G. R. No. 114129 October 24, 1996
MANILA ELECTRIC COMPANY, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and JEREMIAS G. CORTEZ, Respondents.
HERMOSISIMA, JR., J.:
This is a petition for certiorari with a prayer for temporary restraining order to set aside the Resolution of the First Division of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) dated September 30, 1993 (which reversed the Decision dated August 13, 1991 of Labor Arbiter Cresencio R. Iniego), and its Order dated December 29, 1993 (which denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration).
Private respondent Jeremias C. Cortez, Jr. was employed on probationary status by petitioner Manila Electric Company (Meralco) on September 15, 1975 as lineman driver. Six months later, he was regularized as a 3rd class lineman-driver assigned at petitioner's North Distribution Division. In 1977, and until the time of his dismissal, he worked as 1st class lineman-driver whose duties and responsibilities among others, includes the maintenance of Meralco's distribution facilities (electric lines) by responding to customer's complaints of power failure, interruptions, line trippings and other line troubles.
Characteristic, however, of private respondent's service with petitioner is his perennial suspension from work, viz:
Due to his numerous infractions, private respondent was administratively investigated for violation of Meralco's Code on Employee Discipline, particularly his repeated and unabated absence from work without prior notice from his superiors specifically from August 2 to September 19, 1989.
After such administrative investigation was conducted by petitioner, it concluded that private respondent was found to have grossly neglected his duties by not attending to his work as lineman from Aug. 2, 1989 to September 19, 1989 without notice to his superiors.
In a letter dated January 19, 1990, private respondent was notified of the investigation result and consequent termination of his services effective January 19, 1990, viz:
On March 7, 1990, private respondent filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against petitioner. After both parties submitted their position papers and the documentary evidence attached thereto, the case was submitted for resolution.
On August 13, 1991, the Labor Arbiter rendered a Decision dismissing the case for lack of merit. The Labor Arbiter ratiocinated thus:
Aggrieved with the decision of the Labor Arbiter, private respondent elevated his case on appeal to public respondent.
On September 30, 1993, the NLRC set aside the decision of the Labor Arbiter and ordered petitioner to reinstate respondent with backwages. 4
Petitioner then filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied.
Hence, this petition.
The crux of the present controversy is whether or not private respondent's dismissal from service was illegal.
A perusal of the records shows that there is a divergence of views between the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC regarding the validity of the dismissal of respondent by petitioner. Although, it is a legal tenet that factual findings of administrative bodies are entitled to great weight and respect, we are constrained to take a second look at the facts before us because of the diversity in the opinions of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC.
Petitioner alleges that there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NLRC when it reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter on the following grounds: (a) that petitioner admitted in its Position Paper (Annex "12") that private respondent "went into hiding as he was engaged in a trouble with a neighbor" and (b) that in the said decision, the Labor Arbiter relied not so much on complainant's absences from August 1 to September 19, 1989 which was the subject of the investigation, but on complainant's previous infractions.
Article 283 of the Labor Code enumerates the just causes for termination. Among such causes are the following:
This cause includes gross inefficiency, negligence and carelessness. Such just causes is derived from the right of the employer to select and engage his employees. For indeed, regulation of manpower by the company clearly falls within the ambit of management prerogative. This court had defined a valid exercise of management prerogative as one which covers: hiring, work assignment, working methods, time, place and manner of work, tools to be used, processes to be followed, supervision of workers, working regulations, transfer of employees, work supervision, lay-off of workers, and the discipline, dismissal and recall of workers. Except as provided for, or limited by, special laws, an employer is free to regulate, according to his own discretion and judgment, all aspects of employment. 5
Moreover, this Court has upheld a company's management prerogatives so long as they are exercised in good faith for the advancement of the employer's interest and not for the purpose of defeating or circumventing the rights of the employees under special laws or under valid agreements. 6
In the case at bar, the service record of private respondent with petitioner is perpetually characterized by unexplained absences and unauthorized sick leave extensions. The nature of his job i.e. as a lineman-driver requires his physical presence to minister to incessant complaints often faulted with electricity. As aptly stated by the Solicitor General:
The penchant of private respondent to continually incur unauthorized absences and/or a violation of petitioner's sick leave policy finally rendered his dismissal as imminently proper. Private respondent cannot expect compassion from this Court by totally disregarding his numerous previous infractions and take into consideration only the period covering August 2, 1989 to September 19, 1989. As ruled by this Court in the cases of Mendoza v. National Labor Relations Commission, 8 and National Service Corporation v. Leogardo, Jr., 9 it is the totality, not the compartmentalization, of such company infractions that private respondent had consistently committed which justified his penalty of dismissal.
As correctly observed by the Labor Arbiter:
Habitual absenteeism should not and cannot be tolerated by petitioner herein which is a public utility company engaged in the business of distributing and selling electric energy within its franchise areas and that the maintenance of Meralco's distribution facilities (electric lines) by responding to customer's complaints of power failure, interruptions, line trippings and other line troubles is of paramount importance to the consuming public.
Hence, an employee's habitual absenteeism without leave, which violated company rules and regulations is sufficient cause to justify termination from service. 11
In reversing the decision rendered by the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC made the following findings, viz:
However, a meticulous perusal of Annex "12" readily shows that the statement "he went into hiding as he was engaged in a trouble with a neighbor" was merely a defense adduced by respondent employee and is tantamount to an alibi. The said defense only proved to be self-serving as the same had not been fully substantiated by private respondent by means of a document or an affidavit executed to attest to the alleged incidents.
Furthermore, contrary to the findings of public respondent, petitioner never admitted that private respondent "went into hiding as he was engaged in a trouble with a neighbor." As found out by petitioner in the course of its investigation:
This report only bolstered the falsehood of private respondent's alibi hence, petitioner had no other recourse but to mete the penalty of dismissal as an exercise of its management prerogative.
Private respondent herein cannot just rely on the social justice provisions of the Constitution and appeal for compassion because he is not entitled to it due to his serious and repeated company infractions which eventually led to his dismissal.
Private respondent's prolonged absence from August 2, 1989 to September 19, 1989 was the crucial period in this particular case. Subsequent investigation conducted by petitioner, however, showed that private respondent was given the full opportunity of defending himself, otherwise, petitioner could not have possibly known of private respondent's side of the story, viz:
Statement of Respondent
Notice and hearing in termination cases does not connote full adversarial proceedings as elucidated in numerous cases decided by this court. 15 The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, or as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain one's side. 16 As held in the case of Manggagawa ng Komunikasyon sa Pilipinas v. NLRC: 17
In this case, private respondent was given the opportunity of a hearing as he was able to present his defense to the charge against him. Unfortunately, petitioner found such defense inexcusable. In other words, the fact that private respondent was given the chance to air his side of the story already suffices.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The decision rendered by the National Labor Relations Commission is annulled and the decision rendered by the Labor Arbiter is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.
Padilla, Bellosillo, Vitug and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
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