Supreme Court E-Library
Information At Your Fingertips


  View printer friendly version

587 Phil. 680

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 165153, September 23, 2008 ]

CARLOS C. DE CASTRO, PETITIONER, VS. LIBERTY BROADCASTING NETWORK, INC. AND EDGARDO QUIOGUE, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

BRION, J.:

Before us is the Petition for Review on Certiorari[1] filed by petitioner Carlos C. de Castro (petitioner) to annul, reverse and/or set aside the Decision[2] dated May 25, 2004 and the Resolution[3] dated August 30, 2004 of the Former Special Third Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 79207 entitled "Liberty Broadcasting Network, Inc. and Edgardo B. Quiogue v. National Labor Relations Commission and Carlos C. de Castro."

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts of the case as gathered from the records are briefly summarized below.

The petitioner commenced his employment with respondent Liberty Broadcasting Network, Inc. (respondent company) as Building Administrator on August 7, 1995. On May 16, 1996, the respondent company, through its HRM Senior Manager (Personnel Manager) Bernard Mandap, sent a notice to the petitioner requiring him to explain within forty-eight (48) hours why he should not be made liable for violation of the Company Code of Conduct for acts constituting serious misconduct, fraud and willful breach of the trust reposed in him as a managerial employee.[4]

In his answer, the petitioner denied the allegations against him contained in the affidavits of respondents' witnesses, Vicente Niguidula (Niguidula) and Gil Balais (Balais).[5] The petitioner labeled all of the respondents' accusations as completely baseless and sham, designed to protect Niguidula and Balais who were the favorite boys of respondent Edgardo Quiogue (Quiogue), the Executive Vice President of the respondent company. At the petitioner's request, the respondent company scheduled a formal hearing at 2:00 p.m. of May 28, 1996. However, the petitioner sent a notice that he would not participate when he learned through his wife that criminal cases for estafa and qualified theft had been filed against him at the Makati Prosecutor's Office. He felt that the hearing was a "moro-moro" investigation. On May 24, 1996, the respondent company further charged the petitioner with "Violation of Company Code of Conduct," based on the affidavits of Balais, Cristino Samarita (Samarita), and Jose Aying (Aying).[6]

On May 31, 1996, the respondent company issued a Notice of Dismissal to the petitioner based on the following grounds: [7]
  1. Soliciting and/or receiving money for his own benefit from suppliers/dealers/traders Aying and Samarita, representing "commissions" for job contracts involving the repair, reconditioning and replacement of parts of the airconditioning units at the company's Antipolo Station, as well as the installation of fire exits at the Technology Centre;

  2. Diversion of company funds by soliciting and receiving on different occasions a total of P14,000.00 in "commissions" from Aying for a job contract in the company's Antipolo Station;

  3. Theft of company property involving the unauthorized removal of one gallon of Delo oil from the company storage room;

  4. Disrespect/discourtesy towards a co-employee, for using offensive language against Niguidula;

  5. Disorderly behavior, for challenging Niguidula to a fight during working hours within company premises, thereby creating a disturbance that interrupted the normal flow of activities in the company;

  6. Threat and coercion, for threatening to inflict bodily harm on the person of Niguidula and for coercing Balais, a subordinate, into soliciting money in his (the petitioner's) behalf from suppliers/contractors;

  7. Abuse of authority, for instructing Balais to collect commissions from Aying and Samarita, and for requiring Raul Pacaldo (Pacaldo) to exact 2%-5% of the price of the contracts awarded to suppliers; and

  8. Slander, for uttering libelous statements against Niguidula.
The petitioner filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against the respondents with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Arbitration Branch in the National Capital Region. At the arbitration, he denied committing the offenses charged. He maintained that: he could not encourage solicitation of commissions from suppliers considering that he was quite new in the company; the accusations are belated because the imputed acts happened in 1995; the one gallon of Delo oil he allegedly carted away was at the room of Balais at the time, which circumstance he immediately relayed to Mandap; the affidavits of Niguidula and Balais are not reliable because he had altercations with them; in the first week of May 1996, he reprimanded Balais for incurring unnecessary overtime work, which Balais resented; on May 9, 1996, Niguidula verbally assaulted and challenged him to a fight, which he reported to respondent Quiogue and to the Makati Police. Attached to the petitioner's position paper were the affidavits[8] of Aying and Ronalisa O. Rosana, a telephone operator of the company.

On April 30, 1999, Labor Arbiter Felipe Pati rendered a Decision in the petitioner's favor, holding the respondent company liable for illegal dismissal.[9] Arbiter Pati disbelieved the affidavits of Niguidula, Balais, Pacaldo, Samarita, and Aying in view of the circumstances prior to their execution. The Arbiter noted that Niguidula and Balais had altercations with petitioner prior to the issuance of the notice of violation to the latter; the affidavit of Samarita showed that it was not petitioner who personally asked commission from him but Balais; Aying's credibility had been placed in serious doubt because he recanted his previous affidavit and issued another stating that the petitioner did not actually ask commission from him; and Pacaldo's affidavit should not also be believed because he was a subordinate of Niguidula who had an ax to grind against the petitioner.

On appeal, the NLRC reversed the Labor Arbiter's decision and adopted the findings of Labor Arbiter Tamayo who had reviewed the appeal on the NLRC's instructions.[10] It ruled that Arbiter Pati erred in disregarding the affidavits of the respondents' witnesses.

The petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which the NLRC granted in a Resolution promulgated on September 20, 2002.[11] The NLRC held that the charges against petitioner "were never really substantiated other than by the `bare allegations' in the affidavits of witnesses" who were the company's employees and who had altercations with petitioner prior to the execution of their affidavits.

The NLRC turned down the motion for reconsideration that the respondent company subsequently filed.[12] The respondent company thus elevated the case to the CA via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The CA granted the petition in its Decision promulgated on May 25, 2004,[13] thereby effectively confirming the validity of the petitioner's dismissal. The appellate court found that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion when it disregarded the affidavits of all the respondents' witnesses, particularly those of Balais, Samarita, Niguidula, and Pacaldo who were one in saying that the petitioner demanded commissions from the company's job contractors. The CA observed that it could not have been possible that Balais and Niguidula (who had previous altercations with the petitioner), and Samarita (who did not previously know Quiogue) all committed perjury to execute respondent Quiogue's scheme of removing the petitioner from the company.

The petitioner moved but failed to secure a reconsideration of the CA Decision; hence, he came to us through the present petition.

THE PETITION

The petitioner submits that the CA erred when it acted as a trial court and interfered without sufficient basis with the NLRC's findings. Citing our ruling in Cosmos Bottling Corporation v. NLRC, et al.,[14] he points out that factual findings of the NLRC, particularly when they coincide with those of the Labor Arbiter, are accorded respect and finality and should not be disturbed if they are supported by substantial evidence.

The petitioner points out, too, that Rule 65 of the Rules of Court finds full application only when an administrative tribunal has acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of or in excess of jurisdiction, or when such finding is not supported by the evidence. He argues that the respondent company failed to raise any jurisdictional question of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion before the CA. What the respondent company effectively sought from the CA, citing our ruling in Flores v. NLRC,[15] was a judicial re-evaluation of the adequacy or inadequacy of the evidence on record - an improper exercise of power outside the scope of the extraordinary writ of certiorari.

The petitioner further argues that the CA erred when it substituted its judgment for that of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC who were the "triers of facts" who had the opportunity to review the evidence extensively.

The petitioner theorizes that his termination from employment was a hatchet job maliciously concocted by the respondents, with Quiogue at the helm. He had offended Quiogue when he questioned the latter's award of the fire exit contract to Samarita; as a result, Quiogue fabricated charges against him, using his underlings Niguidula and Balais. He particularly questions the charge that he conspired with his fellow managers (such as Niguidula, Pacaldo and even Personnel Manager Mandap) in December 1995, and asks why his investigation and the supporting evidence came only in May 1996.

The petitioner likewise cites Aying's change of statement as evidence that the respondents' charges have been concoctions. He belies that he slandered and challenged Niguidula to a fight; it was in fact Niguidula who had defamed him. He stresses that he complained in writing to respondent Quiogue about the incident immediately after it happened, copy furnished B. P. Mandap, F. A. Domingo and R. M. Moreno, the Personnel Manager, Head of Human Relations and President of the company, respectively. He likewise reported the matter to the police and to the barangay covering the workplace, and lodged a complaint for grave oral defamation against Niguidula before the Makati Prosecutor's Office. His co-employee, Ronalisa Rosana, corroborated all these allegations. He points out that Niguidula never reported the incident to Quiogue or to anyone for that matter, thus, proving the falsity of his (Niguidula's) complaint.

Finally, the petitioner draws attention to Quiogue's failure to act on his complaint against Niguidula, only to resurrect it under the Notice of Violation served on him on May 16, 1996.[16] This time, however, Niguidula was already the victim. As to the notice of violation itself, the petitioner laments that although he was given 48 hours to explain, Quiogue, in bad faith, immediately filed complaints for estafa and qualified theft against him. Mandap even went to his residence and warned his wife not to file charges against the company, or else, Quiogue would file cases against him in the regular courts.

THE CASE FOR THE RESPONDENTS

The respondents submit that the CA correctly ruled as the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion when it flip-flopped in its factual findings. They further stress that the positive testimonies of Balais, Pacaldo, and Samarita should be given credence over the negative testimony of the petitioner. Even granting that the testimony of Niguidula was tainted with malice and bad faith, the affidavit of Balais should stand because no evidence supports the petitioner's claim that Balais also had altercations with him before he (Balais) executed his two affidavits.

With respect to the testimony of Samarita, the respondents point out that Samarita stated in no uncertain terms that he was forced to increase his quotation for the construction of the company fire exits from P70,091.00 to P87,000.00 because the petitioner had asked for commissions. The petitioner failed to rebut this. They brush aside the insinuation that Samarita and Pacaldo suffer from bias as the petitioner failed to show by evidence that their personal interests led them to favor the company.

The respondents lastly maintain that petitioner's claim - that Quiogue orchestrated the petitioner's dismissal after he (the petitioner) questioned Quiogue's award of a contract to Samarita Enterprises for a questionable price - is not supported by evidence. They reiterate the gravity of the charges the petitioner faces; they constitute serious misconduct and fraud or willful breach of trust reposed in him by his employer and are just causes for termination of employment under Article 282 of the Labor Code, as well as serious breaches of company rules and the trust reposed in him by the respondent company.

OUR RULING

As a rule, and as recently held in Rudy A. Palecpec, Jr. v. Hon. Corazon C. Davis, et al.[17] (a 2007 case), this Court is not a trier of facts and can review a Rule 45 petition only on questions of law. We wade, however, into questions of facts when there are substantial conflicts in the factual findings of the CA, on the one hand, and the trial court or government agency concerned, on the other. This is precisely the situation that we have before us since the NLRC and the CA have diametrically opposed factual findings leading to differing conclusions. Hence, we are left with no option but to undertake a review of the facts in this Rule 45 case.

We find the petition meritorious. To our mind, the CA erred in the appreciation of the evidence surrounding petitioner's termination from employment. The cited grounds are at best doubtful under the proven surrounding circumstances, and should have been interpreted in the petitioner's favor pursuant to Article 4 of the Labor Code.

1. The petitioner had not stayed long in the company and had not even passed his probationary period when the acts charged allegedly took place.[18] This fact carries several significant implications. First, being new, his natural motivation was to make an early positive impression on his employer. Thus, it is believable that as building administrator, he diligently, zealously, and faithfully performed his tasks, working in excess of eight hours per day to maintain the company buildings and facilities in excellent shape; he even lent the company his personal tools and equipment to facilitate urgent repairs and maintenance work on company properties.[19] Second, because of his natural motivation as a new employee and his lack of awareness of the dynamics of relationships within the company, he must have been telling the truth when he said that he objected to the way the contract for the installation of fire escapes was awarded to Samarita. Third, his being new somehow rendered doubtful the charge that he had already encouraged solicitation of commission from suppliers, especially if considered with the timing of the charges against him and the turnaround of witness Aying's testimony.

2. The relationships within the company at the time the charges were filed showed that he was a stranger who might not have known the dynamics of company inter-relationships and might have stepped on the wrong toes in the course of performing his duties.

Respondent Quiogue was the Executive Vice-President of the company,[20] a very powerful official with a lot of say in company operations. Since Samarita was doing the fabrication of steel balusters for Quiogue's home in New Manila, Quezon City,[21] there is a lot of hidden dynamics in their relationship and it is not surprising that Samarita testified against the petitioner. Both Samarita and Quioque have motives to resent the petitioner's comments about the irregular award of a contract to Samarita.

Mandap, as Personnel Manager, is a subordinate of Quiogue. The proposal to secure commissions from company suppliers reportedly took place in a very public gathering - a drinking session - in his house. Why Mandap did not take immediate action when he knew of the alleged plan as early as December 1995 was never explained although the petitioner raised the issue squarely.[22] The time gap - from December 1995 to May 1996 - is an incredibly long time under the evidence available and can be accounted for only by the fact that there was no intention to terminate the services of the petitioner in December; the motivation and the scheme to do this came only sometime in April - May 1996 as the discussions below will show.

Niguidula, as Purchasing Manager, occupies a position that deals with supplies and suppliers. He, not the petitioner, is one who might be expected to be in the middle of all the actions regarding supply deals. He would not welcome a new and over-zealous building administrator since the building facilities generate the need for supplies and the building administrator is the end-user who can see how supplies are procured and used. It is significant that Niguidula and the petitioner had a dispute regarding the accounting of company items and had a near-fight that "interrupted the normal flow of activities in the company."[23]

Pacaldo, a Purchasing Officer and a subordinate of Niguidula, under usual conditions would side with Niguidula. He and Niguidula, not the petitioner, occupy the positions critical in the purchase of supplies for the company and were the people who could exact commissions from suppliers.

Balais is an air-con maintenance man whom petitioner reprimanded for unauthorized overtime work on an air-conditioning unit; for failure to monitor a newly overhauled compressor unit contrary to standard practice; and for over-pricing his purchases; and thus, Balais had every reason to testify against the petitioner.[24]

As already mentioned, Aying - the contractor who had earlier testified against the petitioner - recanted his earlier statement that petitioner asked for commissions from him.[25] Aying, in his second statement, exonerated the petitioner.[26] This turnaround by itself is significant, more so if considered with other circumstances,[27] particularly the possibility that the charges might have been orchestrated owing to the confluence of the people who were allied against the petitioner, their respective motivations and the timing of events.

3. The timing of the filing of charges was, as the petitioner pointed out, unusual. Indeed, if the proposal to solicit commissions had transpired in December, the charges were quite late when they came in May. Interestingly, it was in April 1996 that the petitioner questioned the soundness of respondent Quiogue's decision to award the fabrication and installation of six (6) units of fire escape to Samarita Enterprises without observing company procedure of requiring at least three quotations from suppliers and contractors.[28] The petitioner reprimanded air-con maintenance man Balais sometime in the first week of May 1996 for unnecessary overtime work and the two had a verbal altercation, an incident that the petitioner reported to Quiogue.[29] On May 9, 1996, petitioner also had an altercation with Niguidula, the company's Purchasing Manager, who verbally assaulted, slandered, and challenged him to a fight, another incident which he likewise reported to Quiogue and to the Makati Police.[30] All these strangely coincided with the time the charges were filed. The respondents never successfully accounted for the coincidences.

All these considerations, to our mind, render the cited causes for the petitioner's dismissal tenuous as the evidence supporting these grounds come from highly suspect sources: they come either from people who harbor resentment against the petitioner; those whose positions have inherent conflict points with that of the petitioner; or from people with business dealings with the company. Thus, it was not surprising for the NLRC to observe:
From the above, the Commission believes that the Motion for Reconsideration should be granted. Respondents' charges against complainant were never substantiated by any evidence other than the barefaced allegations in the affidavits of respondents' witnesses who are employees of the company and who had an altercation with complainant prior to the execution of their affidavits and charges. The other witnesses are contractors having business deals with respondent company and in fact, Jose Aying has made a turn around and denied the complainant has been asking commission from him.
Under the circumstances, we join the NLRC in concluding that the employer failed to prove a just cause for the termination of the petitioner's employment - a burden the company, as employer, carries under the Labor
Code[31] - and the CA erred when it saw grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC's ruling. The evidentiary situation, at the very least, brings to the fore the dictum we stated in Prangan v. NLRC[32] and in Ni cario v. NLRC[33] 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. It is a time-honored rule in controversies between a laborer and his master, doubts reasonably arising from the evidence, or in the interpretation of agreements and writing should be resolved in the former's favor."

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we hereby GRANT the petition. Accordingly, we REVERSE and SET ASIDE the Decision and Resolution of the CA promulgated on May 25, 2004 and August 30, 2004, respectively, and REINSTATE in all respects the Resolution of the National Labor Relations Commission dated September 20, 2002. Costs against the respondents.

SO ORDERED.

Quisumbing, (Chairperson), Carpio Morales, Tinga, and Velasco, Jr., JJ., Concur.



[1] Filed under Rule 45 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure.

[2] Penned by Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando, with Associate Justice Mario L. GuariƱa III and Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, concurring; rollo, pp. 190-199.

[3] Id., pp. 200-201.

[4] Id., p. 147.

[5] Id. , pp. 75-79.

[6] Id. , p. 149.

[7] Id. , pp. 150-151.

[8] Id. , pp. 152-155.

[9] Id. , pp. 46-55.

[10] Id. , pp. 56-72.

[11] Id. , pp. 73-85.

[12] Id. , p. 86.

[13] Supra note 2.

[14] G.R. No. 146397, July 1, 2003, 405 SCRA 258.

[15] G.R. No. 116419, February 9, 1996, 253 SCRA 494.

[16] Supra note 4.

[17] G.R. No.171048, July 31, 2007, 528 SCRA 720.

[18] Rollo, p. 16.

[19] Id., p. 270.

[20] Id. , p. 115.

[21] Id. , p. 181.

[22] Id. , p. 180.

[23] Id. , p. 152.

[24] Id. , pp. 178-179.

[25] Id. , p. 141.

[26] Id, p. 154.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Id. , p. 181.

[29] Supra note 21.

[30] Ibid.

[31] THE LABOR CODE, Article 277(a):

"x x x The burden of proving that the termination was for a valid or just cause shall rest on the employer x x x."

[32] G.R. No. 126529, April 15, 1998, 289 SCRA 142.

[33] G.R. No. 125340, September 17, 1998, 295 SCRA 619.

© Supreme Court E-Library 2019
This website was designed and developed, and is maintained, by the E-Library Technical Staff in collaboration with the Management Information Systems Office.