G.R. No. 99039 February 3, 1997
FORD PHILIPPINES, INC., JOHN SAGOVAC and ANASTACIO R. TEODORO, II, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS and MANUEL I. OBOZA, Respondents.
The facts of this case as found by the respondent Court of Appeals and which we quote with approval are as follows:
After hearing, the trial court rendered a decision dismissing private respondent's complaint. It found that the only basis for the private respondent's claim for damages against the petitioners was their act of insulting, maligning and discrediting him in their Appeal and Memorandum filed before the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for the extension of Malcolm Johnston's Alien Employment Permit. The trial court viewed the statements contained in the said Appeal and Memorandum as falling under the category of privileged communication which cannot be the basis of an action for damages. 2
The foregoing decision was, however, reversed upon appeal to the respondent court which held, among others, that the trial court gravely erred in motu propio amending the private respondent's complaint, thereby limiting his cause of action to the discrediting statements contained in the Memorandum and Appeal. The allegations in the complaint filed before the trial court conclusively establish that the private respondent predicated his cause of action on the allegation that in dismissing him from employment, the petitioners acted with injustice, failed to give him his due and did not observe honesty and good faith. 3 Thus, as correctly held by the respondent court, what the private respondent invokes for the redress of the wrong committed against him are the following provisions of the Civil Code 4:
Thus, the issue of paramount consideration which confronted the respondent court and which is now before us for resolution is: whether or not the petitioners, in dismissing the private respondent from employment on the ground of redundancy, had acted with bad faith.
The respondent court agreed with the private respondent's theory that the latter's dismissal was a mere subterfuge in order to secure with certainty the extension of the Alien Employment Permit of Johnston. The respondent court justified its conclusion of bad faith on the part of the petitioners in this wise:
At the outset it must be stressed that it is not the factual findings of the respondent court that petitioners assail, but the abovementioned inferences drawn therefrom. After taking a second hard look at the facts of this case, we are constrained to rule differently, and to agree with the petitioners' contention that their act of dismissing the private respondent was not motivated by the "hidden agenda" of securing the extension of Johnston's Alien Employment Permit. Several factors contribute to effectively rebut the private respondent's allegation of bad faith and render erroneous the respondent court's similar conclusion.
First of all, it is important to note that on November 29, 1982 when the Memorandum with its criticisms of private respondent was filed, the latter was still employed with Ford Philippines. The abolition of the private respondent's position did not take place until after the filing of the said Memorandum. Thus, as correctly pointed out by the petitioners, such belated abolition clearly would not have helped secure the extension of Johnston's Alien Employment Permit. And, as a matter of fact, the extension prayed for was denied by the Bureau of Local Employment (BLE). 6 Another point of significance which the respondent court failed to consider is the presence of two other understudies aside from private respondent who could take the place of Johnston in the event his Alien Employment Permit is not extended by the BLE. As a matter of fact, the BLE took cognizance of this in denying the extension of Johnston's Alien Employment Permit, thereby stating that:
Also, the Memorandum and Appeal are bereft of any representation to the effect that the extension of Johnston's Alien Employment Permit is necessitated by the abolition of the private respondent's position. The said extension was sought not because of private respondent's dismissal but because the latter had "not developed the proper attitude, motivation and qualities required for the position of Director of Sales and Marketing" and could, therefore, not yet be promoted to latter position. We agree with the petitioners' contention that had it been their intention to use the abolition of the private respondent's position as an excuse to facilitate the extension Johnston's Alien Employment Permit, they would have prominently played up such abolition. The fact is they did not, as they could not, precisely because at that time, the private respondent was still employed with Ford Philippines.
Bad faith does not simply connote bad judgment or negligence. It imports a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of wrong. 8 It means a breach of a known duty through some motive or interest or ill will that partakes of the nature of fraud. 9 Applying this precept to the foregoing circumstances, we find that there was no "dishonest purpose," or "some moral obliquity," or "conscious doing of wrong," or "breach of a known duty," or "some motive or interest or ill will" that "partakes the nature of fraud" that can be attributed to the petitioners. It must be reiterated that bad faith should be established by clear and convincing evidence. 10 Furthermore, the settled rule is that the law always presumes good faith such that any person who seeks to be awarded damages due to acts of another has the burden of proving that the latter acted in bad faith or with ill motive. 11 In the case at bench, we find the evidence presented by the private respondent insufficient to overcome the presumption of good faith. On the contrary, a careful scrutiny of the evidence leads us to take the opposite view. We are convinced that the petitioners had in fact acted in accord with the norms of good faith.
As admitted by the private respondent, he was not immediately terminated from the employ of Ford Philippines, but was given the prerogative of choosing between availing of the benefits under redundancy or continuing his employment as Vehicle Sales Manager. This was in recognition of private respondent's long years of service to Ford Philippines and is indicative of the petitioners' good will. Moreover, at the time that private respondent was dismissed from employment, Ford Philippines was losing heavily and had resorted to massive layoffs of employees from both the rank and file and managerial levels. That Ford Philippines was in dire financial straits could not have been unknown to the private respondent who was then its General Sales Manager. As a matter of fact, Ford Philippines closed down barely a year after the institution of the case before the trial court and even before the latter could render a decision therein. Ford Philippines could have retrenched the private respondent as it had the right to do so because of severe financial reverses. Despite this, the private respondent was not retrenched but was dismissed on the ground of redundancy, thus, entitling him to a larger amount of separation pay equivalent one (1) month salary for every year of service.
Finally, worth reiterating is our consistent pronouncement on the matter of awarding damages in illegal dismissal cases that moral damages are recoverable only where the dismissal of the employee was attended by bad faith or fraud, or constituted an act oppressive to labor, or was done in a manner contrary to morals, good customs or public policy. 12 In the case of Primero v. IAC, 13 we held further that an award of moral damages in the illegal dismissal of an employee is not based on the Labor Code but is grounded on the Civil Code. Such an award cannot be justified solely upon the premise that the employer fired his employee without just cause or due process. Additional facts must be pleaded and proven to warrant the grant of moral damages under the Civil Code, these being, to repeat, that the act of dismissal was attended by bad faith or fraud, or constituted an act oppressive to labor, or was done in a manner contrary to morals, good customs or public policy; and, of course, that social humiliation, wounded feelings, grave anxiety, and similar injury resulted therefrom. 14
In this case, not only was there good faith in the dismissal of the private respondent, as previously discussed, but the same was also grounded on just cause. The private respondent concedes that termination of employment due to redundancy is a management prerogative. And at the hearing before the trial court, he admitted that his functions as General Sales Manager were similar to the functions of Johnston as Director of Sales and Marketing. 15 Obviously, private respondent recognized that the petitioners had a just cause for terminating his employment, and for this reason did not file a case for illegal dismissal against them.
WHEREFORE, the petition is granted and the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals is REVERSED. The trial court's decision in Civil Case No. 83-20001 dismissing the complaint and the counterclaim is hereby REINSTATED.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Melo and Panganiban, JJ., concur.
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