trust and confidence in him. On the part of Villaflores, his non-reinstatement would be better for his "tranquility of mind and career prospects."cralaw virtua1aw library
Thus, the Labor Arbiter disposed of the case as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"WHEREFORE, complainant is hereby declared to have been illegally dismissed by respondent corporation. Concomitantly, and considering all the attending circumstances of the case, complainant’s being guilty of a minor misconduct, respondent is hereby ordered to pay complainant backwages from date of his dismissal up to the date of this decision plus separation pay at thirty (30) days for every year of service or the separation or retirement pay rate under company policy or practice if this is higher.
Respondent corporation is also ordered to pay complainant his unpaid bi-monthly allowance of P250.00 from May 1990 up to the time of his preventive suspension and his 13th month pay for 1990 in the amount of EIGHT THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED PESOS (P8,200.00).
Other claims are hereby dismissed for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED."cralaw virtua1aw library
Both parties appealed to the NLRC, RCPI maintained that Villaflores should have been held guilty of grave misconduct instead of a minor one and that his claim for a bi-monthly allowance of P250.00 should have been disallowed. On the other hand, Villaflores contended that, as there was no just cause for his dismissal, the Labor Arbiter should have ordered his reinstatement; that the finding of illegal dismissal warranted the award of damages, and his suspension should have been declared illegal on the face of the evidence on record.
On August 30, 1993, the NLRC affirmed the Labor Arbiter’s decision except that it found the claim of Villaflores for bi-monthly allowance of P250.00 to be without legal basis. Both parties elevated the case to this Court on separate petitions for certiorari
which were ordered consolidated by the Court in its resolution dated May 25, 1994 in G.R. No. 114777.
In its petition in G.R. No. 113178, RCPI and its officials assert that Villaflores should have been found guilty of serious or grave misconduct which warrants his termination from employment. On the other hand, in G.R. No. 114777, Villaflores insists that, not only should he be reinstated, but that he should have been awarded damages and the bi-monthly allowance of P250.00.
Additionally, petitioners RCPI and its officials contend that public respondents’ findings are contrary to law and jurisprudence as they are based on a misappreciation of facts. They insist that the unauthorized posting of the invitation to a computer seminar by Mattus is a "trivial matter which could not justify the actuations" of Villaflores considering his educational attainment and position in the company. Specifically, the public respondents’ finding on the "barging into the room" by Mattus is as "implausible" as it is "counter to common human experience for a new employee" like him to be "overbearing in his attitude and start trouble in his new job." 11 In effect, therefore, petitioners impugn the evaluation by public respondents of the facts proven by the parties.
Said petitioners’ objection to the findings of fact of public respondents is naturally impelled by the latter’s variance from the result of their own investigation. Although the investigation by petitioners in G.R. No. 113178 appears on its face to be above board, an employer’s findings and conclusion as to whether an act of an employee constitutes serious misconduct or not should not be considered conclusive. The investigation of the incident was conducted by petitioner EVP Norberto T. Braga. While no solid evidence was presented to show that Braga was partial to Mattus at the investigation, petitioners do not disclaim the fact that Mattus was ordered to report directly to Braga upon his employment. In fact, it was Braga himself who allegedly made "constant suggestion" to Mattus on the posting of the invitation. 12 His impartiality may, therefore, be open to question.
On the other hand, substantial evidence support the public respondents’ findings, particularly the sworn statements of at least seven (7) eyewitnesses to the incident in addition to written explanations of both Mattus and Villaflores. While the use of the phrase "barge in" by the Labor Arbiter may imply brashness and aggression on the part of Mattus, the same is the conclusion that may be gleaned from the affidavits of the co-employees who witnessed the incident.
In a long line of cases, this Court has consistently accorded great respect to the findings of fact of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC. As long as their decision is supported by facts and the evidence, the matter of evaluating the merits and demerits of the case is left to their sound discretion 13 and, in the absence of any arbitrariness in the process of their deduction from the evidence adduced, their findings may not be left at issue before this Court. 14
Petitioner Villaflores contends in G.R. No. 114777 that he "merely responded to the aggression against him to protect himself" and that his "act of defending himself cannot and should not be held to be misconduct since the law protects such acts as privileged" 15 in accordance with the law which considers self-defense as a justifying and exempting circumstance in criminal case. 16 Petitioner adds that neither may his act of "self-defense" be the basis of loss of confidence; otherwise, employers may "use agents provocateurs to assault its unwanted employees."cralaw virtua1aw library
Petitioner Villaflores’ contention is as far-fetched as it is unfounded. The public respondents themselves did not find the element of self-defense existing in this case. All they found was that Mattus "barged in" the room where Villaflores was working. Although it was proven that Mattus was almost twice the size of Villaflores, there was no proof that in "barging in," Mattus meant to physically harm Villaflores.
Consequently, we agree with the public respondents that the termination of employment of petitioner Villaflores on account of a minor misconduct was illegal because Art. 282 of the Labor Code mentions "serious misconduct" as a cause for cessation of employment. Art. 279 of the same Code provides that an illegal dismissal gives rise to payment of full backwages and the reinstatement, without loss of seniority rights, of the dismissed employee. Full backwages should be given petitioner Villaflores from the time his compensation was withheld from him until the finality of this Decision. 17
While there is no clear and convincing evidence 18 that petitioner’s employer has lost trust and confidence in him on account of the October 29, 1990 incident, it has presented sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the working relationship between them has become so strained that reinstatement may well exacerbate what, to the Company, has degenerated into an untenable situation between them. Petitioner Villaflores failed to rebut the following allegations of his employer:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(1) In December, 1975, as the new internal auditor, Villaflores was charged with "hiring without authority from higher management and without immediate requirement for such hiring," his wife, Mrs. Avelita B. Villaflores, as cashier/clerk of the RCPI branch in Kiamba, South Cotabato;
(2) In August, 1977, then field auditor in RCPI’s Davao City branch, Villaflores was denounced by his subordinates for repeated arrogance, disrespect and direct interference with the functions of other departments/sections;
(3) In February, 1980, as internal auditor in the central office in Cubao, Quezon City, Villaflores was charged with high-handedness, disrespect, incompetence and instilling an atmosphere of fear and hatred among employees;
(4) On August 18, 1984, another group of employees under Villaflores denounced him for dishonesty and taking advantage of his position, mismanagement, abuse of authority and corrupt acts, loss of confidence in his job, favoritism and unprofessionalism before the RCPI president; and
(5) In 1985, a fellow auditor charged petitioner Villaflores with having "white-washed" an investigation on authorized conversions of company funds by certain employees. The management "simply let go" of Villaflores’ improper conduct but a subordinate employee would not have made so serious an imputation it were not true. 19
There is no denying the fact that petitioner Villaflores had held responsible positions in the past. According to EVP Braga, however, Villaflores’ responsible positions in RCPI were not so much on account of promotions but mere movements to place Villaflores "in responsibilities where the occurrence of friction, between you and your co-employees, is less if not naught." Braga also alleged that Villaflores had promised to resign in 1990 but because he failed to do so, the company was forced to hire another person to attend to the projects which Villaflores should have undertaken. Several opportunities had been given to Villaflores to give him the chance to mend his "quarrelsome and vengeful manners and attitudes" but still he failed to reform himself. 20
However, if petitioner Villaflores were indeed as inept as pictured by Braga, the company should have terminated his employment early on. By its failure to take seasonable steps for its "self-preservation," the company may not now claim all previous infractions allegedly committed by Villaflores as contributory reasons for dismissing him. After all, the immediate cause of his dismissal was the incident with Mattus, obviously a Braga protege. As such, in the interest of both the company and Villaflores, in lieu of reinstatement, he shall receive separation pay of one month for every year of service or as provided for in the then prevailing collective bargaining agreement, whichever would result in a higher award.
There being no evidentiary support for the claim of petitioner Villaflores for damages, the same was correctly denied by public respondents. In the same spirit, neither may he be allowed the P250.00 monthly increase in allowance in view of the unrebutted allegation of petitioner company that it was erroneously granted to him.
WHEREFORE, the questioned decision of the NLRC is hereby AFFIRMED subject to the modification that Mario Danilo B. Villaflores shall be entitled to backwages from the time his compensation was withheld by the company until the finality of this Decision.
Regalado, Puno, Mendoza and Torres, Jr., JJ.
1. Per the Resolution of May 25, 1994 in G.R. No. 114777, Rollo, p. 60.
2. Rollo, p. 53.
3. Ibid., p. 54.
4. Ibid., pp. 55-60.
5. Ibid., p. 82.
6. Ibid., p. 83.
7. These Rules state:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"52. Threatening, intimidating, coercing or interfering with fellow employee on the company premises in any form.
53. Making false or malicious statements concerning the good name of the company, its officials, its services or product and any of its employees.
55. Inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily injury upon fellow employee in any form inside or outside company premises."cralaw virtua1aw library
Rules Nos. 52 and 53 warrant dismissal from employment upon the employee’s second infraction thereof while Rule 53 is penalized with outright dismissal on the first offense (Ibid., p. 101).
8. Ibid., pp. 94-97.
9. Ibid., p. 93.
10. Ibid., p. 32.
11. Petition in G.R. No. 113178, pp. 12-14.
12. Ibid., pp. 4-5.
13. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company v. NLRC, G.R. No. 109667, , 235 SCRA 400, 403-404 citing Egyptair v. NLRC, G.R. No. 63185, , 148 SCRA 125.
14. Morales v. NLRC, G.R. No. 100133, , 241 SCRA 103, 111.
15. Petition in G.R. No. 114777, p. 9.
16. Art. 11, Revised Penal Code.
17. Gaco v. NLRC, G.R. No. 104690, , 230 SCRA 260, 267.
18. BPI Credit Corporation v. NLRC, G.R. No. 106027, , 234 SCRA 441, 454.
19. Rollo, pp. 116-117.
20. Ibid., pp. 95-96.