G. R. No. 152988 - August 24, 2004
CHIANG KAI SHEK COLLEGE, and CHIEN YIN SHAO, Petitioners, vs. HON. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION; HON. COMMISSIONER VICTORIANO R. CALAYLAY, HON. PRESIDING COMMISSIONER RAUL T. AQUINO, and HON. COMMISSIONER ANGELITA A. GACUTAN; and MS. DIANA P. BELO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
DAVIDE, JR., C.J.:
Assailed in this petition is the decision1 of 12 October 2001, as well as the resolution2 of 11 April 2002, of the Court Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 59996, which affirmed the decision3 of 29 February 2000 of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) declaring that Diana P. Belo was illegally dismissed as a teacher of petitioner Chiang Kai Shek College (CKSC).
The controversy began on 8 June 1992, when Ms. Belo, a teacher of CKSC since 1977, applied for a leave of absence for the school year 1992-1993 because her children of tender age had no yaya to take care of them. The then principal, Mrs. Joan Sy Cotio, approved her application. However, on 15 June 1992, Ms. Belo received a letter dated 9 June 1992 of Mr. Chien Yin Shao, President of CKSC, informing her of the schools existing policy; thus:
Ms. Belo, nonetheless, took her leave of absence. On 8 July 1992, she learned that Laurence, one of her three children studying at the CKSC, was sent out of the examination room because his tuition fees were not paid. This embarrassing incident impelled Ms. Belo to pay, allegedly under protest, all the school fees of her children.5
In May 1993, after her one-year leave of absence, Ms. Belo presented herself to Ms. Cotio and signified her readiness to teach for the incoming school year 1993-1994. She was, however, denied and not accepted by Ms. Cotio. She then relayed the denial to Mr. Chien on 17 May 1993. On 21 July 1993, she received the reply of Mr. Chien dated 1 July 1993 informing her that her confirmation to teach was filed late and that there was no available teaching load for her because as early as April 21 of that year, the school had already hired non-permanent teachers.6
Adversely affected by the development, Ms. Belo filed with the Labor Arbitration Office a complaint for illegal dismissal; non-payment of salaries, 13th month pay, living allowance, teacher's day pay; loss of income; and moral damages.
In his decision7 of 18 October 1995, Labor Arbiter Donato G. Quinto, Jr., dismissed the complaint, reasoning that Ms. Belo was not dismissed but that there was simply no available teaching load for her. When in May 1993 she signified her intention to teach, the school had already acted on the applications or re-applications to teach of probationary teachers. The schools policies, which were articulated in Mr. Chiens letter of 9 June 1992 to Ms. Belo, were management prerogatives which did not amount to her dismissal. Said policies were also the consequences of her leave of absence and were not even questioned by her. The Labor Arbiter thus offered a Solomonic solution by directing the petitioners to give her a teaching load in the ensuing year 1996-1997 and the succeeding years without loss of seniority rights.8
On appeal9 by the private respondent, the NLRC reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter. It considered as misplaced the Labor Arbiters utter reliance on Mr. Chiens letter to Ms. Belo enunciating the questioned school policies. It reasoned that if the school policy was to extend free tuition fees to children of teachers in school, then the petitioners must have considered her "already not in school or summarily dismissed or separated the very moment [she] applied for leave," for, otherwise, her children would have been granted that privilege. Thus, it directed the petitioners to immediately reinstate Ms. Belo to her former position with full back wages from the time of her dismissal up to her actual reinstatement. It, however, dismissed Ms. Belo's prayer for moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees for lack of evidence that the petitioners acted in bad faith and malice.
Their motion for reconsideration having been denied,10 the petitioners filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals contending that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in (a) overturning the factual determination of the Labor Arbiter despite the fact that Ms. Belo stated in her Notice of Appeal that she was appealing only on a pure question of law; (b) holding that Ms. Belo was constructively dismissed by the petitioners despite the uncontroverted evidence that she was not illegally dismissed; and (c) granting Ms. Belo monetary awards.
On 12 October 2001, the Court of Appeals found that far from abusing its discretion, the NLRC acted correctly when it ascertained that Ms. Belo was constructively dismissed. It declared as illegal, for being violative of Ms. Belos right to security of tenure, the school policy that a teacher who goes on leave cannot be assured of a teaching load. The school should have set aside a teaching load for her after the expiration of her leave of absence. It would have been a different story, one indeed ripe for termination of her employment, had Ms. Belo failed to report for work. As for the schools contention that the NLRC was barred from resolving factual issues because of Ms. Belo's statement that she was appealing the case on a pure question of law, the Court of Appeals declared that such statement was a simple mistake in terminology, which is insufficient to deny an employee of her rights under the law.
In its resolution dated 11 April 2002, the Court of Appeals denied the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.
Hence, on 11 June 2002,11 petitioner CKSC and its president Mr. Chien filed the present petition. They claim that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the NLRC decision which reversed the factual findings of the Labor Arbiter even if the said findings were amply supported by clear and uncontroverted evidence and had already attained finality, as Ms. Belo had appealed merely on a question of law. The Court of Appeals also erred in upholding the NLRC decision which failed to point out specifically the alleged particular portions of the records of the case, parties respective position papers, and pleadings, much less particular testimonial and documentary evidence, that warrant the patently erroneous and baseless conclusion that there was a "clear case of constructive dismissal." The NLRC decision is in complete violation of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution, which provides: "No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the laws on which it is based." Likewise, the Court of Appeals has not only completely and arbitrarily ignored and disregarded the facts and issues raised as an issue before it, but also decided on the illegality of the schools policy, which was never raised before it or in any of the forums below. Anent the free tuition fee benefit extended to children of teachers in service in petitioner school, the same is a privilege granted not by law, but voluntarily by the said school. Hence, the petitioner school could determine the conditions under which said privilege may be enjoyed, such as, that only teachers in actual service can enjoy the privilege.
Amidst the convolution of issues proffered by the petitioners, the only issue that needs to be determined and on which hinges the resolution of the other issues is whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the NLRC decision that Ms. Belo was constructively, nay, illegally dismissed and is, therefore, entitled to reinstatement and back wages.
It must be noted at the outset that Ms. Belo had been a full-time teacher in petitioner CKSC continuously for fifteen years or since 1977 until she took a leave of absence for the school year 1992-1993. Under the Manual of Regulations for Private Schools, for a private school teacher to acquire a permanent status of employment and, therefore, be entitled to a security of tenure, the following requisites must concur: (a) the teacher is a full-time teacher; (b) the teacher must have rendered three consecutive years of service; and (c) such service must have been satisfactory.12
Since Ms. Belo has measured up to these standards, she therefore enjoys security of tenure. The fundamental guarantees of security of tenure and due process dictate that no worker shall be dismissed except for just and authorized cause provided by law and after due notice and hearing.13
We agree with the Court of Appeals that the NLRC did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in finding that Ms. Belo was constructively dismissed when the petitioners, in implementing their policies, effectively barred her from teaching for the school year 1993-1994. The three policies are (1) the non-assurance of a teaching load to a teacher who took a leave of absence; (2) the hiring of non-permanent teachers in April to whom teaching loads were already assigned when Ms. Belo signified in May 1993 her intention to teach; and (3) the non-applicability to children of teachers on leave of the free tuition fee benefits extended to children of teachers in service.
Case law defines constructive dismissal as a cessation from work because continued employment is rendered impossible, unreasonable, or unlikely; when there is a demotion in rank or a diminution in pay or both; or when a clear discrimination, insensibility, or disdain by an employer becomes unbearable to the employee.14
When in the school year 1992-1993, the petitioners already applied to Ms. Belos children the policy of extending free tuition fee benefits only to children of teachers in service, Ms. Belo was clearly discriminated by them. True, the policy was made known to Ms. Belo in a letter dated 9 June 1992, but, this only additionally and succinctly reinforced the clear case of discrimination. Notably, petitioners statements of policies dated 13 March 1992 for the school year 1992-1993 did not include that policy; thus:
It can be argued that the extension of free tuition fees to children of teachers in service was an informal policy or custom. If it were so, there would have been no need to include this policy in the schools written statement of policies dated 12 March 1993, which reads:
A cursory analysis of the petitioners statements of policies dated 13 March 1992 and 12 March 1993 reveals that the lists of policies are essentially the same. Both are addressed to all teachers and staff of petitioner school. However, the policy "that employees not in service are not entitled to any benefit extended by the school" was not listed in the written statement of policies dated 13 March 1992. The policy made its maiden appearance in petitioners statement of policies one year after or on 12 March 1993. It was, therefore, the policy of extending free tuition fees to children of teachers of the school, whether on service or on leave, which existed as a matter of custom and practice. That is why the school modified the privilege in written form.
Thus, when the petitioners retroactively applied the modified written policy to Ms. Belo, they considered her already a teacher not in service. The NLRC was correct when it reasoned as follows: "[I]f the school policy is to extend free tuition fees to children of teachers in school, then respondents [petitioners herein] have considered [Ms. Belo] already not in school or summarily dismissed or separated the very moment the latter applied for leave. Otherwise, [her] children should have been granted the on-going privileges and benefits on free tuition fees, among others."
Ms. Belo was definitely singled out in the implementation of a future policy. This is grossly unfair and unjust. The petitioners did not take heed of the principle enshrined in our labor laws that policies should be adequately known to the employees and uniformly implemented to the body of employees as a whole and not in isolation.
The continued employment of Ms. Belo was also rendered unlikely by the insistence of the petitioners in implementing the alleged policy that a teacher who goes on leave for one year is not assured of a teaching load. While this alleged policy was mentioned in Mr. Chiens letter of 9 June 1992, it was not included in the schools written statement of policies dated 13 March 1992. Hence, it was then a non-existent policy. When a non-existent policy is implemented and, in this case, only to Ms. Belo, it constitutes a clear case of discrimination.
Even if the policy of non-assurance of a teaching load existed as a matter of practice and custom, it still glaringly contradicts petitioners written statement of policies dated 12 March 1993. Crystal clear therefrom is the fact that only permanent teachers who wished "to resign, to retire, or to take a leave of absence after the school year 1992-1993 must file their written application in March 1993." Those who failed to file an application were expressly considered by the school as consenting to teach for the succeeding school year. Additionally, the petitioners did not require permanent teachers with satisfactory service to re-apply.
It, therefore, blows our mind why the petitioners would require Ms. Belo, a permanent teacher since 1977 with a satisfactory service record, to signify her intention to teach in March 1993. Plainly, the petitioners violated their avowed policies. Since Ms. Belo was not retiring, resigning or filing another leave of absence after the school year 1992-1993, the petitioners should have considered her as consenting to teach for the incoming school year 1993-1994. In fact, they should not have required her to re-apply to teach. In accordance with the written statement of policies dated 12 March 1993, only probationary teachers are required by the petitioners to re-apply in March. Failure of probationary teachers to re-apply in March is an indication of their lack of interest to teach again at the school.
Petitioners invocation of the third policy that of giving teaching assignments to probationary teachers in April to justify their refusal to provide Ms. Belo a teaching load is, therefore, a lame excuse that rings of untruth and dishonesty. Patently clear is the illegal manner by which the petitioners eased out Ms. Belo from the teaching corps.
Thus, the Court of Appeals justification in upholding the NLRC ruling attains an added judicial and logical sting:
Likewise, we do not find merit in petitioners assertion that the Court of Appeals should not have passed upon the illegality of the school policy of non-assurance of a teaching load, since the alleged illegality was never raised as an issue before the respondent court or in the forums below. As pointed out by the private respondent, that policy was part of the defense invoked by the petitioners in the Arbiter level, in the NLRC, and in the respondent court to the charge of illegal dismissal; and, hence, it must necessarily be passed upon and scrutinized. Besides, that policy is intimately intertwined with the main issue of whether Ms. Belo was illegally dismissed.
We reject petitioners contention that "the NLRC decision failed to point out specifically the alleged particular portions of the records of the case, parties respective position papers, and pleadings, much less particular testimonial and documentary evidence, that warrant the patently erroneous and baseless conclusion that there is a clear case of constructive dismissal." In fact, the NLRC considered the same policies that the petitioners insist as their bases for maintaining that Ms. Belo was not dismissed. It seems that the petitioners could only be persuaded if the reviewing bodies unearthed a document that explicitly states that Ms. Belo was being constructively dismissed. This phantom paper chase unveils the unsubstantiated and contrived claim of the petitioners. They need only to look, for example, at the letter dated 9 June 1992 to Ms. Belo. The "policies" therein stated are discernibly non-existent, or if existing as a matter of custom they grossly transgressed petitioners formal written policies dated 13 March 1992 and 12 March 1993. Clear, therefore, is the fact that the written formal policies apply to all teachers and staff except Ms. Belo.
Hence, there is no need to belabor the point that the NLRC decision clearly complied with the requirement expressed under Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution. The decision speaks for itself.
Suffice it is to say, this case is an exception to the general rule that the factual findings and conclusions of the Labor Arbiter are accorded weight and respect on appeal, and even finality. For one thing, the findings of the NLRC and the Labor Arbiter are contrary to each other; hence, the reviewing court may delve into the records and examine for itself the questioned findings.18
Further, we do not find merit in petitioners claim that Ms. Belos judicial admission that she was appealing on a "pure question of law" precludes the review and reversal of the Labor Arbiters factual finding that she was not illegally dismissed. Such claim is belied by the Notice of Appeal itself,19 wherein Ms. Belo declared that she was appealing the decision of the Labor Arbiter to the NLRC "on a pure question of law and for being contrary to law and jurisprudence applicable [to] the case and the evidence on record, and rendered with grave abuse of discretion."20
Oddly, even the petitioners themselves maintain that to prove grave abuse of discretion, "it is necessary to bring out questions of fact." Thus, in their own justification in resorting to both Rules 45 and 65 of the Rules of Court for the review and the nullification of the decision of the Court of Appeals, they contend:
Indeed, Ms. Belo questioned the legality of her dismissal and the denial of her monetary claims, as well as her claim for damages. Both are essentially factual issues, since their determination necessitates an evaluation of proof and not only a consideration of the applicable statutory and case laws.
Basic is the distinction between legal and factual issues. A question of law exists when the doubt or controversy concerns the correct application of law or jurisprudence to a certain set of facts; or when the issue does not call for an examination of probative value of the evidence presented, the truth or falsehood of facts being admitted. A question of fact exists when the doubt or difference arises as to the truth or falsehood of facts or when the query invites calibration of the whole evidence considering mainly the credibility of witnesses, the existence and relevancy of specific surrounding circumstances, as well as their relation to each other and to the whole, and the probability of the situation.22
More importantly, the Labor Arbiters conclusions are baseless, bereft of any rational basis, unsupported by evidence on record, and glaringly erroneous. The decisions of the NLRC and the Court of Appeals are the ones in harmony with the evidence on record.
In sum, we are convinced that Ms. Belo was unceremoniously and constructively dismissed by the petitioners without just cause and without observing the twin requirements of due process, i.e., due notice and hearing, in violation of the tenets of equity and fair play. Ms. Belo is, therefore, entitled to reinstatement and back wages in accordance with the questioned Court of Appeals and NLRC decisions.
the petition is DENIED. The decision of 12 October 2001 and resolution of 11 April 2002 of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR. SP No. 59996 are hereby AFFIRMED.
Costs against the petitioners.
Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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