PNOC-Energy v. Estrella (G.R. No. 197789; July 8, 2013)


CASE DIGEST: PNOC-ENERGY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION AND/OR PAUL A. AQUINO, FRANCIS A. PALAFOX, Petitioners, v. JOSELITO L. ESTRELLA, Respondent.

FACTS: PNOC-Energy Development Corporation (PNOC-EDC), then a government-owned and controlled corporation engaged in the exploration and utilization of renewable energy resources. Respondent Estrella was a Senior Logistics Assistant, her duties included initiating and handling the terms and conditions for the bidding of heavy and support equipment rentals for PNOC-EDCs project locations, and evaluating and recommending bid contracts for management approval.

Estrella carried out an inspection on May 13, 2004 wherein JR Car Services, owned by Dumaguete-based contractor Remigio Jacobe, qualified as the first priority contractor for the Asian Utility Vehicle (AUV) Category, having offered 3 units for lease at the rental rate of P1,250 per day. The vehicles of JR Services were included in the bid summary for the 2004 Contract.

Jacobe charged Estrella with irregularities in dealing with JR Car Services bid. He alleged that Estrella manipulated the bid tabulation by altering the field copy of the Bid Summary to reflect 1 unit of the qualified bid instead of 3 units.

PNOC-EDCs Senior Manager, petitioner Francis Palafox, formed an audit committee to investigate the charges. The audit committee found that Estrella altered the AUV Catrgory from 3 units to 1 unit. However, in the final copy of the Bid Summary, no alteration were reflected. Estrella was also found to have accepted bids from a certain EGS Enterprises despite non-compliance with the required bid specifications and non-submission of competent proofs of ownership.

An Investigation/Disciplinary Action Committee (Committee) was formed to further probe into the matter. After the investigation, the Committee recommended Estrellas dismissal for willful dishonesty, extortion, grave misconduct and misbehavior, and abuse of authority, on account of his alteration, tampering or manipulation of the Bid Summary as well as his attempt to extort from Jacobe. Estrella was dismissed on July 5, 2005, prompting him to file a complaint for illegal dismissal.

The LA found Estrella to have been illegally dismissed, observing that he did not act with bad faith and malice in the performance of his duties. The NLRC ruled that Estrella did indeed commit infractions but ruled that dismissal was an inappropriate penalty, considering his 21 long years of unblemished service with PNOC-EDC.

ISSUE:

Was Estrella illegally dismissed?
HELD: Article 282(a) of the Labor Code provides that an employer may terminate an employment for serious misconduct or willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work.

Thus, not every form of misconduct can be considered as a just cause for termination. The law explicitly qualifies that the misconduct must be both serious and made in connection with the employees work.

Misconduct involves the transgression of some established and definite rule of action, forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment. For misconduct to be serious and therefore a valid ground for dismissal, it must be (1) of grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant and (2) connected with the work of the employee. (Cosmos Bottling Corp. v. Fermin)

In this relation, it is well to stress that the employer bears the burden of proving, through substantial evidence, that the aforesaid just cause or any other valid cause for that matter forms the basis of the employees dismissal from work. Substantial evidence is the amount of relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds, equally reasonable, might conceivably opine otherwise. As long as this evidentiary threshold is met, the dismissal of the employee should, as a general rule, be upheld.

The Court finds that the CA committed no reversible error when it found no grave abuse of discretion on the part of both the LA and NLRC in ruling that Estrella was illegally dismissed.

DENIED

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