G.R. NOS. 148500-01 - TIMES TRANSPORTATION CO. INC. vs NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, ET AL.
[G.R. NOS. 148500-01 : November 29, 2006]
TIMES TRANSPORTATION CO. INC., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and TIMES EMPLOYEES UNION, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before Us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, assailing the 17 November 2000 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 52352 and CA-G.R. SP No. 53202 its 7 June 2001 Resolution2 denying the Motion for Reconsideration. The challenged decision disposed thus:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petitions are hereby DENIED and the 21 May 1998 decision and 24 March 1999 resolution of the NLRC are sustained. No costs.3
The antecedent facts of the instant petition are as follows:
Petitioner is a domestic corporation engaged in the business of public transportation, duly organized and existing under Philippine laws. On the other hand, respondent union is a legitimate labor organization and was certified as the duly recognized representative of the rank and file employees of the petitioner.
On 28 January 1997, respondent union filed a Notice of Strike before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) on the ground of unfair labor practice allegedly committed by the petitioner. After the strike vote under the supervision of NCMB was obtained, respondent union staged a strike on 3 March 1997.
On 10 March 1997, the Secretary of Labor issued an Order4 certifying the labor dispute to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) for compulsory arbitration. Upon receipt of the Certification Order, respondent union ended their strike on 12 March 1997.
On 1 July 1997, the Med-Arbiter issued an Order5 certifying the respondent union as the sole and exclusive bargaining representative of petitioner's rank and file employees.
Consequently, respondent union sent a letter-proposal, stating its desire to bargain collectively with the petitioner, together with the copy of its proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Petitioner, however, refused to enter into a CBA with the respondent union for it intended to appeal the Order certifying the latter as the sole and exclusive bargaining agent of its rank and file employees.6
On the ground that petitioner violated its duty to bargain collectively, respondent union filed another Notice of Strike on 8 August 1997.
Meanwhile, petitioner appealed to the Secretary of Labor the Med-Arbiter's Order certifying the respondent union as the sole bargaining agent of petitioner's rank and file employees. Pending resolution of the issue, petitioner implemented its retrenchment program by sending Notices of Termination to concerned employees on 16 September 1997 which shall take effect thirty (30) days thereafter.
Claiming that petitioner is guilty of discrimination in carrying out the said retrenchment program, respondent union decided to immediately hold a strike. After the necessary strike vote was taken, under the supervision of the NCMB, respondent union staged another strike on 17 October 1997.
On 17 November 1997, the Secretary of Labor issued another Order7 reiterating the Order issued on 10 March 1997 certifying the labor dispute to the NLRC for compulsory arbitration. Respondent union, however, refused to heed the latest Certification Order on the ground that it was the petitioner who was the first to commit acts which exacerbated the situation when it implemented its retrenchment program in bad faith.
For allegedly participating in an illegal strike, petitioner terminated the employment of 123 employees by virtue of two notices sent on 26 October 1997 and 24 November 1997.
In the interregnum, petitioner's Certificate of Public Convenience was acquired by Mencorp Transportation Systems (Mencorp), together with a number of its bus units, as evidenced by a Deed of Sale executed on 12 December 1997. Mencorp is owned and operated by Virginia Mendoza, daughter of Santiago Rondaris, the majority stockholder of the petitioner.
On 21 May 1998, the NLRC finally resolved the labor dispute between petitioner and respondent union by declaring the first strike legal, but the second strike illegal for it was conducted in defiance of the automatic injunction that came with the Certification Order issued by the Secretary of Labor. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the respondents' first strike, conducted from March 3, 1997 to March 12, 1997, is hereby declared LEGAL; its second strike which commenced on October 17, 1997, is hereby declared ILLEGAL. Consequently, those x x x 23 persons who participated in an illegal strike - are deemed to have lost their employment status and were therefore validly dismissed from employment: x x x.
The respondents' "Motion to Implead Mencorp Transport Systems, Inc. and/or Virginia Mendoza and/or Santiago Rondaris" is hereby denied for lack of merit.8 [Emphasis supplied.]
Similarly ill-fated were the petitioner's and the respondent union's Motions for Reconsideration which were denied by the NLRC on 24 March 1999.
Aggrieved, both herein petitioner and herein respondent union elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals through a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 alleging that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in rendering the aforesaid decision. Specifically, petitioner alleged that the NLRC erred in failing to validate the dismissal of all the 123 employees who participated in an illegal strike considering that substantial evidence were presented to support the contention.
For its part, private respondent claimed that both the first and the second strike were valid and thus the dismissal of 23 employees were unwarranted under the circumstances. Explaining, respondent union insisted that when the petitioner implemented its retrenchment program in bad faith, it exacerbated the situation in defiance of the Certification Order issued by the Secretary of Labor which enjoined any party from "committing acts which may exacerbate the situation".
On 17 November 2000, the Court of Appeals dismissed the petitions and affirmed the NLRC's findings both with respect to the illegality of the second strike and the dismissal of only 23 employees who were found to have participated in such illegal strike. The decretal part of its Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petitions are hereby denied and the 21 May 1998 decision and the 24 March 1999 resolution of the NLRC are sustained. No costs.9
The Motions for Reconsideration filed by both parties were denied through the Court of Appeal's Resolution promulgated on 7 July 2001.
The issue impleading Mencorp was separately appealed in G.R. No. 163786 and was resolved on 16 February 2005 in favor of the respondent union and thereby adjudged that sale of petitioner's assets to Mencorp was a scheme employed to evade any judgment that may be rendered in the unfair labor practice cases filed against it.
On the other hand, petitioner is now before this Court assailing the Decision, dated 17 November 2000 and Resolution, dated 7 July 2001 of the Court of Appeals on the following grounds:
THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED MANIFEST ERROR IN THE INTERPRETATION OF THE APPLICABLE AND PERTINENT LAWS CITED BY PETITIONER WHICH RESULTED IN ITS REFUSAL TO APPRECIATE THE EVIDENCE VITAL TO PETITIONER'S CAUSE i.e. THE LIST CONTAINING THE NAMES OF PARTICIPATING STRIKERS/MEMBERS OF RESPONDENT TEU WHICH WERE ATTACHED TO THE NOTICES ON MERE TECHNICALITY - FOR NOT BEING UNDER OATH DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE PLEADINGS TO WHICH THESE WERE APPENDED WERE UNDER OATH.
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS VIOLATED OR TRANSGRESSED PETITIONER'S RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS AND EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW WHEN IT FAILED TO RULE ON THE VALIDITY OF THE DISMISSAL OF ALL THE STRIKING EMPLOYEES DESPITE THE FINDING THAT THE STRIKE WAS ILLEGAL;
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DISREGARDING THE LIST OF STRIKING EMPLOYEES ATTACHED TO PETITIONER'S NOTICES OF TERMINATION AND FOR NOT BEING UNDER OATH NOTWITHSTANDING THE FACT THAT THIS IS NOT REQUIRED BY LAW TO BE UNDER OATH, - AS AN EXCEPTION TO CONCLUSIVENESS OF FACT.
The crucial issue for the resolution of this Court is whether the Court of Appeals erred when it failed to validate the dismissal of 123 employees who allegedly participated in an illegal strike.
Petitioner maintains that since the strike was declared illegal, it follows that the 123 employees who participated therein should be accorded with a penalty of dismissal from employment. It insists that its operation during the duration of the strike was effectively paralyzed and it was inconceivable for only 23 employees to carry that out considering its buses were plying the route of Ilocos to Manila, with 14 workplaces consisting of 11 terminals and 3 garages.
We resolve to deny the petition.
Subject to well-defined exceptions,10 the doctrinal rule is that factual determinations of administrative and quasi-judicial agencies, such as the NLRC are generally accorded not only respect but even conclusiveness if supported by substantial evidence in recognition of their expertise in specific matters under their consideration and jurisdiction. This doctrine applies with greater force when the appellate court passes upon and upholds the findings of facts.11
The NLRC ruled, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, that only 23 union officers and members were found to have participated in an illegal strike and resultantly, only the same number of employees should be separated from employment.
Upon perusal of the records, we find that the names and number of employees who took part in the illegal strike were derived from the affidavits12 appended to the Omnibus Motion for the Declaration of the Strike Illegal submitted by the petitioner to the NLRC. These affidavits were narrations of factual accounts of different acts committed by the striking employees therein named which effectively hampered petitioner's business as certified under oath by petitioner's employees who were non-members of the union, by virtue of which, the NLRC was able to identify the 23 employees.
Apparently, the findings of the NLRC were not based purely on conjectures or surmises nor were they far too much concluded, inferred or deduced from the bare or incomplete facts appearing on record. This is not even a case wherein the evidence offered by one party was favored by the court over that of the other. Rather, the disputed factual findings by the NLRC and the Court of Appeals that only 23 employees participated in an illegal strike was supported by the only substantial and sufficient evidence appearing on record, namely, the affidavits submitted by petitioner itself, the very same party now contesting the judgment.
The law mandates that the burden of proving the validity of the termination of employment rests with the employer. Failure to discharge this evidentiary burden would necessarily mean that the dismissal was not justified, and, therefore, illegal.13 Unsubstantiated suspicions, accusations and conclusions of employers do not provide for legal justification for dismissing employees. In case of doubt, such cases should be resolved in favor of labor, pursuant to the social justice policy of our labor laws and Constitution.14
Indubitably, the list submitted by the petitioner containing the names of 123 employees who allegedly participated in the second strike, including the so-called uncontested notices of termination sent to those employees, cannot be given the stature of substantial evidence, for other than they were unilaterally prepared by the petitioner and evidently self-serving, they are not enough to convince even the unreasonable mind. Substantial evidence is such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other equally reasonable mind might conceivably opine otherwise.15
Petitioner cannot just unceremoniously dismiss a hundred of its employees in the absence of clear and convincing proof that these people were indeed guilty of the acts charged and then, afterwards, go to court to seek validation of the dismissal it whimsically executed. That, certainly we cannot allow. It is the duty of courts and judicial bodies to serve the ends of justice and not to perpetrate injustice.
In addition, petitioner vainly attempts to make it appear that the instant petition is cloth with a genuine question of law by raising issues the Court of Appeals had long settled in clear and unequivocal terms. It is already irrefutable that the second strike conducted by respondent union was illegal for it was conducted in utter defiance of the Certification Orders issued by the Secretary of Labor on 10 March 1997 and 17 November 1997.
Petitioner further asseverates that the Court of Appeals failed to decide on the validity of the dismissal of all the striking employees who participated in the illegal strike. It further asserts that the appellate court pronounced that for a striking employee to be held liable under the illegal strike, it must be proved priorly first that one has committed illegal acts during the strike. We do not agree. On the contrary, the Court of Appeals explicitly ruled that all employees who participated in the illegal strike should be dismissed from employment. Apropos thereto, since only 23 employees were identified to have participated in such an illegal exercise, it necessarily follows that only 23 of them should be dismissed from employment.16
This leaves for our resolution the sole issue on the number and the identities of the employees who participated in the illegal strike.
We need not overemphasize the dictum that this Court cannot substitute its own discretion over the factual findings of the quasi-judicial body, whose decisions, in a long line of jurisprudence, were afforded respect and conclusiveness owing to the expertise they possess on specific matters under their jurisdiction. Clearly, this cannot be done without necessitating the recalibration of every single piece of evidence offered by the parties and re-evaluate its veracity, authenticity and admissibility.
Time and again we reiterate that the office of a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court requires that it shall raise only questions of law. Judicial review of labor cases does not go as far as to evaluate the sufficiency of evidence upon which the labor official's findings rest. It is not our function to assess and evaluate all over again the evidence, testimonial or documentary, adduced to by the parties to an appeal, particularly when the findings of the quasi-judicial body was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, as in the case at bar.17
In sum, we find that the only issue to be determined in this case is a factual one, and consistent with the doctrinal rule that factual findings of quasi-judicial bodies shall not be disturbed if supported by substantial and sufficient evidence, we find that the Decisions of the NLRC and the Court of Appeals were substantiated by evidence that suffices the degree of reasonableness required by law and jurisprudence. This Court cannot therefore further cull the records and weigh every piece of documentary and testimonial evidence without violating the jurisprudential rule which we emphatically reiterated above. With this pronouncement, let this prolonged and much debated controversy be laid to rest.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Petition is DENIED. Costs against the petitioner.
1 Penned by Associate Buenaventura J. Guerrero with Associate Justices Jose L. Sabio, Jr. and Eliezer R. de los Santos, concurring; rollo, pp. 242-251.
2 Id. at 262-263.
3 Id. at 251.
4 Id. at 155-156.
5 Id. at 138-140.
6 Id. at 141-142.
7 NLRC Records, pp. 319-321.
8 Id. at 97-98.
9 Id. at 242-251.
10 (1) Erroneous findings of the NLRC as when the Court finds insufficient or insubstantial evidence on record to support the factual findings; (2) when it is perceived that far too much is concluded, inferred or deduced from the bare or incomplete facts appearing on record.
11 Nissan Motors v. Court of Appeals, G.R. NOS. 158190-91, 21 June 2006.
12 NLRC Records, pp. 418-441.
13 Gabisay v. National Labor Relations Commission, 366 Phil. 593, 601 (1999).
14 Mendoza v. National Labor Relations Commission, 369 Phil. 1113, 1131 (1999).
15 Vertudes v. Buenaflor, G.R. No. 153166, 16 December 2005, 478 SCRA 210, 230.
17 Telefunken Semiconductors Employees Union-FFW v. Court of Appeals, 18 December 2000, G.R. NOS. 143013-14, 348 SCRA 565, 579.
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