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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 169570 : March 2, 2007]

RICARDO PORTUGUEZ, Petitioner, v. GSIS FAMILY BANK (Comsavings Bank) and THE HON. COURT OF APPEALS, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

For resolution is a Petition for Review by Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court, of the Decision1 dated 25 April 2005 and the Resolution2 dated 25 August 2005 of the Court of Appeals. The assailed Decision and Resolution reversed the findings of both the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the Labor Arbiter, in their Decisions dated 30 January 2004 and 30 June 2003, respectively, that respondent GSIS Family Bank is guilty of the illegal dismissal of petitioner Ricardo Portuguez. The dispositive portion of the assailed decision of the appellate court reads:

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED, the assailed NLRC Decision dated January 30, 2004, together with the Resolution dated June 22, 2004, are RECALLED and SET ASIDE, and a new one entered DISMISSING NLRC NCR CA No. 037015-03 (NLRC NCR Case. No. 07-05075-2002). No pronouncement as to costs.3

The factual and procedural antecedents of this instant petition are as follows:

Petitioner was employed by the respondent bank as utility clerk on 1 February 1971. Later, he rose from the ranks and was promoted as branch manager of the Gen. Trias Branch, and was subsequently assigned to other branches of respondent bank within the Province of Cavite. Eventually, he was appointed as Business Development and Public Relations (BDPR) Officer of the entire respondent bank.4

In addition to his regular duties as BDPR Officer, petitioner was designated as a member of the Procurement Bidding and Awards Committee (PBAC), Oversight Committee and Investigating Committee of the respondent bank.5

On 23 October 1997, petitioner was temporarily assigned as caretaker of respondent bank. Finally, he was designated as Acting Assistant Vice-President and at the same time Officer-In-Charge of the respondent bank on 15 June 1998.6

Respondent bank, on the other hand, is a banking institution duly authorized and existing as such under the Philippine laws. It was originally known as Royal Savings Bank. In 1983 and the early part of 1984, respondent bank underwent serious liquidity problems and was placed by the Central Bank of the Philippines (Central Bank) under receivership. However, due to the continued inability to maintain a state of liquidity, the Central Bank ordered its closure on 9 July 1984. After two months, the respondent bank was reopened under the control and management of the Commercial Bank of Manila and was then renamed as Comsavings Bank.7

In 1987, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) acquired the interest of the Commercial Bank of Manila in the respondent bank and together with the Central Bank and the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC), GSIS infused a substantial amount of fresh capital into respondent bank in order to ensure its effective rehabilitation. Resultantly, GSIS took over the control and management of the respondent bank that was renamed as GSIS Family Savings Bank.8

Accordingly, Amando Macalino (Macalino) was appointed as President of the respondent bank on 21 December 1998. In view of Macalino's appointment, the designation of petitioner as Officer-In-Charge and caretaker of respondent bank was recalled; however, his appointment as Acting Assistant Vice-President, was retained.9

In line with its policy to attain financial stability, respondent bank adopted measures directed to cut down administrative overhead expenses through streamlining. Thus, respondent bank came up with an early voluntary retirement program. On 15 April 2001, petitioner opted to avail himself of this retirement package, supposedly, under protest, and received the amount of P1.324 Million as retirement pay.10

On 11 July 2002, petitioner filed a complaint against the respondent bank and Macalino for constructive dismissal and underpayment of wages, 13th month pay and retirement benefits before the Labor Arbiter.11 In his Position Paper,12 petitioner alleged that due to discrimination, unfair treatment, and intense pressure he had received from the new management through Macalino, he was forced to retire at the prime of his life.

In a Decision13 dated 30 June 2003, the Labor Arbiter adjudged the respondent bank guilty of illegal dismissal, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered, finding complainant to have been illegally dismissed. Concomitantly, Respondents are jointly and solidarily liable to pay RICARDO PORTUGUEZ the following:

P1,148,333.33 ' representing backwages;
1,280,000.00 ' representing separation pay;
443,884.32 ' representing salary differentials;
500,000.00 ' representing moral damages;
400,000.00 ' representing exemplary damages;

Ten percent of the total award as attorney's fees.

Other claims are dismissed for lack of merit.

The detailed computation of the Computation & Examination Unit, National Capital Region is made part of this Decision.14

Aggrieved, respondent bank appealed the adverse decision to the NLRC which adopted in toto the findings of the Labor Arbiter. In a Decision15 dated 30 January 2004, the NLRC dismissed the appeal and found the decision of the Labor Arbiter to be sufficiently supported by the facts on record and law on the matter.

Respondent bank's Motion for Reconsideration was likewise denied by the NLRC in its Resolution16 dated 22 June 2004 for failing to show that patent or palpable errors have been committed in the assailed decision.

The NLRC Resolution dated 22 June 2004, denying respondent bank's motion for reconsideration, was prematurely declared final and executory and was entered into judgment on 6 August 2004.17

Shortly thereafter, on 16 August 2004, respondent bank timely elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals through a Special Civil Action for Certiorari18 under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court. Incorporated with its petition was the Urgent Application for the Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction.

Pending resolution of its petition and application for the issuance of TRO and/or writ of preliminary injunction before the appellate court, the Labor Arbiter, on 16 September 2004, issued a Writ of Execution19 for the satisfaction of the NLRC decision dated 30 January 2004. On the same date, a Notice of Garnishment20 was served on the manager/cashier of respondent bank in the Pamplona Uno, Las Piñas City Branch.

Acting on the application for TRO, the Court of Appeals enjoined the implementation of the NLRC decision dated 30 January 2004 and therefore, the satisfaction of the Writ of Execution dated 16 September 2004 issued by the Labor Arbiter was tolled for a period of 60 days.21

Eventually, the appellate court issued a Writ of Preliminary Injunction22 permanently enjoining the execution of the NLRC decision dated 30 January 2004 until the final resolution of the case.

On 25 April 2005, the Court of Appeals resolved the controversy by reversing the judgment of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC and ruling out constructive dismissal considering that petitioner's separation from service was voluntary on his part when he chose to avail himself of the respondent bank's early retirement program and received the amount of P1.324 Million as retirement pay.23

Similarly ill-fated was Petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration which was denied by the Court of Appeals in its Resolution24 dated 25 August 2005.

Hence, this instant Petition for Review on Certiorari.25

For the resolution of this Court are the following issues:

I.

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED WHEN IT DECLARED THAT PETITIONER WAS NOT CONSTRUCTIVELY DISMISSED FROM EMPLOYMENT.

II.

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED WHEN IT DECLARED THAT PETITIONER IS NOT ENTITLED TO SALARY DIFFERENTIAL.

Before we delve into the merits of the case, it is best to underscore that the factual findings of the NLRC affirming those of the Labor Arbiter, who are deemed to have acquired expertise on the matters within their jurisdiction, when sufficiently supported by evidence on record, are accorded respect if not finality, and are considered binding on this Court.26 It is equally true, however, that when the findings of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC are inconsistent with that of the Court of Appeals, there is a need to review the records to determine which of them should be preferred as more conformable to evidentiary facts.27

As borne by the records, it appears that there is a divergence between the findings of the Labor Arbiter as affirmed by the NLRC, and those of the Court of Appeals. For the purpose of clarity and intelligibility, therefore, this Court will make an infinitesimal scrunity of the records and recalibrate and reevaluate the evidence presented by the parties all over again.

We have already repeatedly held that this Court is not a trier of facts. Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court limits the office of a Petition for Review to questions of law and leaves the factual issues as found by the quasi-judicial bodies, as long as they are supported by evidence.28 We never fail to stress as well that when the rulings of the labor tribunal and the appellate court are in conflict, we are constrained to analyze and weigh the evidence again.29

Substantively, petitioner alleges that respondent bank, through Macalino, subjected him to all forms of unbearable harassment that can be mustered in order to force him to resign. Petitioner specifically claims that he was deprived of his salary and other benefits and privileges appurtenant to his position as the Acting Assistant Vice-President, including his office. Respondent bank allegedly granted much higher salary to the newly hired bank officers compared to what he was receiving during his tenure.

In contrast, respondent bank maintains that petitioner was not coerced to resign but voluntarily opted to avail himself of the early retirement program and was duly paid his retirement benefits. It posits that petitioner was merely holding the position of Assistant Vice-President in acting capacity subject to the ratification of the respondent bank's Board of Directors and since his appointment has never been ratified by the Board, respondent bank cannot therefore grant him the salary and benefits accorded to such position.

In finding that petitioner was not constructively dismissed from employment, the Court of Appeals stressed that there was no showing that petitioner's separation from employment was due to involuntary resignation or forced severance. Neither was it shown that there was a decrease in salary and privileges or downgrading of petitioner's rank. What can be clearly deduced from the evidence was that until his voluntary retirement in 2001, petitioner was holding the position of Acting Assistant Vice-President and was receiving the salary and benefits accorded thereto.

After scrupulously examining the contrasting positions of the parties, and the conflicting decisions of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC, on one hand, and the appellate court, on the other, we find the records of the case bereft of evidence to substantiate the conclusions reached by both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC that petitioner was constructively dismissed from employment.

Constructive dismissal or constructive discharge has been defined as quitting because continued employment is rendered impossible, unreasonable or unlikely, as an offer involving a demotion in rank and a diminution in pay.30 In the case at bar, a demotion in rank or diminution in pay was never raised as an issue. Settled then is the fact that petitioner suffered no demotion in rank or diminution in pay that could give rise to a cause of action against respondent bank for constructive dismissal under this definition.

Worthy to stress, however, is that constructive dismissal does not always take the form of demotion in rank or diminution in pay. In several cases, we have ruled that the act of a clear discrimination, insensibility or disdain by an employer may become so unbearable on the part of the employee so as to foreclose any choice on his part except to resign from such employment.31

It is upon the aforementioned legal tenet that petitioner anchored his case. Petitioner strenuously argues that while the newly hired bank officers were given higher salaries and fat allowances, he was merely paid the amount of P15,000 basic pay and P4,000 allowance for the position of Acting Assistant Vice-President which, according to him, was way below what the newly hired bank officers were enjoying. Stated differently, petitioner avers that he was discriminated against by the respondent bank in terms of payment of salary and grant of benefits and allowances.

We do not agree.

Upon careful perusal of the position papers, memoranda and other pleadings submitted by petitioner from the Labor Arbiter up to this Court, including the evidence appended thereon, we find that no evidence, substantial or otherwise, was ever submitted by petitioner to buttress the very premise of his position that there was discrimination.

Discrimination has been defined as the failure to treat all persons equally when no reasonable distinction can be found between those favored and those not favored.32 Thus, before a claim for discrimination can prosper, it must be established that, first, there is no reasonable distinction or classification that can be obtained between persons belonging to the same class, and second, persons belonging to the same class have not been treated alike.33

Apropos thereto, petitioner failed to establish that he possessed the same skills, competencies and expertise as those of the newly hired bank officers so as to eliminate any possibility of substantial distinction that may warrant the unequal treatment between them. No proof was likewise presented by petitioner to show that the functions, duties and responsibilities he was performing are the same as those of the newly hired bank officers.

Petitioner likewise failed to present any proof tending to show that he was discriminated against by the respondent bank. While he vigorously cried that the newly hired bank officers were afforded higher salaries and benefits compared to what he was earning, petitioner, however, miserably failed to substantiate his claim. No evidence was ever offered by petitioner to prove the amount of salaries and bonuses actually enjoyed by the newly hired bank officers, except for his bare allegations contained in his demand letter34 dated 20 February 2001, to wit:

Mr. Portuguez has reliably learned that Bank records could show that your newly hired officers are being paid the basic salaries in the range of P25,000 to P30,000.35

Such bare and sweeping statement contains nothing but empty imputation of a fact that could hardly be given any evidentiary weight by this Court. It is indeed true that the demand letter made reference to bank records upon which petitioner purportedly derived his allegation but no such bank records were ever presented as evidence at any stage of the proceedings.

Indubitably, such self-serving and unsubstantiated declaration is insufficient to establish a case before quasi-judicial bodies. Well-entrenched is the rule that the quantum of evidence required to establish a fact in quasi-judicial bodies is substantial evidence. 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 minds might opine otherwise.36

It is beyond question that the evidence presented by petitioner cannot be considered as substantial evidence. Verily, petitioner's case is devoid of substance to convince even the unreasonable minds, for evidently the records are stripped of supporting proofs to, at the very least, even just verify his claim.

In addition, petitioner asseverates that in cases of constructive dismissal, the burden of proof rests on the employer to show that the employee was dismissed on a valid and just cause.37 And failing to discharge such presumption, as in the case at bar, respondent bank should be adjudged guilty of illegal dismissal.

Again, we are not persuaded. We are not unaware of the statutory rule that in illegal dismissal cases, the employer has the onus probandi to show that the employee's separation from employment is not motivated by discrimination, made in bad faith, or effected as a form of punishment or demotion without sufficient cause.38 It bears stressing, however, that this legal principle presupposes that there is indeed an involuntary separation from employment and the facts attendant to such forced separation was clearly established.

This legal principle has no application in the instant controversy for as we have succinctly pointed above, petitioner failed to establish that indeed he was discriminated against and on account of such discrimination, he was forced to sever his employment from the respondent bank. What is undisputed is the fact that petitioner availed himself of respondent bank's early voluntary retirement program and accordingly received his retirement pay in the amount of P1.324 Million under such program. Consequently, the burden of proof will not vest on respondent bank to prove the legality of petitioner's separation from employment but aptly remains with the petitioner to prove his allegation that his availment of the early voluntary retirement program was, in fact, done involuntarily.

As we have explicitly ruled in Machica v. Roosevelt Service Center, Inc.39 :

The rule is that one who alleges a fact has the burden of proving it; thus, petitioners were burdened to prove their allegation that respondents dismissed them from their employment. It must be stressed that the evidence to prove this fact must be clear, positive and convincing. The rule that the employer bears the burden of proof in illegal dismissal cases finds no application here because the respondents deny having dismissed the petitioners. (Emphases supplied.)

Verily, petitioner did not present any clear, positive or convincing evidence in the present case to support his claims. Indeed, he never presented any evidence at all other than his own self-serving declarations. We must bear in mind the legal dictum that, "he who asserts, not he who denies, must prove."40

In the same breath, we are constrained to deny petitioner's claim for salary differentials. We are not unmindful that the amount of P19,000 a month may not be commensurate compensation to the position of Acting Assistant Vice-President, but in the case at bar, the facts and the evidence did not establish even at least a rational basis for how much the standard compensation for the said position must be. It is not enough that petitioner perceived that he was receiving a very low salary in the absence of a comparative standard upon which he can peg his supposed commensurate compensation.

Petitioner's incessant reliance on the findings of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC is equally unavailing. At the outset, we have already laid down that findings of fact of quasi-judicial bodies are conclusive and are not subject to review by the Court. However, this rule does not apply if such findings are tainted with mistake or not supported by evidence.41

In finding that respondent bank is guilty of constructive dismissal, the Labor Arbiter mainly hinges its ruling on the Constitutional dogma that due to the lopsided power of capital over labor, the State shall intervene as an equalizer consistent with the social justice policy affording protection to labor.42

While we agree with the Labor Arbiter that in light of this Constitutional mandate, we must be vigilant in striking down any attempt of the management to exploit or oppress the working class, it does not mean, however, that we are but bound to uphold the working class in every labor dispute brought before this Court for our resolution.

While our laws endeavor to give life to the constitutional policy on social justice and on the protection of labor, it does not mean that every labor dispute will be decided in favor of the workers. The law also recognizes that management has rights which are also entitled to respect and enforcement in the interest of fair play.43

It should be remembered that the Philippine Constitution, while inexorably committed towards the protection of the working class from exploitation and unfair treatment, nevertheless mandates the policy of social justice so as to strike a balance between an avowed predilection for labor, on the one hand, and the maintenance of the legal rights of capital, the proverbial hen that lays the golden egg, on the other. Indeed, we should not be unmindful of the legal norm that justice is in every case for the deserving, to be dispensed with in light of established facts, the applicable law, and existing jurisprudence.44

The presumption in favor of labor cannot defeat the very purpose for which our labor laws exist: to balance the conflicting interest of labor and management and to guaranty that labor and management stand on equal footing when bargaining in good faith with each other, not to tilt the scale to favor one over the other.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant petition is DENIED. The Decision dated 25 April 2005, and the Resolution dated 25 August 2005, both rendered by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 85723, are hereby AFFIRMED. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Associate Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr. with Associate Justices Josefina Guevara-Salonga and Fernanda Lampas Peralta, concurring.

2 Rollo, p. 61.

3 Id. at 59.

4 Id. at 13.

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 Id. at 276.

8 Id.

9 Id.

10 Id. at 53.

11 Id. at 62.

12 Id. at 63-90.

13 Id. at 107-134.

14 Id. at 133-134.

15 Id. at 153-157.

16 Id. at 182-183.

17 Id. at 184.

18 CA rollo, pp. 2-22.

Under Section 4, Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court, the Petition shall be filed not later than sixty (60) days from notice of judgment, order or resolution. In case a motion for reconsideration or new trial is timely filed, whether such motion is required or not, the sixty (60)-day period shall be counted from notice of the denial of said motion.

The NLRC Decision dated 30 January 2004 was received by respondent bank on 20 April 2004. On 29 April 2004, respondent bank filed a Motion for Reconsideration. On 22 June 2004, the NLRC issued a Resolution denying respondent bank's motion for reconsideration, a copy of which was received by the respondent bank on 20 July 2004. Pursuant to Section 4, Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court, respondent bank has sixty (60) days or until 18 September 2004, within which to file the Petition for Certiorari.

19 Rollo, pp. 205-208.

20 Id. at 209.

21 Id. at 210-211.

22 Id. at 233-235.

23 Id. at 52-60.

24 Id. at 61.

25 Id. at 9-51.

26 Bolinao Security and Investigation Service, Inc. v. Toston, G.R. No. 139135, 29 January 2004, 421 SCRA 406, 412.

27 Philippine American Life Gen. Insurance Co. v. Gramaje, G.R. No. 156963, 11 November 2004, 442 SCRA 274, 284-285.

28 Dusit Hotel Nikko v. National Union of Workers in Hotel Restaurant and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN)-Dusit Hotel NIkko Chapter, G.R. No. 160391, 9 August 2005, 466 SCRA 374, 387-388.

29 J.A.T. General Services v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 148340, 26 January 2004, 421 SCRA 78, 90.

30 Unicorn Safety Glass, Inc. v. Basarte, G.R. No. 154689, 25 November 2004, 444 SCRA 287, 294-295.

31 Id.

32 Philippine American Life Gen. Insurance Co. v. Gramaje, supra note 27 at 284-285.

33 Wise and Co., Inc. v. Wise and Co., Inc. Employees Union-NATU, G.R. No. 87672, 13 October 1989, 178 SCRA 536, 539.

34 Rollo, p. 80.

35 Id.

36 Vertudes v. Buenaflor, G.R. No. 153166, 16 December 2005, 478 SCRA 210, 230.

37 Suldao v. Cimtech System Construction, Inc., G.R. No. 171392, 30 October 2006.

38 Mendoza v. Rural Bank of Lucban, G.R. No. 155421, 7 July 2004, 433 SCRA 756, 766.

39 G.R. No. 168664, 4 May 2006, 489 SCRA 534, 544-545.

40 Kar Asia, Inc. v. Corona, G.R. No. 154985, 24 August 2004, 437 SCRA 184, 189.

41 J.A.T. General Services v. National Labor Relations Commission, supra note 29.

42 Rollo, pp. 114-115.

43 Duncan Association of Detailman-PTGWO v. Glaxo Wellcome Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 162994, 17 September 2004, 438 SCRA 343, 353.

44 Cebu Metal Corporation v. Roberto Saliling, G. R. No. 154463, 5 September 2006.




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