G.R. No. 129329 - July 31, 2001
ESTER M. ASUNCION, petitioner, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, Second Division, MABINI MEDICAL CLINIC and DR. WILFRIDO JUCO, respondents.
In her petition filed before this Court, Ester Asuncion prays that the Decision, dated November 29, 1996, and the Resolution, dated February 20,1997, of the public respondent National Labor Relations Commission, Second Division, in NLRC CA. 011188 which reversed the Decision of the Labor Arbiter, dated May 15, 1996 be set aside.
The antecedents of this case are as follows:
On August 16, 1993, petitioner Ester M. Asuncion was employed as an accountant/bookkeeper by the respondent Mabini Medical Clinic. Sometime in May 1994, certain officials of the NCR-Industrial Relations Division of the Department of Labor and Employment conducted a routine inspection of the premises of the respondent company and discovered upon the disclosure of the petitioner of (documents) violations of the labor standards law such as the non-coverage from the SSS of the employees. Consequently, respondent Company was made to correct these violations.
On August 9, 1994, the private respondent, Medical Director Wilfrido Juco, issued a memorandum to petitioner charging her with the following offenses:
Petitioner was required to explain within two (2) days why she should not be terminated based on the above charges.
Three days later, in the morning of August 12, 1994, petitioner submitted her response to the memorandum. On the same day, respondent Dr. Juco, through a letter dated August 12, 1994, dismissed the petitioner on the ground of disobedience of lawful orders and for her failure to submit her reply within the two-day period.
This prompted petitioner to file a case for illegal termination before the NLRC.
In a Decision, dated May 15, 1996, Labor Arbiter Manuel Caday rendered judgment declaring that the petitioner was illegally dismissed. The Labor Arbiter found that the private respondents were unable to prove the allegation of chronic absenteeism as it failed to present in evidence the time cards, logbooks or record book which complainant signed recording her time in reporting for work. These documents, according to the Labor Arbiter, were in the possession of the private respondents. In fact, the record book was mentioned in the notice of termination. Hence, the non-presentation of these documents gives rise to the presumption that these documents were intentionally suppressed since they would be adverse to private respondent's claim. Moreover, the Labor Arbiter ruled that the petitioner's absences were with the conformity of the private respondents as both parties had agreed beforehand that petitioner would not report to work on Saturdays. The handwritten listing of the days when complainant was absent from work or late in reporting for work and even the computerized print-out, do not suffice to prove that petitioner's absences were unauthorized as they could easily be manufactured.2 Accordingly, the dispositive portion of the decision states, to wit:
On appeal, public respondent NLRC rendered the assailed decision which set aside the Labor Arbiter's ruling. Insofar as finding the private respondents as having failed to present evidence relative to petitioner's absences and tardiness, the NLRC agrees with the Labor Arbiter. However, the NLRC ruled that petitioner had admitted the tardiness and absences though offering justifications for the infractions. The decretal portion of the assailed decision reads:
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which the public respondent denied in its Resolution, dated February 19, 1997. Hence, petitioner through a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court seeks recourse to this Court and raises the following issue:
The petition is impressed with merit.
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.5 A disharmony between the factual findings of the Labor Arbiter and those of the NLRC opens the door to a review thereof by this Court.6
It bears stressing that a worker's employment is property in the constitutional sense. He cannot be deprived of his work without due process. In order for the dismissal to be valid, not only must it be based on just cause supported by clear and convincing evidence,7 the employee must also be given an opportunity to be heard and defend himself. 8 It is the employer who has the burden of proving that the dismissal was with just or authorized cause.9 The failure of the employer to discharge this burden means that the dismissal is not justified and that the employee is entitled to reinstatement and backwages.10
In the case at bar, there is a paucity of evidence to establish the charges of absenteeism and tardiness. We note that the employer company submitted mere handwritten listing and computer print-outs. The handwritten listing was not signed by the one who made the same. As regards the print-outs, while the listing was computer generated, the entries of time and other annotations were again handwritten and unsigned.11
We find that the handwritten listing and unsigned computer print-outs were unauthenticated and, hence, unreliable. Mere self-serving evidence of which the listing and print-outs are of that nature should be rejected as evidence without any rational probative value even in administrative proceedings. For this reason, we find the findings of the Labor Arbiter to be correct. On this point, the Labor Arbiter ruled, to wit:
In IBM Philippines, Inc. v. NLRC,13 this Court clarified that the liberality of procedure in administrative actions is not absolute and does not justify the total disregard of certain fundamental rules of evidence. Such that evidence without any rational probative value may not be made the basis of order or decision of administrative bodies. The Court's ratiocination in that case is relevant to the propriety of rejecting the unsigned handwritten listings and computer print-outs submitted by private respondents which we quote, to wit:
In Jarcia Machine Shop and Auto Supply, Inc. v. NLRC,14 this Court held as incompetent unsigned daily time records presented to prove that the employee was neglectful of his duties:
In the case at bar, both the handwritten listing and computer print-outs being unsigned, the authenticity thereof is highly suspect and devoid of any rational probative value especially in the light of the existence of the official record book of the petitioner's alleged absences and tardiness in the possession of the employer company.
Ironically, in the memorandum charging petitioner and notice of termination, private respondents referred to the record book as its basis for petitioner's alleged absenteeism and tardiness. Interestingly, however, the record book was never presented in evidence. Private respondents had possession thereof and the opportunity to present the same. Being the basis of the charges against the petitioner, it is without doubt the best evidence available to substantiate the allegations. The purpose of the rule requiring the production of the best evidence is the prevention of fraud, because if a party is in possession of such evidence and withholds it, and seeks to substitute inferior evidence in its place, the presumption naturally arises that the better evidence is withheld for fraudulent purposes which its production would expose and defeat.15 Thus, private respondents' unexplained and unjustified non-presentation of the record book, which is the best evidence in its possession and control of the charges against the petitioner, casts serious doubts on the factual basis of the charges of absenteeism and tardiness.
We find that private respondents failed to present a single piece of credible evidence to serve as the basis for their charges against petitioner and consequently, failed to fulfill their burden of proving the facts which constitute the just cause for the dismissal of the petitioner. However, the NLRC ruled that despite such absence of evidence, there was an admission on the part of petitioner in her Letter dated August 11, 1994 wherein she wrote:
In reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter, public respondent NLRC relied upon the supposed admission of the petitioner of her habitual absenteeism and chronic tardiness.
We do not subscribe to the findings of the NLRC that the above quoted letter of petitioner amounted to an admission of her alleged absences. As explained by petitioner, her alleged absences were incurred on Saturdays. According to petitioner, these should not be considered as absences as there was an arrangement between her and the private respondents that she would not be required to work on Saturdays. Private respondents have failed to deny the existence of this arrangement. Hence, the decision of the NLRC that private respondent had sufficient grounds to terminate petitioner as she admitted the charges of habitual absences has no leg to stand on.
Neither have the private respondents shown by competent evidence that the petitioner was given any warning or reprimanded for her alleged absences and tardiness. Private respondents claimed that they sent several notices to the petitioner warning her of her absences, however, petitioner refused to receive the same. On this point, the Labor Arbiter succinctly observed:
The Court, likewise, takes note of the fact that the two-day period given to petitioner to explain and answer the charges against her was most unreasonable, considering that she was charged with several offenses and infractions (35 absences, 23 half-days and 108 tardiness), some of which were allegedly committed almost a year before, not to mention the fact that the charges leveled against her lacked particularity.
Apart from chronic absenteeism and habitual tardiness, petitioner was also made to answer for loitering and wasting of company time, getting salary of an absent employee without acknowledging or signing for it and disobedience and insubordination.18 Thus, the Labor Arbiter found that actually petitioner tried to submit her explanation on August 11, 1994 or within the two-day period given her, but private respondents prevented her from doing so by instructing their staff not to accept complainant's explanation, which was the reason why her explanation was submitted a day later.19
The law mandates that every opportunity and assistance must be accorded to the employee by the management to enable him to prepare adequately for his defense.20 In Ruffy v. NLRC,21 the Court held that what would qualify as sufficient or "ample opportunity," as required by law, would be "every kind of assistance that management must accord to the employee to enable him to prepare adequately for his defense." In the case at bar, private respondents cannot be gainsaid to have given petitioner the ample opportunity to answer the charges leveled against her.
From the foregoing, there are serious doubts in the evidence on record as to the factual basis of the charges against petitioner. These doubts shall be resolved in her favor in line with the policy under the Labor Code to afford protection to labor and construe doubts in favor of labor.22 The consistent rule is that if doubts exist between the evidence presented by the employer and the employee, the scales of justice must be tilted in favor of the latter. The employer must affirmatively show rationally adequate evidence that the dismissal was for a justifiable cause.23 Not having satisfied its burden of proof, we conclude that the employer dismissed the petitioner without any just cause. Hence, the termination is illegal.
Having found that the petitioner has been illegally terminated, she is necessarily entitled to reinstatement to her former previous position without loss of seniority and the payment of backwages.24
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the National Labor Relations Commission, dated November 29, 1996 and the Resolution, dated February 20, 1997 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the Decision of the Labor Arbiter, dated May 15, 1996 REINSTATED.
Puno, Pardo, and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.
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