CASE DIGEST: Philippine Veterans vs. NLRC (G.R. No. 188882; March 30, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: PHILIPPINE VETERANS BANK, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION (FOURTH DIVISION) and BENIGNO MARTINEZ, Respondents. G.R. No. 188882; March 30, 2010.

FACTS: Respondent alleged that he was the manager of the petitioners Dumaguete Branch. The respondent claimed that his resignation stemmed from a report published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer regarding the anomalies hounding the petitioners high-ranking officials. This controversy according to the respondent resulted in huge withdrawals of major depositors.

Concerned, the respondent approached Mr. Wilfredo S. Anin (Mr. Anin), the petitioners Area Head for Visayas and Mindanao to discuss how to resolve the matter. When Mr. Anin just brushed off the issue, the respondent requested the Mayor of Valencia (a known big depositor of the Dumaguete Branch) to talk to Mr. Anin. The latter apparently misinterpreted the respondents actions and angrily confronted him angriy the next day.

Mr. Anin went to the Dumaguete Branch and brought along with him Mr. Mansueto Quijote as the respondents replacement and new branch manager. Mr. Anin then instructed the respondent to go to the petitioners head office in Makati to report to the Vice President and Head of Branch Banking Division, Mr. Jose D. Lloren, Jr (VP Lloren).

Respondent flew to Manila and reported to the Makati Office, as ordered. VP Lloren told him that he would undergo training, but no such training took place. Instead, he was made to do clerical jobs. To compound the unjust treatment, the respondent had to travel at least 4 hours daily from his rented house in Cavite to Makati; his travel and living expenses consumed at least half of his salary. On January 8, 2003, the respondent tendered his resignation citing that it is so expensive for him to be staying away from his family.

Respondent Benigno B. Martinez (respondent) filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, with a claim for backwages, reinstatement and damages against petitioner Philippine Veterans Bank (petitioner).

LA dismissed the respondents complaint for lack of merit. The LA found that the petitioner was not guilty of constructive dismissal and that the respondent voluntarily resigned from the service. The LA decision was reversed by the NLRC upon finding that the "unceremonious replacement" of the respondent is akin to constructive dismissal. A certiorari petition was filed before the CA and while the same was pending, the petitioner filed a supplemental petition raising the theory that the present case involves the termination of an elected corporate officer, which issue is not within the jurisdiction of the LA. The CA affirmed the NLRC decision and ruled that petitioner is estopped from questioning jurisdiction. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: [1] Is petitioner estopped from questioning jurisdiction?
[2] Was petitioner constructively dismissed?

HELD: As a rule, a party who deliberately adopts a certain theory upon which the case is tried and decided by the lower court will not be permitted to change theory on appeal.

Petitioner is already estopped from belatedly raising the issue of lack of jurisdiction since it has actively participated in the proceedings before the LA and NLRC. We have consistently held that while jurisdiction may be assailed at any stage, a partys active participation in the proceedings before a court without jurisdiction will estop such party from assailing such lack of it. It is an undesirable practice of a party participating in the proceedings and submitting his case for decision and then accepting the judgment, only if favorable, and attacking it for lack of jurisdiction, when adverse.
Particularly, for a transfer not to be considered a constructive dismissal, the employer must be able to show that such transfer is not unreasonable, inconvenient, or prejudicial to the employee.

In the present case, the petitioner failed to discharge this burden. The NLRC, as affirmed by the CA, correctly found that the combination of the harsh actions of the petitioner rendered the employment condition of respondent hostile and unbearable for the following reasons:

First, the petitioner failed to show any urgency or genuine business necessity to transfer the respondent to the Makati Head Office. In fact, the respondent showed the actual motivation and the bad faith behind his transfer. The petitioners stated reason that the respondent had to undergo branch head training because of his gross inefficiency cannot defeat the respondents evidence on this point as the petitioner failed to present any evidence that the respondent had a record of gross inefficiency.

Second, the respondents transfer from Dumaguete to Makati City is clearly unreasonable, inconvenient and oppressive, since the respondent and his family are residents of Dumaguete City. The CA correctly found that the respondent was placed in the very difficult predicament of having to choose whether to live away from his family or to bring them to Manila, which will entail additional expenses on his part.

Third, the petitioner failed to present any valid reason why it had to require the respondent to go to Makati Head Office to undergo branch head training when it could have just easily required the latter to undertake the same training in the VISMIN area.

Finally, there was nothing in the order of transfer as to what position the respondent would occupy after his training; the respondent was effectively placed in a "floating" status. The petitioners allegation that the respondent was assigned to a sensitive position in the DUHO Task Force is suspect when considered with the fact that he was made to undergo branch head training which is totally different from a position that entails reconciling book entries of all branches of the former. Reconciling book entries is essentially an accounting task.

The test of constructive dismissal is whether a reasonable person in the employees position would have felt compelled to give up his position under the circumstances. Based on the factual considerations in the present case, we hold that the hostile and unreasonable working conditions of the petitioner justified the finding of the NLRC and the CA that respondent was constructively dismissed. DENIED.
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