G.R. No. 184977 - Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc. v. Ricky E. Dela Cruz, et al.
[G.R. NO. 184977 : December 7, 2009]
COCA-COLA BOTTLERS PHILIPPINES, INC., Petitioner, v. RICKY E. DELA CRUZ, ROLANDO M. GUASIS, MANNY C. PUGAL, RONNIE L. HERMO, ROLANDO C. SOMERO, JR., DIBSON D. DIOCARES, and IAN B. ICHAPARE, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The present Petition for Review on Certiorari 1 challenges the decision2 and resolution3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) rendered on August 29, 2008 and October 13, 2008, respectively, in CA-G.R. SP No. 102988.
Respondents Ricky E. Dela Cruz, Rolando M. Guasis, Manny C. Pugal, Ronnie L. Hermo, Rolando C. Somero, Jr., Dibson D. Diocares, and Ian Ichapare (respondents) filed in July 2000 two separate complaints4 for regularization with money claims against Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc., (petitioner or the company). The complaints were consolidated and subsequently amended to implead Peerless Integrated Service, Inc. (Peerless) as a party-respondent.
Before the Labor Arbiter, the respondents alleged that they are route helpers assigned to work in the petitioner's trucks. They go from the Coca - Cola sales offices or plants to customer outlets such as sari-sari stores, restaurants, groceries, supermarkets and similar establishments; they were hired either directly by the petitioner or by its contractors, but they do not enjoy the full remuneration, benefits and privileges granted to the petitioner's regular sales force. They argued that the services they render are necessary and desirable in the regular business of the petitioner.5
In defense, the petitioner contended that it entered into contracts of services with Peerless6 and Excellent Partners Cooperative, Inc. (Excellent)7 to provide allied services; under these contracts, Peerless and Excellent retained the right to select, hire, dismiss, supervise, control and discipline and pay the salaries of all personnel they assign to the petitioner; in return for these services, Peerless and Excellent were paid a stipulated fee. The petitioner posited that there is no employer-employee relationship between the company and the respondents and the complaints should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on the part of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Peerless did not file a position paper, although nothing on record indicates that it was ever notified of the amended complaint.
In reply, the respondents countered that they worked under the control and supervision of the company's supervisors who prepared their work schedules and assignments. Peerless and Excellent, too, did not have sufficient capital or investment to provide services to the petitioner. The respondents thus argued that the petitioner's contracts of services with Peerless and Excellent are in the nature of "labor-only" contracts prohibited by law.8
In rebuttal, the petitioner belied the respondents' submission that their jobs are usually necessary and desirable in its main business. It claimed that its main business is softdrinks manufacturing and the respondents' tasks of handling, loading and unloading of the manufactured softdrinks are not part of the manufacturing process. It stressed that its only interest in the respondents is in the result of their work, and left to them the means and the methods of achieving this result. It thus argued that there is no basis for the respondents' claim that without them, there would be over-production in the company and its operations would come to a halt.9 The petitioner lastly argued that in any case, the respondents did not present evidence in support of their claims of company control and supervision so that these claims cannot be considered and given weight.10
The Compulsory Arbitration Rulings
Labor Arbiter Joel S. Lustria dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction in his decision of September 28, 2004,11 after finding that the respondents were the employees of either Peerless or Excellent and not of the petitioner. He brushed aside for lack of evidence the respondents' claim that they were directly hired by the petitioner and that company personnel supervised and controlled their work. The Labor Arbiter likewise ordered Peerless "to accord to the appropriate complainants all employment benefits and privileges befitting its regular employees."12
The respondents appealed to the NLRC.13 On October 31, 2007, the NLRC denied the appeal and affirmed the labor arbiter's ruling,14 and subsequently denied the respondents' motion for reconsideration.15 The respondents thus sought relief from the CA through a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
The CA Decision
The main substantive issue the parties submitted to the CA was whether Excellent and Peerless were independent contractors or "labor-only" contractors. Procedurally, the petitioner questioned the sufficiency of the petition and asked for its dismissal on the following grounds: (1) the petition was filed out of time; (2) failure to implead Peerless and Excellent as necessary parties; (3) absence of the notarized proof of service that Rule 13 of the Rules of Court requires; and (4) defective verification and certification.
The CA examined the circumstances of the contractual arrangements between Peerless and Excellent, on the one hand, and the company, on the other, and found that Peerless and Excellent were engaged in labor-only contracting, a prohibited undertaking.16 The appellate court explained that based on the respondents' assertions and the petitioner's admissions, the contractors simply supplied the company with manpower, and that the sale and distribution of the company's products are the same allied services found by this Court in Magsalin v. National Organization of Workingmen17 to be necessary and desirable functions in the company's business.???ñr?bl?š ??r
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