Case Digest: Millennium Erectors v. Magallanes

G.R. No. 184362 : November 15, 2010

MILLENNIUM ERECTORS CORPORATION, Petitioner, v. VIRGILIO MAGALLANES, Respondent.

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

FACTS:

Respondent Virgilio Magallanes started working in 1988 as a utility man for Laurencito Tiu, Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Erectors Corporation, Tius family, and Kenneth Construction Corporation. He was told not to report for work anymore allegedly due to old age, prompting him to file an illegal dismissal complaint before the Labor Arbiter.

In its Position Paper, petitioner claimed that respondent was a project employee whom it hired for a building project in Libis. Respondents services were terminated as the project was nearing completion.

Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of petitioner and dismissed the complaint, holding that respondent knew of the nature of his employment as a project employee.

On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) set aside the Labor Arbiters Decision holding that respondent was a regular, not a project employee.

The NLRC thus concluded that while respondents work as a utility man may not have been necessary or desirable in the usual business of petitioner as a construction company, that he performed the same functions continuously for 16 years converted an otherwise casual employment to regular employment, hence, his termination without just or authorized cause amounted to illegal dismissal.

Petitioner moved for reconsideration of the NLRC decision, contending that respondents motion for reconsideration which it treated as an appeal was not perfected, it having been belatedly filed; that there was no statement of the date of receipt of the appealed decision; and that it lacked verification and copies thereof were not furnished the adverse parties. Petitioners motion was denied.
ISSUE:

Whether or not respondent was illegally dismissed?
HELD:

LABOR LAW

The NLRC did not err in treating respondents motion for reconsideration as an appeal, the presence of some procedural flaws including the lack of verification and proof of service notwithstanding.

In labor cases, rules of procedure should not be applied in a very rigid and technical sense. They are merely tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice, and where their strict application would result in the frustration rather than promotion of substantial justice, technicalities must be avoided. Technicalities should not be permitted to stand in the way of equitably and completely resolving the rights and obligations of the parties. Where the ends of substantial justice shall be better served, the application of technical rules of procedure may be relaxed.

Respecting the lack of verification, Pacquing v. Coca-Cola Philippines, Inc. instructs:

As to the defective verification in the appeal memorandum before the NLRC, the same liberality applies. After all, the requirement regarding verification of a pleading is formal, not jurisdictional. Such requirement is simply a condition affecting the form of pleading, the non-compliance of which does not necessarily render the pleading fatally defective. Verification is simply intended to secure an assurance that the allegations in the pleading are true and correct and not the product of the imagination or a matter of speculation, and that the pleading is filed in good faith. The court or tribunal may order the correction of the pleading if verification is lacking or act on the pleading although it is not verified, if the attending circumstances are such that strict compliance with the rules may be dispensed with in order that the ends of justice may thereby be served.

As for the requirement on proof of service, it may also be dispensed with since in appeals in labor cases, non-service of copy of the appeal or appeal memorandum to the adverse party is not a jurisdictional defect which calls for the dismissal of the appeal.

LABOR LAW

Saberola v. Suarez reiterates the well-settled definition of "project employee," viz:

A project employee is one whose "employment has been fixed for a specific project or undertaking, the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of the engagement of the employee or where the work or service to be performed is seasonal in nature and the employment is for the duration of the season."

And Equipment Technical Services v. Court of Appeals emphasizes the difference between a regular employee and a project employee:

As the Court has consistently held, the service of project employees are coterminus [sic] with the project and may be terminated upon the end or completion of that project or project phase for which they were hired. Regular employees, in contrast, enjoy security of tenure and are entitled to hold on to their work or position until their services are terminated by any of the modes recognized under the Labor Code.

Assuming arguendo that petitioner hired respondent initially on a per project basis, his continued rehiring, as shown by the sample payrolls converted his status to that of a regular employee. Following Cocomangas Beach Hotel Resort v. Visca, the repeated and continuing need for respondents services is sufficient evidence of the necessity, if not indispensability, of his services to petitioner's business and, as a regular employee, he could only be dismissed from employment for a just or authorized cause.

DENIED

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