Case Digest: D.M. Consunji v. Bello

G.R. No. 159371: July 29, 2013




Bello brought a complaint for illegal dismissal and damages against DMCI and/or Rachel Consunji. In his position paper, he claimed that DMCI had employed him as a mason without any interruption from February 1, 1990 until October 10, 1997. He alleged that he had been a very diligent and devoted worker and had served DMCI as best as he could and without any complaints. He had never violated any company rules and that his job as a mason had been necessary and desirable in the usual business or trade of DMCI.

Bello had been diagnosed to be suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, thereby necessitating his leave of absence. Upon his recovery, he had reported back to work, but DMCI had refused to accept him and had instead handed to him a termination paper, stating that he had been terminated due to "RSD" effective November 5, 1997

Bello did not know the meaning of "RSD" as the cause of his termination and that such cause had not been explained to him. He also claims that he had not been given prior notice of his termination and he had not been paid separation pay as mandated by law. At the time of his dismissal, DMCIs projects had not yet been completed and that even if he had been terminated due to an authorized cause, he should have been given at least one month pay or at least one-half month pay for every year of service he had rendered, whichever was higher.

DMCI contended that Bello had only been a project employee, as borne out by his contract of employment and appointment papers and that although his last project employment contract had been set to expire on October 7, 1997, he had tendered his voluntary resignation on October 4, 1997 for health reasons that had rendered him incapable of performing his job, per his resignation letter.

The LA ruled that Bello has been illegally dismissed. The NLRC reversed the LA decision. On appeal, the CA reversed the NLRC decision and ruled that Bello had already acquired the status of a regular employee although he was only a project employee. Petitioner sought for reconsideration but the same was denied. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not Bello is a regular employee and he voluntarily resigned

HELD: CA decision affirmed

Labor Law- regularization of a project employee

In the context of the law, Bello was a project employee of DMCI at the beginning of their employer-employee relationship. The project employment contract they then entered into clearly gave notice to him at the time of his engagement about his employment being for a specific project or phase of work. He was also thereby notified of the duration of the project, and the determinable completion date of the project.

However, the history of Bellos appointment and employment showed that he performed his tasks as a mason in DMCIs various constructions projects. The work of a mason like him a skilled workman working with stone or similar material was really related to building or constructing, and was undoubtedly a function necessary and desirable to the business or trade of one engaged in the construction industry like DMCI. His being hired as a mason by DMCI in not one, but several of its projects revealed his necessity and desirability to its construction business.

It is settled that the extension of the employment of a project employee long after the supposed project has been completed removes the employee from the scope of a project employee and makes him a regular employee. In this regard, the length of time of the employees service, while not a controlling determinant of project employment, is a strong factor in determining whether he was hired for a specific undertaking or in fact tasked to perform functions vital, necessary and indispensable to the usual business or trade of the employer.

Labor Law- An employer must prove that the resignation was voluntary, and its evidence thereon must be clear, positive and convincing. The employer cannot rely on the weakness of the employee's evidence.

DMCI claims that Bello voluntarily resigned from work. It presented his supposed handwritten resignation letter to support the claim. However, Bello denied having resigned, explaining that he had signed the letter because DMCI had made him believe that the letter was for the purpose of extending his sick leave.

In resolving the matter against DMCI, the CA relied on the conclusion by ELA Panganiban-Ortiguerra that she could not give credence to the voluntary resignation for health reasons in the face of Bellos declaration that he had been led to sign the letter to obtain the extension of his leave of absence due to illness, and on her observation that "the handwriting in the supposed resignation letter is undeniably different from that of complainant," something that she said DMCI had not rebutted.

The CAs reliance on the conclusion and finding by ELA Panganiban-Ortiguerra was warranted. Her observation that the handwriting in the resignation letter was "undeniably different" from that of Bello could not be ignored or shunted aside simply because she had no expertise to make such a determination, as the NLRC tersely stated in its decision. To begin with, her supposed lack of expertise did not appear in the records, rendering the NLRC's statement speculative and whimsical. If we were now to outrightly discount her competence to make that observation, we would disturb the time-honored practice of according respect to the findings of the first-line trier of facts in order to prefer the speculative and whimsical statement of an appellate forum like the NLRC. Yet, even had the letter been actually signed by him, the voluntariness of the resignation could not be assumed from such fact alone.

His claim that he had been led to believe that the letter would serve only as the means of extending his sick leave from work should have alerted DMCI to the task of proving the voluntariness of the resignation. It was obvious that, if his claim was true, then he did not fully comprehend the import of the letter, rendering the resignation farcical. The doubt would then be justifiably raised against the letter being at all intended to end his employment. Under the circumstances, DMCI became burdened with the obligation to prove the due execution and genuineness of the document as a letter of resignation.

It is axiomatic in labor law that the employer who interposes the defense of voluntary resignation of the employee in an illegal dismissal case must prove by clear, positive and convincing evidence that the resignation was voluntary; and that the employer cannot rely on the weakness of the defense of the employee. The requirement rests on the need to resolve any doubt in favor of the working man.