Case Digest: Lynvil v. Ariola

G.R. No. 181974 : February 1, 2012




Lynvil Fishing Enterprises, Inc. (Lynvil) is a company engaged in deep-sea fishing, operating along the shores of Palawan and other outlying islands of the Philippines. Lynvil received a report from Romanito Clarido, one of its employees, that on 31 July 1998, he witnessed that while on board the company vessel Analyn VIII, Lynvil employees conspired with one another and stole eight (8) tubs of "pampano" and "tangigue" fish and delivered them to another vessel, to the prejudice of Lynvil.

By reason of the report and after initial investigation, Lynvils General Manager Rosendo S. De Borja (De Borja) summoned respondents to explain within five (5) days why they should not be dismissed from service. Failing to explain as required, respondents employment was terminated.

Lynvil, through De Borja, filed a criminal complaint against the dismissed employees for violation of P.D. 532, or the Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974 before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Malabon City. First Assistant City Prosecutor Rosauro Silverio found probable cause for the indictment of the dismissed employees for the crime of qualified theft.

Upon being informed about this, Ariola, Calinao, Nubla and Sebullen went to the Lynvil office. However, they were told that their employments were already terminated. Aggrieved, the employees filed with the Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission-National Capital Region on 25 August 1998 a complaint for illegal dismissal with claims for backwages, salary differential reinstatement, service incentive leave, holiday pay and its premium and 13th month pay from 1996 to1998. They also claimed for moral, exemplary damages and attorneys fees for their dismissal with bad faith.

Labor Arbiter Ramon Valentin C. Reyes found merit in complainants charge of illegal dismissal. NLRC reversed and set aside the Decision of the Labor Arbiter. The private respondents except Elorde Baz filed a Petition for Certiorari before the Court of Appeals alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of NLRC. The Court of Appeals found merit in the petition and reinstated the Decision of the Labor Arbiter except as to the award of attorneys fees. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not the dismissal was illegal


Labor Law

An employer may terminate an employment based on fraud or willful breach of the trust reposed on the employee.

The Labor Code provides that an employer may terminate an employment based on fraud or willful breach of the trust reposed on the employee. Such breach is considered willful if it is done intentionally, knowingly, and purposely, without justifiable excuse, as distinguished from an act done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly or inadvertently. It must also be based on substantial evidence and not on the employers whims or caprices or suspicions otherwise, the employee would eternally remain at the mercy of the employer. Loss of confidence must not be indiscriminately used as a shield by the employer against a claim that the dismissal of an employee was arbitrary. And, in order to constitute a just cause for dismissal, the act complained of must be work-related and shows that the employee concerned is unfit to continue working for the employer.

In addition, loss of confidence as a just cause for termination of employment is premised on the fact that the employee concerned holds a position of responsibility, trust and confidence or that the employee concerned is entrusted with confidence with respect to delicate matters, such as the handling or care and protection of the property and assets of the employer. The betrayal of this trust is the essence of the offense for which an employee is penalized.

Breach of trust is present in this case.

We cannot close our eyes to the positive and clear narration of facts of the three witnesses to the commission of qualified theft. Jonathan Distajo, a crew member of the Analyn VIII, stated in his letter addressed to De Borja dated 8 August 1998, that while the vessel was traversing San Nicolas, Cavite, he saw a small boat approach them. When the boat was next to their vessel, Alcovendas went inside the stockroom while Sebullen pushed an estimated four tubs of fish away from it. Ariola, on the other hand, served as the lookout and negotiator of the transaction.

Finally, Baz and Calinao helped in putting the tubs in the small boat. He further added that he received P800.00 as his share for the transaction. Romanito Clarido, who was also on board the vessel, corroborated the narration of Distajo on all accounts in his 25 August 1998 affidavit. He added that Alcovendas told him to keep silent about what happened on that day. Sealing tight the credibility of the narration of theft is the affidavit executed by Elorde Baz dated 3 May 1999. Baz was one of the dismissed employees who actively participated in the taking of the tubs. He clarified in the affidavit that the four tubs taken out of the stockroom in fact contained fish taken from the eight tubs. He further stated that Ariola told everyone in the vessel not to say anything and instead file a labor case against the management. Clearly, we cannot fault Lynvil and De Borja when it dismissed the employees.