Caong, et. al. v. Regualos

G.R. No. 179428, January 26, 2011




Petitioners Caong, Tresquio and Daluyon were employed as jeepney drivers by Respondent Regualos under a boundary agreement. They filed separate complaints for illegal dismissal against Regualos who barred them from driving the jeepneys due to deficiencies in their boundary payments. However, Regualos told them that they could resume their use of the vehicles after they pay their arrears.

Regualos alleged that the petitioners were lessees of his vehicles and not his employees. Thus, the Labor Arbiter had no jurisdiction. The Labor Arbiter ruled that there was an employer-employee relationship between Regualos and the petitioners and that there was no dismissal because they would be allowed to use the vehicles once they pay their arrears. A reasonable sanction was deemed to be an appropriate penalty.

Petitioners appealed the decision to the NLRC, which agreed with the Labor Arbiter. The CA also affirmed. It ruled that the employer-employee relationship of the parties was not severed but merely suspended because Regualos refused to allow petitioners to drive the jeepneys when they failed to pay their obligations.

ISSUE: Whether the petitioners were illegally dismissed.

HELD: The petition is unmeritorious.

LABOR LAW - Employer-employee relationships

It is already settled that the relationship between jeepney owners/operators and jeepney drivers under the boundary system is that of employer-employee and not of lessor-lessee. The fact that the drivers do not receive fixed wages but only get the amount in excess of the so-called "boundary" that they pay to the owner/operator is not sufficient to negate the relationship between them as employer and employee.

The Labor Arbiter, the NLRC, and the CA uniformly declared that petitioners were not dismissed from employment but merely suspended pending payment of their arrears. Findings of fact of the CA, particularly where they are in absolute agreement with those of the NLRC and the Labor Arbiter, are accorded not only respect but even finality, and are deemed binding upon this Court so long as they are supported by substantial evidence.

We have no reason to deviate from such findings. Indeed, petitioners suspension cannot be categorized as dismissal, considering that there was no intent on the part of respondent to sever the employer-employee relationship between him and petitioners. In fact, it was made clear that petitioners could put an end to the suspension if they only pay their recent arrears. As it was, the suspension dragged on for years because of petitioners stubborn refusal to pay. It would have been different if petitioners complied with the condition and respondent still refused to readmit them to work. Then there would have been a clear act of dismissal. But such was not the case. Instead of paying, petitioners even filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against respondent.

Petition is DENIED.