[G.R. NO. 149669 : July 27, 2006]
L.C. ORDOÑEZ CONSTRUCTION, A.C. ORDOÑEZ CONSTRUCTION, L.C. ORDOÑEZ GRAVEL and SAND and TRUCKING, and/or LAMBERTO ORDOÑEZ, Petitioners, v. IMELDA NICDAO, RODRIGO SICAT and ROMEO BAUTISTA, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This resolves the Petition for Review on Certiorari seeking the reversal of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated March 13, 2001 and the CA Resolution dated August 27, 2001 denying petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration thereof.
The antecedent facts, as accurately narrated by the CA in its Decision, are as follows:
Herein respondents then filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA. On March 13, 2001, the CA promulgated its Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:
The CA granted the petition and ruled that respondents are not guilty of abandonment since it was only after the management informed them that their services were no longer needed that they failed to report for work, and the fact that they immediately filed a complaint for illegal dismissal is a clear indication that they had no intention of abandoning their employment. The CA also ruled that with regard to respondents Sicat and Bautista, petitioners failed to give them the required two notices, thus, tainting their termination with illegality. As for petitioners' averment that the dismissal of respondent Nicdao was due to her misappropriation of cash collections amounting to
Petitioners moved for reconsideration of the CA Decision but in its Resolution dated August 27, 2001 the CA denied reconsideration.
Hence, this Petition for Review on Certiorari on the following grounds:
It is emphasized at the outset that the CA committed no error in reviewing the findings of fact of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). In Mayon Hotel & Restaurant v. Adana,5 the Court held thus:
The next question then is, was the CA correct in sustaining the findings of the Labor Arbiter?cralawlibrary
Petitioners first argue that with regard to respondent Nicdao, the CA should have given more credence to the statement of petitioners that Nicdao was employed only in the year 1989 and not in 1985. To support their argument, petitioners point out that Nicdao's claim as to the date of her employment should not be believed as she has lost her credibility when she made inconsistent statements regarding the date of her employment as stated in her Affidavit7 dated January 21, 1994 stating that she was employed in August 1991, as opposed to the date of employment stated as June 1985 in her complaint and position paper.
On this point, the Court rules in favor of petitioner. Indeed, even if petitioners were not able to present any employment records, respondent Nicdao's Affidavit8 dated January 21, 1994 submitted to the Labor Arbiter in support of her complaint for illegal dismissal militates against her for it stated that "I am a regular employee of respondent Ordonez, having been employed on [sic] August 1991, x x x." In Rufina Patis Factory v. Alusitain,9 the Court held that:
In said case, respondent Alusitain was claiming retirement benefits from his employer, alleging that he was employed until 1995. The employer countered that Alusitain was employed only until February 20, 1991, presenting as proof Alusitain's resignation letter dated February 19, 1991, and his Affidavit of Separation from Employment submitted to the Social Security System, stating that he was separated from his last employer on February 20, 1991. The Court held therein that the resignation letter and affidavit are admissions against Alusitain's own interest that belie his claim of retiring on January 31, 1995. Moreover, the Court pointed out that since the Affidavit is a notarial document, it has in its favor the presumption of regularity and to contradict the facts stated therein, there must be evidence that is clear, convincing and more than merely preponderant.11
Applying the foregoing ruling in Rufina to the case at bar, it was incumbent upon Nicdao to present competent evidence that she was indeed employed beginning 1985. The burden of proof rests upon respondent Nicdao since she is the party claiming entitlement to separation pay and other employee benefits computed from 1985. However, Nicdao herself made an admission against her own interest by stating in her affidavit that she was employed only in August 1991. Nicdao did not even present any explanation for the variance between the date of employment stated in her affidavit as against the date stated in her complaint and position paper. Nor has she presented any other evidence to overturn the statement in her own affidavit that she was employed only in August 1991. Having made such an admission against her interest, Nicdao's statement in her affidavit freed petitioners from the burden of presenting evidence, i.e., the employment records, to prove their assertion in their position paper that they only employed Nicdao in May 1989.
Since the Court cannot rely on Nicdao's inconsistent statements as to the date of her employment, the only persuasive evidence on record regarding Nicdao's date of employment is petitioners' admission that they employed her in May 1989. Based on the evidence on record, Nicdao must then be deemed to have been employed by petitioners only in May 1989.
Next, petitioners insist that there is no illegal dismissal in this case because respondents abandoned their employment.
Our guiding principle in resolving the issue of whether or not respondents were illegally dismissed is stated in Litonjua Group of Companies v. Vigan,12 as follows:
The foregoing was further elucidated in Hodieng Concrete Products v. Emilia,14 where the Court held:
Were petitioners able to discharge their burden of proof? The answer is a categorical no.
First, with regard to the case of Nicdao, the Court finds difficulty believing petitioners' allegation that when they confronted Nicdao with discrepancies in the payrolls of employees, she filed a leave of absence and never returned to work. Petitioners reason out that it would have been illogical for them to dismiss Nicdao in February of 1993 because, she being their Secretary-Cashier, petitioners badly needed her services to shed light on the audit being conducted at that time. Petitioners further insist that as a result of the audit, Nicdao was found to have misappropriated the amount of
The glaring lack of convincing evidence on record to support petitioners' allegations, however, makes it impossible for the Court to give any weight to petitioners' version of what supposedly transpired.
If, indeed, the true reason for Nicdao's filing a leave of absence on January 28, 1993 was because she was confronted by Mrs. Ordoñez regarding a report of one Gregorio Lito, a truck driver, that she pocketed some cash sales remitted to her, then why is there no statement on record from said Gregorio Lito? The only truck drivers who submitted a Joint Affidavit16 are Alfredo Angeles, Jr. and Renato Bucud, but they only stated that they received their salaries and money for spare parts from Nicdao and in turn, they also remit their cash collections from customers to Nicdao. Said truck drivers never alluded to any misconduct being committed by Nicdao. Although petitioners presented the Affidavit17 dated July 5, 1993 and the Audit Report18 dated May 19, 1993, both executed by Accountant Gloria De Leon, said documents merely show that the audit was completed in March 1993 and it was in the audit report where the accountant placed on record the supposed anomalies in cash collections.19 Said documents do not show when the audit began or when the supposed anomalies were first discovered. There is, therefore, no evidence on record, except petitioners' bare allegation, to prove that as early as January 28, 1993, petitioners had already received information that Nicdao had misappropriated their funds, and such discovery led them to confront Nicdao. Verily, Nicdao's narration of facts that petitioners became infuriated with her when she questioned petitioners regarding their delayed salaries and non-payment of some benefits and eventually refused to allow her to return to work, is the more credible version of what actually happened.
The Court agrees with the observation of the CA, to wit:
The foregoing circumstances clearly show that petitioners' imputation of anomalous handling of funds against respondent Nicdao is merely a desperate attempt to create some semblance of a just cause for Nicdao's dismissal.
In the case of respondents Bautista and Sicat, petitioners allege that the two merely stopped reporting for work and failed to answer the "show cause letters" sent to them by petitioners. Again, documentary evidence on record shows otherwise. The "show cause" letter21 sent to one of the original complainants, requiring him to explain why he had not been reporting for work since March 4, 1993, was dated April 14, 1993. Note, however, that the complaint for illegal dismissal was filed by respondents way back in February 5, 1993. Moreover, as shown by the Registry Return Receipt22 on record, petitioners had received Summons for the complaint filed against them by respondents as early as February 15, 1993. Why, then, would petitioners still send such a "show cause" letter in April 1993 when they were already aware that respondents are accusing them of illegal termination? Thus, it is quite apparent that the sending of such "show cause" letter was only a belated attempt by petitioners to make it appear that they had complied with the notice requirement for the dismissal of employees.
Once more, petitioners fail to present credible proof of any overt acts on the part of respondents to abandon their employment. Petitioners have not presented any evidence, other than the bare allegations in their pleadings, to support their defense that respondents Sicat and Bautista had abandoned their employment.
In fact, respondents' immediate filing of a complaint for illegal dismissal unambiguously shows that respondents had no intention whatsoever to abandon their employment. Human experience tells us that no employee in his right mind would go through the trouble of filing a case unless the employer had indeed terminated the services of the employee. In Hodieng Concrete Products v. Emilia,23 the Court reiterated the long-standing rule that the filing of the complaint for illegal dismissal negates the allegation of abandonment.
Petitioners' argument that the lack of a prayer for reinstatement in respondents' complaint is a sign that respondents really intended to abandon their employment is tenuous. Respondents sufficiently explained in their complaint that they are no longer seeking reinstatement because of the strained relationship with their employer.
In Mayon Hotel and Restaurant v. Adana,24 the Court emphasized that:
Petitioners having utterly failed to discharge their burden of proving that there was any just cause for dismissing respondents and that they complied with due process requirements, they are clearly liable for illegally dismissing respondents.
IN LIGHT OF THE FOREGOING, the petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated March 13, 2001 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that separation pay and other benefits to which respondent Imelda Nicdao is entitled should be computed only from May 1989, the date of her employment.
Panganiban, C.J., Ynares-Santiago, Callejo, Sr., Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
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