Areno v. Skycable (G.R. No. 180302; February 5, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: JIMMY ARENO, JR., Petitioner, vs. SKYCABLE PCC-BAGUIO, Respondent. (G.R. No. 180302; February 5, 2010)

On January 17, 1995, petitioner was employed as a cable technician by respondent Skycable PCC-Baguio. On January 17, 2002, an accounting clerk of respondent, Hyacinth Soriano (Soriano), sent to the human resource manager a letter-complaint against petitioner alleging that on two separate occasions, the latter spread false rumors about her (the first in the middle of 2001 and the second on December 22, 2001).On January 27, 2002, she was again insulted by petitioner when the latter approached her and said that she was seen going out with Aldrin Estrada, their field service supervisor, at Central Park, Baguio City. During that incident, petitioner uttered, Ikaw lang ang nakakaalam ng totoo with malicious intent and in a provocative manner. Soriano averred that petitioners unscrupulous behavior constituted serious and grave offense in violation of the companys Code of Discipline.On the same day, respondent issued a Memorandum requiring petitioner to submit an explanation within 76 hours from notice thereof. Petitioner submitted his written explanation dated January 23, 2002 denying all the allegations in Sorianos letter-complaint and further denying having uttered the statement imputed on him.

An administrative investigation was accordingly conducted on January 31, 2002. In a Memo dated February 6, 2002, the investigating committee found petitioner guilty of having made malicious statements against Soriano during the January 7, 2002 conversation, which is categorized as an offense under the Company Code of Discipline. Consequently, petitioner was suspended for three days without pay effective February 13-15, 2002. The Memo was allegedly served on February 7, 2002 but petitioner refused to sign it.

Notwithstanding the suspension order, however, petitioner still reported for work on February 13, 2002. By reason thereof, respondent sent petitioner a letter denominated as 1st Notice of Termination requiring him to explain in writing why he should not be terminated for insubordination. On February 18, 2002, petitioner inquired from respondent whether he is already dismissed or merely suspended since he was refused entry into the company premises on February 14, 2002. Respondent replied that petitioner was merely suspended and gave him additional time to tender his written explanation to the 1st Notice of Termination.

Anent the new charge of insubordination, petitioner submitted to respondent his written explanation averring that he still reported for work on the first day of his suspension because the accusation of Soriano is baseless and her testimony is hearsay. Besides, according to petitioner, he did not defy any order related to his duties, no representative of the management prevented him from working and that reporting to work without being paid for the service he rendered on that day did not in any way affect the companys productivity.

On March 15, 2002, an investigation on the insubordination case was conducted which was attended by the parties and their respective counsels. Through a Final Notice of Termination dated April 1, 2002, petitioner was dismissed from service on the ground of insubordination or willful disobedience in complying with the suspension order.

On April 5, 2002, petitioner filed a complaint before the Arbitration Branch of the NLRC against respondent assailing the legality of his suspension and eventual dismissal. He claimed that his suspension and dismissal were effected without any basis, and that he was denied his right to due process.

The Labor Arbiter rendered a Decision dismissing petitioners complaint for lack of merit.

Petitioner appealed to the NLRC, which, in a Decision dated July 22, 2005 found his suspension and dismissal illegal.

Respondent moved for reconsideration. Petitioner, for his part, filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration with respect to the limited award of backwages and to claim payment of attorneys fees and damages as well.

The NLRC reconsidered its earlier Decision and reinstated the Labor Arbiters Decision dismissing the complaint.

Aggrieved, petitioner filed with the CA a petition for certiorari. On May 28, 2007, the CA affirmed the findings of the NLRC. The motion for reconsideration was likewise denied.

ISSUE: Did the CA err in ruling that his suspension was valid despite the fact that the testimony of Soriano is hearsay?

HELD: The CA did not err in admitting the comment of respondent despite its late filing (Section 6, rule 65 of the rules of court).

Petitioner argues that the CA erred in admitting respondents Comment to petitioners Motion for Reconsideration which was filed 19 days late.

A close scrutiny of Section 6, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, which grants discretionary authority to the CA in ordering parties to file responsive and other pleadings in petitions for certiorari filed before it, will reveal that such rule is merely directory in nature. This is so because the word may employed by the rule shows that it is not mandatory but discretionary on the part of the CA to require the filing of pleadings which it deems necessary to assist it in resolving the controversies. In the same way, the admission of any responsive pleading filed by party-litigants is a matter that rests largely on the sound discretion of the court. At any rate, rules of procedure may be relaxed in the interest of substantial justice and in order to afford litigants maximum opportunity for the proper and just determination of their causes.Strict adherence to technical adjective rules should never be unexceptionally required because a contrary precept would result in a failure to decide cases on their merits. The CA could not have erred in admitting the comment, albeit filed late, when it viewed that the interest of justice would be better served by the policy of liberality.

CA stated legal basis for denying petitioners motion for reconsideration.

Petitioner next alleges that the CA denied reconsideration without indicating its legal basis in violation of the mandate of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution, which provides that no petition for review or motion for reconsideration of a decision of the court shall be refused due course or denied without stating the legal basis therefor. This requirement, however, was complied with in the instant case, when the CA, in its resolution denying petitioners motion for reconsideration, stated that it found no cogent reason to modify, much less reverse itself.

Suspension was validly meted out by respondent on petitioner.

Going now to the merits of the case, the 3-day suspension of petitioner is not tainted with substantive or procedural infirmities. For one, petitioners insistent claim that his suspension was predicated on hearsay testimony deserves scant consideration.

The NLRC initially ruled that Sorianos testimony during the investigation on the alleged act of petitioner in spreading rumors is hearsay.Nevertheless, it reversed itself by holding that while Soriano stated that her allegation with regard to the first two instances that petitioner was spreading false information about her is based on what she heard from other people, her narration of the third instance relating to what has transpired during their January 7, 2002 conversation is not hearsay.

The CA and NLRC are in agreement with this finding and since both are supported by evidence on record, the same must be accorded due respect and finality.

Petitioner still contends that the testimonies elicited during the investigative hearing were not made under oath, that the record of the proceeding is not admissible for being unsigned, and that he was not given a chance to confront his accuser, thus, invoking denial of due process.

In this case, petitioner was asked to explain and was informed of the complaint against him. A committee was formed which conducted an investigation on January 31, 2002 by exhaustively examining and questioning both petitioner and his accuser, Soriano, separately. Petitioner actively participated therein by answering the questions interposed by the panel members. The proceeding was recorded, and the correctness of which was certified by respondent thru its Regional Manager, Raul Bandonill. Undoubtedly, petitioner was given enough opportunity to be heard and defend himself. It has already been held that the essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, a formal or trial-type hearing is not essential as the due process requirement is satisfied where the parties are afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their side.

The decision to suspend petitioner was rendered after investigation and a finding by respondent that petitioner has indeed made malicious statements against a co-employee. The suspension was imposed due to a repeated infraction within a deactivation period set by the company relating to a previous similar offense committed. It is axiomatic that appropriate disciplinary sanction is within the purview of management imposition. What should not be overlooked is the prerogative of an employer company to prescribe reasonable rules and regulations necessary for the proper conduct of its business and to provide certain disciplinary measures in order to implement said rules to assure that the same would be complied with. Respondent then acted within its rights as an employer when it decided to exercise its management prerogative to impose disciplinary measure on its erring employee.

Petitioner was validly dismissed on the ground of willful disobedience in refusing to comply with the suspension order.

The CA refused to give credence to petitioners assertion of having no knowledge of the suspension because he refused to receive the suspension order preferring that it be sent by registered mail. The appellate court affirmed the factual finding of the NLRC that petitioner was definitely aware of his suspension but only feigned ignorance of the same. As a rule, we refrain from reviewing factual assessments of agencies exercising adjudicative functions. Factual findings of administrative agencies that are affirmed by the CA are conclusive on the parties and not reviewable by this Court so long as these findings are supported by substantial evidence.

Anyhow, evidence on record repudiates petitioners pretension. His insistence that he had no notice of his suspension is belied by evidence as it shows that the suspension order was served on petitioner on February 7, 2002 by his immediate superior, Al Luzano, but petitioner declined to sign it. No acceptable reason was advanced for doing so except petitioners shallow excuse that it should be sent to him by registered mail.

Petitioner also challenges the validity of the suspension order for being unsigned. The same has no merit. Upon careful examination, it appears that the contention was raised for the first time in petitioners motion for reconsideration of the Decision of the CA. In Arceno v. Government Service Insurance System, the hornbook principle that new issues cannot be raised for the first time on appeal was reiterated.We emphasized therein that the rule is based on principles of fairness and due process and is applicable to appealed decisions originating from regular courts, administrative agencies or quasi-judicial bodies, whether rendered in a civil case, a special proceeding or a criminal case, citing the case of Tan v. Commission on Elections.Even assuming that it was raised, the same would be without merit because the suspension order bears the signature of respondents engineering manager and petitioners immediate superior, Al Luzano, who, in fact, is a member of the panel committee that conducted an investigation on the complaint of Soriano against petitioner.

One of the just causes for dismissal of an employee under art. 282 is willful disobedience.

As a just cause for dismissal of an employee under Article 282 of the Labor Code, willful disobedience of the employers lawful orders requires the concurrence of two elements: (1) the employees assailed conduct must have been willful, i.e., characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged to discharge. Both requisites are present in the instant case. It is noteworthy that upon receipt of the notice of suspension, petitioner did not question such order at the first instance. He immediately defied the order by reporting on the first day of his suspension. Deliberate disregard or disobedience of rules by the employee cannot be countenanced. It may encourage him to do even worse and will render a mockery of the rules of discipline that employees are required to observe.

Petitioner was served the first notice of termination and was given time to submit his written explanation. A hearing was conducted wherein both parties with their respective counsels were present. After finding cause for petitioners termination, a final notice apprising him of the decision to terminate his employment was served. All things considered, respondent validly dismissed petitioner for cause after complying with the procedural requirements of the law. DENIED.