November 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 167622 - GREGORIO V. TONGKO v. THE MANUFACTURERS LIFE INSURANCE CO. (PHILS.), INC., ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 167622 : November 7, 2008]
GREGORIO V. TONGKO, Petitioner v. THE MANUFACTURERS LIFE INSURANCE CO. (PHILS.), INC. and RENATO A. VERGEL DE DIOS, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
This Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 seeks the reversal of the March 29, 2005 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 88253, entitled The Manufacturers Life Insurance Co. (Phils.), Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission and Gregorio V. Tongko. The assailed decision set aside the Decision dated September 27, 2004 and Resolution dated December 16, 2004 rendered by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in NLRC NCR CA No. 040220-04.
Manufacturers Life Insurance Co. (Phils.), Inc. (Manulife) is a domestic corporation engaged in life insurance business. Renato A. Vergel De Dios was, during the period material, its President and Chief Executive Officer. Gregorio V. Tongko started his professional relationship with Manulife on July 1, 1977 by virtue of a Career Agent's Agreement2 (Agreement) he executed with Manulife.
In the Agreement, it is provided that:
It is understood and agreed that the Agent is an independent contractor and nothing contained herein shall be construed or interpreted as creating an employer-employee relationship between the Company and the Agent.In 1983, Tongko was named as a Unit Manager in Manulife's Sales Agency Organization. In 1990, he became a Branch Manager. As the CA found, Tongko's gross earnings from his work at Manulife, consisting of commissions, persistency income, and management overrides, may be summarized as follows:
x x x x
a) The Agent shall canvass for applications for Life Insurance, Annuities, Group policies and other products offered by the Company, and collect, in exchange for provisional receipts issued by the Agent, money due or to become due to the Company in respect of applications or policies obtained by or through the Agent or from policyholders allotted by the Company to the Agent for servicing, subject to subsequent confirmation of receipt of payment by the Company as evidenced by an Official Receipt issued by the Company directly to the policyholder.
x x x x
The Company may terminate this Agreement for any breach or violation of any of the provisions hereof by the Agent by giving written notice to the Agent within fifteen (15) days from the time of the discovery of the breach. No waiver, extinguishment, abandonment, withdrawal or cancellation of the right to terminate this Agreement by the Company shall be construed for any previous failure to exercise its right under any provision of this Agreement.
Either of the parties hereto may likewise terminate his Agreement at any time without cause, by giving to the other party fifteen (15) days notice in writing. x x x
The problem started sometime in 2001, when Manulife instituted manpower development programs in the regional sales management level. Relative thereto, De Dios addressed a letter dated November 6, 20014 to Tongko regarding an October 18, 2001 Metro North Sales Managers Meeting. In the letter, De Dios stated:
January to December 10, 2002 - P 865,096.07 2001 - 6,214,737.11 2000 - 8,003,180.38 1999 - 6,797,814.05 1998 - 4,805,166.34 1997 - 2,822,620.003
The first step to transforming Manulife into a big league player has been very clear - to increase the number of agents to at least 1,000 strong for a start. This may seem diametrically opposed to the way Manulife was run when you first joined the organization. Since then, however, substantial changes have taken place in the organization, as these have been influenced by developments both from within and without the company.Subsequently, De Dios wrote Tongko another letter dated December 18, 2001,5 terminating Tongko's services, thus:
x x x x
The issues around agent recruiting are central to the intended objectives hence the need for a Senior Managers' meeting earlier last month when Kevin O'Connor, SVP - Agency, took to the floor to determine from our senior agency leaders what more could be done to bolster manpower development. At earlier meetings, Kevin had presented information where evidently, your Region was the lowest performer (on a per Manager basis) in terms of recruiting in 2000 and, as of today, continues to remain one of the laggards in this area.
While discussions, in general, were positive other than for certain comments from your end which were perceived to be uncalled for, it became clear that a one-on-one meeting with you was necessary to ensure that you and management, were on the same plane. As gleaned from some of your previous comments in prior meetings (both in group and one-on-one), it was not clear that we were proceeding in the same direction.
Kevin held subsequent series of meetings with you as a result, one of which I joined briefly. In those subsequent meetings you reiterated certain views, the validity of which we challenged and subsequently found as having no basis.
With such views coming from you, I was a bit concerned that the rest of the Metro North Managers may be a bit confused as to the directions the company was taking. For this reason, I sought a meeting with everyone in your management team, including you, to clear the air, so to speak.
This note is intended to confirm the items that were discussed at the said Metro North Region's Sales Managers meeting held at the 7/F Conference room last 18 October.
x x x x
Issue # 2: "Some Managers are unhappy with their earnings and would want to revert to the position of agents."
This is an often repeated issue you have raised with me and with Kevin. For this reason, I placed the issue on the table before the rest of your Region's Sales Managers to verify its validity. As you must have noted, no Sales Manager came forward on their own to confirm your statement and it took you to name Malou Samson as a source of the same, an allegation that Malou herself denied at our meeting and in your very presence.
This only confirms, Greg, that those prior comments have no solid basis at all. I now believe what I had thought all along, that these allegations were simply meant to muddle the issues surrounding the inability of your Region to meet its agency development objectives!
Issue # 3: "Sales Managers are doing what the company asks them to do but, in the process, they earn less."
x x x x
All the above notwithstanding, we had your own records checked and we found that you made a lot more money in the Year 2000 versus 1999. In addition, you also volunteered the information to Kevin when you said that you probably will make more money in the Year 2001 compared to Year 2000. Obviously, your above statement about making "less money" did not refer to you but the way you argued this point had us almost believing that you were spouting the gospel of truth when you were not. x x x
x x x x
All of a sudden, Greg, I have become much more worried about your ability to lead this group towards the new direction that we have been discussing these past few weeks, i.e., Manulife's goal to become a major agency-led distribution company in the Philippines. While as you claim, you have not stopped anyone from recruiting, I have never heard you proactively push for greater agency recruiting. You have not been proactive all these years when it comes to agency growth.
x x x x
I cannot afford to see a major region fail to deliver on its developmental goals next year and so, we are making the following changes in the interim:x x x x
- You will hire at your expense a competent assistant who can unload you of much of the routine tasks which can be easily delegated. This assistant should be so chosen as to complement your skills and help you in the areas where you feel "may not be your cup of tea".
You have stated, if not implied, that your work as Regional Manager may be too taxing for you and for your health. The above could solve this problem.
x x x x
- Effective immediately, Kevin and the rest of the Agency Operations will deal with the North Star Branch (NSB) in autonomous fashion. x x x
I have decided to make this change so as to reduce your span of control and allow you to concentrate more fully on overseeing the remaining groups under Metro North, your Central Unit and the rest of the Sales Managers in Metro North. I will hold you solely responsible for meeting the objectives of these remaining groups.
The above changes can end at this point and they need not go any further. This, however, is entirely dependent upon you. But you have to understand that meeting corporate objectives by everyone is primary and will not be compromised. We are meeting tough challenges next year and I would want everybody on board. Any resistance or holding back by anyone will be dealt with accordingly.
It would appear, however, that despite the series of meetings and communications, both one-on-one meetings between yourself and SVP Kevin O'Connor, some of them with me, as well as group meetings with your Sales Managers, all these efforts have failed in helping you align your directions with Management's avowed agency growth policy.Therefrom, Tongko filed a Complaint dated November 25, 2002 with the NLRC against Manulife for illegal dismissal. The case, docketed as NLRC NCR Case No. 11-10330-02, was raffled to Labor Arbiter Marita V. Padolina.
x x x x
On account thereof, Management is exercising its prerogative under Section 14 of your Agents Contract as we are now issuing this notice of termination of your Agency Agreement with us effective fifteen days from the date of this letter.
In the Complaint, Tongko, in a bid to establish an employer-employee relationship, alleged that De Dios gave him specific directives on how to manage his area of responsibility in the latter's letter dated November 6, 2001. He further claimed that Manulife exercised control over him as follows:
Such control was certainly exercised by respondents over the herein complainant. It was Manulife who hired, promoted and gave various assignments to him. It was the company who set objectives as regards productions, recruitment, training programs and all activities pertaining to its business. Manulife prescribed a Code of Conduct which would govern in minute detail all aspects of the work to be undertaken by employees, including the sales process, the underwriting process, signatures, handling of money, policyholder service, confidentiality, legal and regulatory requirements and grounds for termination of employment. The letter of Mr. De Dios dated 06 November 2001 left no doubt as to who was in control. The subsequent termination letter dated 18 December 2001 again established in no uncertain terms the authority of the herein respondents to control the employees of Manulife. Plainly, the respondents wielded control not only as to the ends to be achieved but the ways and means of attaining such ends.6Tongko bolstered his argument by citing Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd. v. NLRC (4th Division)7 and Great Pacific Life Assurance Corporation v. NLRC,8 which Tongko claimed to be similar to the instant case.
Tongko further claimed that his dismissal was without basis and that he was not afforded due process. He also cited the Manulife Code of Conduct by which his actions were controlled by the company.
Manulife then filed a Position Paper with Motion to Dismiss dated February 27, 2003,9 in which it alleged that Tongko is not its employee, and that it did not exercise "control" over him. Thus, Manulife claimed that the NLRC has no jurisdiction over the case.
In a Decision dated April 15, 2004, Labor Arbiter Marita V. Padolina dismissed the complaint for lack of an employer-employee relationship. Padolina found that applying the four-fold test in determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship, none was found in the instant case. The dispositive portion thereof states:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered DISMISSING the instant complaint for lack of jurisdiction, there being no employer-employee relationship between the parties.Tongko appealed the arbiter's Decision to the NLRC which reversed the same and rendered a Decision dated September 27, 2004 finding Tongko to have been illegally dismissed.
The NLRC's First Division, while finding an employer-employee relationship between Manulife and Tongko applying the four-fold test, held Manulife liable for illegal dismissal. It further stated that Manulife exercised control over Tongko as evidenced by the letter dated November 6, 2001 of De Dios and wrote:
The above-mentioned letter shows the extent to which respondents controlled complainant's manner and means of doing his work and achieving the goals set by respondents. The letter shows how respondents concerned themselves with the manner complainant managed the Metro North Region as Regional Sales Manager, to the point that respondents even had a say on how complainant interacted with other individuals in the Metro North Region. The letter is in fact replete with comments and criticisms on how complainant carried out his functions as Regional Sales Manager.Additionally, the First Division also ruled that:
More importantly, the letter contains an abundance of directives or orders that are intended to directly affect complainant's authority and manner of carrying out his functions as Regional Sales Manager.10 x x x
Further evidence of [respondents'] control over complainant can be found in the records of the case. [These] are the different codes of conduct such as the Agent Code of Conduct, the Manulife Financial Code of Conduct, and the Manulife Financial Code of Conduct Agreement, which serve as the foundations of the power of control wielded by respondents over complainant that is further manifested in the different administrative and other tasks that he is required to perform. These codes of conduct corroborate and reinforce the display of respondents' power of control in their 06 November 2001 Letter to complainant.11The fallo of the September 27, 2004 Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed Decision is hereby reversed and set aside. We find complainant to be a regular employee of respondent Manulife and that he was illegally dismissed from employment by respondents.From this Decision, Manulife filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied by the NLRC First Division in a Resolution dated December 16, 2004.12
In lieu of reinstatement, respondent Manulife is hereby ordered to pay complainant separation pay as above set forth. Respondent Manulife is further ordered to pay complainant backwages from the time he was dismissed on 02 January 2002 up to the finality of this decision also as indicated above.
x x x x
All other claims are hereby dismissed for utter lack of merit.
Thus, Manulife filed an appeal with the CA docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 88253. Thereafter, the CA issued the assailed Decision dated March 29, 2005, finding the absence of an employer-employee relationship between the parties and deeming the NLRC with no jurisdiction over the case. The CA arrived at this conclusion while again applying the four-fold test. The CA found that Manulife did not exercise control over Tongko that would render the latter an employee of Manulife. The dispositive portion reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the present petition is hereby GRANTED and the writ prayed for accordingly GRANTED. The assailed Decision dated September 27, 2004 and Resolution dated December 16, 2004 of the National Labor Relations Commission in NLRC NCR Case No. 00-11-10330-2002 (NLRC NCR CA No. 040220-04) are hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. The Decision dated April 15, 2004 of Labor Arbiter Marita V. Padolina is hereby REINSTATED.Hence, Tongko filed this petition and presented the following issues:
Restated, the issues are: (1) Was there an employer-employee relationship between Manulife and Tongko? and (2) If yes, was Manulife guilty of illegal dismissal?
The Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in granting respondents' petition for certiorari.
The Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in annulling and setting aside the Decision dated September 27, 2004 and Resolution dated December 16, 2004 in finding that there is no employer-employee relationship between petitioner and respondent.
The Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in annulling and setting aside the Decision dated September 27, 2004 and Resolution dated December 16, 2004 which found petitioner to have been illegally dismissed and ordered his reinstatement with payment of backwages.13
The Court's Ruling
This petition is meritorious.
Tongko Was An Employee of Manulife
The basic issue of whether or not the NLRC has jurisdiction over the case resolves itself into the question of whether an employer-employee relationship existed between Manulife and Tongko. If no employer-employee relationship existed between the two parties, then jurisdiction over the case properly lies with the Regional Trial Court.
In the determination of whether an employer-employee relationship exists between two parties, this Court applies the four-fold test to determine the existence of the elements of such relationship. In Pacific Consultants International Asia, Inc. v. Schonfeld, the Court set out the elements of an employer-employee relationship, thus:
Jurisprudence is firmly settled that whenever the existence of an employment relationship is in dispute, four elements constitute the reliable yardstick: (a) the selection and engagement of the employee; (b) the payment of wages; (c) the power of dismissal; and (d) the employer's power to control the employee's conduct. It is the so-called "control test" which constitutes the most important index of the existence of the employer-employee relationship that is, whether the employer controls or has reserved the right to control the employee not only as to the result of the work to be done but also as to the means and methods by which the same is to be accomplished. Stated otherwise, an employer-employee relationship exists where the person for whom the services are performed reserves the right to control not only the end to be achieved but also the means to be used in reaching such end.14The NLRC, for its part, applied the four-fold test and found the existence of all the elements and declared Tongko an employee of Manulife. The CA, on the other hand, found that the element of control as an indicator of the existence of an employer-employee relationship was lacking in this case. The NLRC and the CA based their rulings on the same findings of fact but differed in their interpretations.
The NLRC arrived at its conclusion, first, on the basis of the letter dated November 6, 2001 addressed by De Dios to Tongko. According to the NLRC, the letter contained "an abundance of directives or orders that are intended to directly affect complainant's authority and manner of carrying out his functions as Regional Sales Manager." It enumerated these "directives" or "orders" as follows:
The NLRC further ruled that the different codes of conduct that were applicable to Tongko served as the foundations of the power of control wielded by Manulife over Tongko that is further manifested in the different administrative and other tasks that he was required to perform.
- You will hire at your expense a competent assistant who can unload you of much of the routine tasks which can be easily delegated. x x x
x x x x
This assistant should be hired immediately.
- Effective immediately, Kevin and the rest of the Agency Operations will deal with the North Star Branch (NSB) in autonomous fashion x x x.
x x x x
I have decided to make this change so as to reduce your span of control and allow you to concentrate more fully on overseeing the remaining groups under Metro North, your Central Unit and the rest of the Sales Managers in Metro North. x x x
- Any resistance or holding back by anyone will be dealt with accordingly.
- I have been straightforward in this my letter and I know that we can continue to work together... but it will have to be on my terms. Anything else is unacceptable!
The NLRC also found that Tongko was required to render exclusive service to Manulife, further bolstering the existence of an employer-employee relationship.
Finally, the NLRC ruled that Tongko was integrated into a management structure over which Manulife exercised control, including the actions of its officers. The NLRC held that such integration added to the fact that Tongko did not have his own agency belied Manulife's claim that Tongko was an independent contractor.
The CA, however, considered the finding of the existence of an employer-employee relationship by the NLRC as far too sweeping having as its only basis the letter dated November 6, 2001 of De Dios. The CA did not concur with the NLRC's ruling that the elements of control as pointed out by the NLRC are "sufficient indicia of control that negates independent contractorship and conclusively establish an employer-employee relationship between"15 Tongko and Manulife. The CA ruled that there is no employer-employee relationship between Tongko and Manulife.
An impasse appears to have been reached between the CA and the NLRC on the sole issue of control over an employee's conduct. It bears clarifying that such control not only applies to the work or goal to be done but also to the means and methods to accomplish it.16 In Sonza v. ABS-CBN Broasting Corporation, we explained that not all forms of control would establish an employer-employee relationship, to wit:
Further, not every form of control that a party reserves to himself over the conduct of the other party in relation to the services being rendered may be accorded the effect of establishing an employer-employee relationship. The facts of this case fall squarely with the case of Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd. vs. NLRC. In said case, we held that:We ruled in Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd. v. NLRC (Insular) that:Logically, the line should be drawn between rules that merely serve as guidelines towards the achievement of the mutually desired result without dictating the means or methods to be employed in attaining it, and those that control or fix the methodology and bind or restrict the party hired to the use of such means. The first, which aim only to promote the result, create no employer-employee relationship unlike the second, which address both the result and the means used to achieve it.17 (Emphasis supplied.)
It is, therefore, usual and expected for an insurance company to promulgate a set of rules to guide its commission agents in selling its policies that they may not run afoul of the law and what it requires or prohibits. Of such a character are the rules which prescribe the qualifications of persons who may be insured, subject insurance applications to processing and approval by the Company, and also reserve to the Company the determination of the premiums to be paid and the schedules of payment. None of these really invades the agent's contractual prerogative to adopt his own selling methods or to sell insurance at his own time and convenience, hence cannot justifiably be said to establish an employer-employee relationship between him and the company.18Hence, we ruled in Insular that no employer-employee relationship existed therein. However, such ruling was tempered with the qualification that had there been evidence that the company promulgated rules or regulations that effectively controlled or restricted an insurance agent's choice of methods or the methods themselves in selling insurance, an employer-employee relationship would have existed. In other words, the Court in Insular in no way definitively held that insurance agents are not employees of insurance companies, but rather made the same a case-to-case basis. We held:
The respondents limit themselves to pointing out that Basiao's contract with the Company bound him to observe and conform to such rules and regulations as the latter might from time to time prescribe. No showing has been made that any such rules or regulations were in fact promulgated, much less that any rules existed or were issued which effectively controlled or restricted his choice of methods or the methods themselves of selling insurance. Absent such showing, the Court will not speculate that any exceptions or qualifications were imposed on the express provision of the contract leaving Basiao "... free to exercise his own judgment as to the time, place and means of soliciting insurance."19 (Emphasis supplied.)There is no conflict between our rulings in Insular and in Great Pacific Life Assurance Corporation. We said in the latter case:
[I]t cannot be gainsaid that Grepalife had control over private respondents' performance as well as the result of their efforts. A cursory reading of their respective functions as enumerated in their contracts reveals that the company practically dictates the manner by which their jobs are to be carried out. For instance, the District Manager must properly account, record and document the company's funds spot-check and audit the work of the zone supervisors, conserve the company's business in the district through `reinstatements', follow up the submission of weekly remittance reports of the debit agents and zone supervisors, preserve company property in good condition, train understudies for the position of district manager, and maintain his quota of sales (the failure of which is a ground for termination). On the other hand, a zone supervisor must direct and supervise the sales activities of the debit agents under him, conserve company property through "reinstatements", undertake and discharge the functions of absentee debit agents, spot-check the records of debit agents, and insure proper documentation of sales and collections by the debit agents.20 (Emphasis supplied.)Based on the foregoing cases, if the specific rules and regulations that are enforced against insurance agents or managers are such that would directly affect the means and methods by which such agents or managers would achieve the objectives set by the insurance company, they are employees of the insurance company.
In the instant case, Manulife had the power of control over Tongko that would make him its employee. Several factors contribute to this conclusion.
In the Agreement dated July 1, 1977 executed between Tongko and Manulife, it is provided that:
The Agent hereby agrees to comply with all regulations and requirements of the Company as herein provided as well as maintain a standard of knowledge and competency in the sale of the Company's products which satisfies those set by the Company and sufficiently meets the volume of new business required of Production Club membership.21Under this provision, an agent of Manulife must comply with three (3) requirements: (1) compliance with the regulations and requirements of the company; (2) maintenance of a level of knowledge of the company's products that is satisfactory to the company; and (3) compliance with a quota of new businesses.
Among the company regulations of Manulife are the different codes of conduct such as the Agent Code of Conduct, Manulife Financial Code of Conduct, and Manulife Financial Code of Conduct Agreement, which demonstrate the power of control exercised by the company over Tongko. The fact that Tongko was obliged to obey and comply with the codes of conduct was not disowned by respondents.
Thus, with the company regulations and requirements alone, the fact that Tongko was an employee of Manulife may already be established. Certainly, these requirements controlled the means and methods by which Tongko was to achieve the company's goals.
More importantly, Manulife's evidence establishes the fact that Tongko was tasked to perform administrative duties that establishes his employment with Manulife.
In its Comment (Re: Petition for Review dated 15 April 2005) dated August 5, 2005, Manulife attached affidavits of its agents purportedly to support its claim that Tongko, as a Regional Sales Manager, did not perform any administrative functions. An examination of these affidavits would, however, prove the opposite.
In an Affidavit dated April 28, 2003,22 John D. Chua, a Regional Sales Manager of Manulife, stated:
While Amada Toledo, a Branch Manager of Manulife, stated in her Affidavit dated April 29, 200323 that:
- On September 1, 1996, my services were engaged by Manulife as an Agency Regional Sales Manager ("RSM") for Metro South Region pursuant to an Agency Contract. As such RSM, I have the following functions:
- Refer and recommend prospective agents to Manulife
- Coach agents to become productive
- Regularly meet with, and coordinate activities of agents affiliated to my region.
While Ma. Lourdes Samson, a Unit Manager of Manulife, stated in her Affidavit dated April 28, 200324 that:
- In January 1997, I was assigned as a Branch Manager ("BM") of Manulife for the Metro North Sector;
- As such BM, I render the following services:
- Refer and recommend prospective agents to Manulife;
- Train and coordinate activities of other commission agents;
- Coordinate activities of Agency Managers who, in turn, train and coordinate activites of other commission agents;
- Achieve agreed production objectives in terms of Net Annualized Commissions and Case Count and recruitment goals; and
- Sell the various products of Manulife to my personal clients.
A comparison of the above functions and those contained in the Agreement with those cited in Great Pacific Life Assurance Corporation25 reveals a striking similarity that would more than support a similar finding as in that case. Thus, there was an employer-employee relationship between the parties.
- In 1977, I was assigned as a Unit Manager ("UM") of North Peaks Unit, North Star Branch, Metro North Region;
- As such UM, I render the following services:
- To render or recommend prospective agents to be licensed, trained and contracted to sell Manulife products and who will be part of my Unit;
- To coordinate activities of the agents under my Unit in their daily, weekly and monthly selling activities, making sure that their respective sales targets are met;
- To conduct periodic training sessions for my agents to further enhance their sales skills.
- To assist my agents with their sales activities by way of joint fieldwork, consultations and one-on-one evaluation and analysis of particular accounts.
- To provide opportunities to motivate my agents to succeed like conducting promos to increase sales activities and encouraging them to be involved in company and industry activities.
- To provide opportunities for professional growth to my agents by encouraging them to be a member of the LUCAP (Life Underwriters Association of the Philippines).
Additionally, it must be pointed out that the fact that Tongko was tasked with recruiting a certain number of agents, in addition to his other administrative functions, leads to no other conclusion that he was an employee of Manulife.
In his letter dated November 6, 2001, De Dios harped on the direction of Manulife of becoming a major agency-led distribution company whereby greater agency recruitment is required of the managers, including Tongko. De Dios made it clear that agent recruitment has become the primary means by which Manulife intends to sell more policies. More importantly, it is Tongko's alleged failure to follow this principle of recruitment that led to the termination of his employment with Manulife. With this, it is inescapable that Tongko was an employee of Manulife.
Tongko Was Illegally Dismissed
In its Petition for Certiorari dated January 7, 200526 filed before the CA, Manulife argued that even if Tongko is considered as its employee, his employment was validly terminated on the ground of gross and habitual neglect of duties, inefficiency, as well as willful disobedience of the lawful orders of Manulife. Manulife stated:
In the instant case, private respondent, despite the written reminder from Mr. De Dios refused to shape up and altogether disregarded the latter's advice resulting in his laggard performance clearly indicative of his willful disobedience of the lawful orders of his superior. x x xIt is readily evident from the above-quoted portions of Manulife's petition that it failed to cite a single iota of evidence to support its claims. Manulife did not even point out which order or rule that Tongko disobeyed. More importantly, Manulife did not point out the specific acts that Tongko was guilty of that would constitute gross and habitual neglect of duty or disobedience. Manulife merely cited Tongko's alleged "laggard performance," without substantiating such claim, and equated the same to disobedience and neglect of duty.
x x x x
As private respondent has patently failed to perform a very fundamental duty, and that is to yield obedience to all reasonable rules, orders and instructions of the Company, as well as gross failure to reach at least minimum quota, the termination of his engagement from Manulife is highly warranted and therefore, there is no illegal dismissal to speak of.
We cannot, therefore, accept Manulife's position.
In Quebec, Sr. v. National Labor Relations Commission, we ruled that:
When there is no showing of a clear, valid and legal cause for the termination of employment, the law considers the matter a case of illegal dismissal and the burden is on the employer to prove that the termination was for a valid or authorized cause. This burden of proof appropriately lies on the shoulders of the employer and not on the employee because a worker's job has some of the characteristics of property rights and is therefore withinthe constitutional mantle of protection. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.We again ruled in Times Transportation Co., Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission that:
Apropos thereto, Art. 277, par. (b), of the Labor Code mandates in explicit terms that the burden of proving the validity of the termination of employment rests on the employer. Failure to discharge this evidentialburden would necessarily mean that the dismissal was not justified, and, therefore, illegal.27
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. 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.28This burden of proof was clarified in Community Rural Bank of San Isidro (N.E.), Inc. v. Paez to mean substantial evidence, to wit:
The Labor Code provides that an employer may terminate the services of an employee for just cause and this must be supported by substantial evidence. The settled rule in administrative and quasi-judicial proceedings is that proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required in determining the legality of an employer's dismissal of an employee, and not even a preponderance of evidence is necessary as substantial evidence is considered sufficient. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence or relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds, equally reasonable, might conceivably opine otherwise.29Here, Manulife failed to overcome such burden of proof. It must be reiterated that Manulife even failed to identify the specific acts by which Tongko's employment was terminated much less support the same with substantial evidence. To repeat, mere conjectures cannot work to deprive employees of their means of livelihood. Thus, it must be concluded that Tongko was illegally dismissed.
Moreover, as to Manulife's failure to comply with the twin notice rule, it reasons that Tongko not being its employee is not entitled to such notices. Since we have ruled that Tongko is its employee, however, Manulife clearly failed to afford Tongko said notices. Thus, on this ground too, Manulife is guilty of illegal dismissal. In Quebec, Sr., we also stated:
Furthermore, not only does our legal system dictate that the reasons for dismissing a worker must be pertinently substantiated, it also mandates that the manner of dismissal must be properly done,otherwise, the termination itself is gravely defective and may be declared unlawful.30For breach of the due process requirements, Manulife is liable to Tongko in the amount of PhP 30,000 as indemnity in the form of nominal damages.31
Finally, Manulife raises the issue of the correctness of the computation of the award to Tongko made by the NLRC by claiming that Songco v. National Labor Relations Commission32 is inapplicable to the instant case, considering that Songco was dismissed on the ground of retrenchment.
An examination of Songco reveals that it may be applied to the present case. In that case, Jose Songco was a salesman of F.E. Zuellig (M), Inc. which terminated the services of Songco on the ground of retrenchment due to financial losses. The issue raised to the Court, however, was whether commissions are considered as part of wages in order to determine separation pay. Thus, the fact that Songco was dismissed due to retrenchment does not hamper the application thereof to the instant case. What is pivotal is that we ruled in Songco that commissions are part of wages for the determination of separation pay.
Article 279 of the Labor Code on security of tenure pertinently provides that:
In cases of regular employment the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except for a just cause or when authorized by this Title. An employee who is unjustly dismissed from work shall be entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to his full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to his other benefits or their monetary equivalent computed from the time his compensation was withheld from him up to the time of his actual reinstatement.In Triad Security & Allied Services, Inc. v. Ortega, Jr. (Triad), we thus stated that an illegally dismissed employee shall be entitled to backwages and separation pay, if reinstatement is no longer viable:
As the law now stands, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to two reliefs, namely: backwages and reinstatement. These are separate and distinct from each other. However, separation pay is granted where reinstatement is no longer feasible because of strained relations between the employee and the employer. In effect, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to either reinstatement, if viable, or separation pay if reinstatement is no longer viable and backwages.33Taking into consideration the cases of Songco and Triad, we find correct the computation of the NLRC that the monthly gross wage of Tongko in 2001 was PhP 518,144.76. For having been illegally dismissed, Tongko is entitled to reinstatement with full backwages under Art. 279 of the Labor Code. Due to the strained relationship between Manulife and Tongko, reinstatement, however, is no longer advisable. Thus, Tongko will be entitled to backwages from January 2, 2002 (date of dismissal) up to the finality of this decision. Moreover, Manulife will pay Tongko separation pay of one (1) month salary for every year of service that is from 1977 to 2001 amounting to PhP 12,435,474.24, considering that reinstatement is not feasible. Tongko shall also be entitled to an award of attorney's fees in the amount of ten percent (10%) of the aggregate amount of the above awards.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby GRANTED. The assailed March 29, 2005 Decision of the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 88253 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Decision dated September 27, 2004 of the NLRC is REINSTATED with the following modifications:
Manulife shall pay Tongko the following:
(1) Full backwages, inclusive of allowances and other benefits or their monetary equivalent from January 2, 2002 up to the finality of this Decision;
(2) Separation pay of one (1) month salary for every year of service from 1977 up to 2001 amounting to PhP 12,435,474.24;
(3) Nominal damages of PhP 30,000 as indemnity for violation of the due process requirements; and
(4) Attorney's fees equivalent to ten percent (10%) of the aforementioned backwages and separation pay.
Costs against respondent Manulife.
Carpio-Morales, and Brion, JJ., concur.
Quisumbing, (Chairperson), pls. see dissenting opinion.
Tinga, J., join J. Quisumbing's dissent.
1Rollo, pp. 51-87. Penned by Associate Justice Martin S. Villarama, Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Regalado E. Maambong and Lucenito N. Tagle (now retired).
2 Id. at 451-453.
3 Id. at 53.
4Id. at 295-300.
5Id. at 301-302.
6Id. at 310.
7 G.R. No. 119930, March 12, 1998, 287 SCRA 476.
8G.R. Nos. 80750-51, July 23, 1990, 187 SCRA 694.
9Rollo, pp. 430-450.
10 Id. at 361.
11 Id. at 363-364.
12 Id. at 375-377.
13 Id. at 16.
14 G.R. No. 166920, February 19, 2007, 516 SCRA 209, 228.
15 Supra note 1, at 80.
16Lakas ng Kapatirang Haligi ng Alyansa-Pinagbuklod ng Manggagawang Promo ng Burlingame v. Burlingame Corporation, G.R. No. 162833, June 15, 2007, 524 SCRA 690, 695.
17G.R. No. 138051, June 10, 2004, 431 SCRA 583, 604.
18 G.R. No. 84484, November 15, 1989, 179 SCRA 459, 465.
19 Id. at 466-467.
20 Supra note 8, at 698-699.
21Rollo, p. 451.
22Id. at 590.
23 Id. at 592.
24Id. at 593.
26Rollo, pp. 88-162.
27 G.R. No. 123184, January 22, 1999, 301 SCRA 627, 633.
28G.R. Nos. 148500-01, November 29, 2006, 508 SCRA 435, 443.
29G.R. No. 158707, November 27, 2006, 508 SCRA 245, 257-258.
30 Supra at 634.
31Agabon v. NLRC, G.R. No. 158693, November 17, 2004, 442 SCRA 573, 617.
32G.R. Nos. 50999-51000, March 23, 1990, 183 SCRA 610.
33 G.R. No. 160871, February 6, 2006, 481 SCRA 591, 605.
With due respect, I cannot concur in the majority opinion. I vote to deny the petition and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals holding that the National Labor Relations Commission had no jurisdiction over this case due to the absence of an employer-employee relationship between petitioner Gregorio V. Tongko and respondent Manufacturers Life Insurance Co. (Phils.), Inc. (Manulife).
The majority opinion states that Manulife had the power of control over petitioner that would make him its employee. It advances several reasons that do not persuade me.
In my view, two points require stressing: (1) Manulife has no power of control over petitioner in the pursuit of his own business; and (2) petitioner is compensated through sales agency commissions and not through fixed wages or salary.
Time and again, the Court has indeed applied the "four-fold" test in determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship. This test considers the following elements: (1) the power to hire; (2) the payment of wages; (3) the power to dismiss; and (4) the power to control, the last being the most important element.1
The difficulty lies in correctly assessing if certain factors or elements properly indicate the presence of control.2 The company's codes of conduct such as the Agent Code of Conduct, Manulife Financial Code of Conduct, and Manulife Financial Code of Conduct Agreement cannot be justifiably said to establish an employer-employee relationship. These merely served as general guidelines for agents in selling Manulife policies in keeping with ethical principles governing the insurance business and in accordance with the rules promulgated by the Insurance Commissioner for proper regulation of the industry. None of these rules and regulations negated petitioner's contractual prerogative to adopt his own selling methods or to sell insurance at his own time and convenience.3 Nor did it overturn company or industry practices. Petitioner made his own strategy on how to generate more insurance sales. In fact, he derived his income from the agents under him through their sales volume. He was not bound to observe any work schedule or any working hours. He had freedom to adopt his own methods in selling insurance policies, so long as he and his recruited agents meet their quotas.
So too, petitioner's administrative functions are not indicative of control. Such functions which consisted of recruitment of new agents, training, and supervision were exercised over other sales agents and not employees of Manulife. Such functions relate to the insurance agents' work in pursuit of their agency's contractual obligations.
Neither can the Letter dated November 6, 20014 addressed by Renato A. Vergel De Dios, Manulife's President and Chief Executive Officer, to petitioner regarding greater agency recruitment be considered as control. While the letter reminded petitioner that his Region was the lowest performer in terms of agency recruitment, it did not dictate how petitioner would achieve this goal. Contrary to the finding of the main opinion,5 the letter did not contain "an abundance of directives or orders" other than suggesting to petitioner to hire a competent assistant to whom he could unload routine tasks. It is obvious that said assistant would be paid by petitioner as part of his agency's staff, not of the company's office personnel.
Clearly, following industry practice, petitioner had never been an employee of Manulife. He is an independent contractor as stated in the Career Agent's Agreement. Although he was eventually promoted as Regional Sales Manager, the Agreement subsisted since he still received commissions from insurance he directly sold to third persons aside from the override commissions he received from his own recruited agents' sales. The Agreement was never changed or altered by the parties.
Anent petitioner's compensation, he was paid through commissions from premium payments instead of fixed wages or salary. Petitioner's commissions varied, based on the computed premiums paid in full and actually received on policies obtained through his agency. His summary of commission, persistency, and management overrides constituted the income earned from business activities, not traditional office employment by Manulife, as follows:
Indeed, petitioner's earnings by way of commissions varied, depending on the clientele or those who availed of the insurance policies he procured. As also noted by the Labor Arbiter, his annual income was duly reflected in petitioner's income tax returns as agency earnings from which were deducted operating expenses and taxes withheld at source by Manulife. His returns did not reflect regular wages or salaries paid by the company.
2001 - P6,214,737.11 2000 - P8,003,180.38 1999 - P6,797,814.05 1998 - P4,805,166.34 1997 - P2,822,620.006
Since no employer-employee relationship existed between petitioner and Manulife, there is no basis to award backwages and separation pay to petitioner. There is no reason to apply Songco v. National Labor Relations Commission7 which considered commission as part of the employee's salary in the computation of separation pay. Here, there exists no employer-employee relationship. A contrary ruling will reverse an industry practice long accepted in the insurance business. Such reversal could prove detrimental to the insurance public.
To reiterate, the present case does not involve an employer-employee relationship which warrants the application of the Labor Code provisions; rather, it calls for the implementation of the Career Agent's Agreement that should be construed in an ordinary civil action.
I vote to DENY the petition.
1AFP Mutual Benefit Association, Inc. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 102199, January 28, 1997, 267 SCRA 47, 57.
3Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 84484, November 15, 1989, 179 SCRA 459, 465.
4Rollo, pp. 395-400.
5 Page 11 thereof.
6Rollo, p. 53.
7G.R. Nos. 50999-51000, March 23, 1990, 183 SCRA 610.