CASE DIGEST: Sargasso Construction v. NLRC (G.R. No. 164118; February 9, 2010)


FACTS: Complainant herein respondent Mongcal alleged that on May 7, 1993, he was employed as a payloader operator by the respondent company; that his latest assignment was in La Castellana, Negros Occidental for the period from March to June 1995 in connection with the respondent's herein petitioner road construction project at La Castellana; that as payloader operator, he was required to be ready at any time to load dump trucks as so requested by truck drivers even at early hours of the morning; that he was paid a monthly salary of not less than P3,900.00 for working seven (7) days a week including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

That on June 29, 1995 at around 2:30 o'clock in the morning, a dump truck driver of the respondent company for truck No. 25, requested complainant to load his dump truck with construction materials at the crusher site; that fully aware of the policy of the company allowing dump truck drivers to start hauling materials even at early hours of the morning and considering that truck drivers were required by the company to haul a quota of the number of truck loads of aggregates to be delivered to the construction site everyday as per instruction given to them, complainant willingly obliged to do his job; that it was later on discovered that said Aldrin Rasote had diverted the delivery of said materials loaded to another person; that as a result of this incident, complainant was dismissed from his job effective 30 June 1995. Complainant denies having a hand nor was he involved in the act committed by truck driver Aldrin Rasote.

Complainant alleged that the respondent corporation filed a criminal complaint for theft against him six (6) months after 29 June 1995, the date of the alleged commission of the crime charged and only after coming to know that he had filed a labor case against the company with this office and that he was deprived of due process of the law.

On the other hand, in their memorandum, the respondents aver that complainant was validly dismissed from his job based on loss of confidence due to commission of offense constituting act of dishonesty and flagrant violation of respondent's policy.

The Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of petitioner by dismissing the complaint but ordered petitioner to pay herein private respondent P1,000.00 for failure to observe due process requirements of law. On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) overturned the Labor Arbiter's ruling by providing another computation.

The case was then elevated to the CA via a petition for certiorari and on January 27, 2004, the CA promulgated the assailed Decision affirming the decision of the NLRC.

Petitioner moved for reconsideration but the same was denied per CA Resolution dated May 28, 2004. Hence, this petition.
ISSUE: Did the CA correctly uphold the NLRC ruling that private respondent Mongcal was illegally dismissed by petitioner because there was insufficient proof that the latter conspired with one Aldrin Rasote to steal construction materials from petitioner?

HELD: The Labor Arbiter found that on June 29, 1995, at around 2:30 o'clock in the morning, private respondent loaded the dump truck driven by one Aldrin Rasote with aggregates despite the lack of a trip ticket or authorization, and said aggregates were eventually delivered by Rasote to other persons. Such factual findings of the Labor Arbiter were not overturned by the NLRC or the CA, but the two higher courts interpreted the very same evidence differently. The NLRC, affirmed by the CA, arrived at the conclusion that such fact did not point to a conspiracy between the dump truck driver and private respondent Mongcal, a payload operator, which would justify the latter's dismissal.

The long-standing rule is that the existence of a conspiracy must be proved by clear, direct and convincing evidence. A perusal of the record shows that the NLRC and the CA correctly ruled that petitioner's theory of conspiracy had not been sufficiently established.

In Fernandez v. National Labor Relations Commission, The Court expounded on the degree of evidence required to establish the existence of a conspiracy in this wise:

While it is true that in conspiracy, direct proof is not essential, it must however, be shown that it exists as clearly as the commission of the offense itself. There must at least be adequate proof that the malefactors had come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decided to commit it.

For conspiracy to exist, it is essential that there must be conscious design to commit an offense. Conspiracy is not the product of negligence but of intentionality on the part of the cohorts.

From the foregoing, it is quite clear that the evidence presented in this case did not reach the level required to find respondent Mongcal guilty of conspiring to commit theft of company property. Indeed, respondent Mongcal loaded the dump truck with aggregates at 2:30 o'clock in the morning despite the lack of a trip ticket, but petitioner utterly failed to rebut Mongcal's explanation that it was not unusual for them to perform such tasks even at an early hour, because truck drivers tried to reach the delivery quotas that petitioner had set. This was never denied or rebutted by petitioner in any of its pleadings. Petitioner merely harped on the fact that no trip ticket was issued for that particular delivery. However, even if petitioner established that it was company policy to have trip tickets for every delivery of aggregates, it failed to prove that it was the payload operators like respondent Mongcal who had the duty of requiring dump truck drivers to show their trip tickets before the trucks could be loaded with aggregates. Petitioner failed to prove that respondent Mongcal was involved at all or agreed with the scheme to steal aggregates from petitioner. There was no showing whatsoever, that respondent Mongcal had any knowledge that Aldrin Rasote had the intention of stealing company property.

Verily, there was a dearth of evidence directly linking respondent Mongcal to the commission of the crime of theft, as his mere act of loading the dump truck with aggregates did not show that he knew of Rasote's plan to deliver the load to a place other than petitioner's construction site. The only conclusion, therefore, is that petitioner illegally dismissed respondent Mongcal.

Under Article 279 of the Labor Code, an illegally dismissed employee shall be entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to his full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to his other benefits or their monetary equivalent computed from the time his compensation was withheld from him up to the time of his actual reinstatement. In addition to full backwages, the Court has also repeatedly ruled that in cases where reinstatement is no longer feasible due to strained relations, then separation pay may be awarded instead of reinstatement. In Mt. Carmel College v. Resuena, the Court reiterated that the separation pay, as an alternative to reinstatement, should be equivalent to one (1) month salary for every year of service.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is dismissed. The Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals dated January 27, 2004 and May 28, 2004, respectively, in CA G.R. SP No. 70991 are AFFIRMED. Petitioner is ORDERED to pay respondent Gorgonio Mongcal (a) separation pay in the amount equivalent to one (1) month pay for every year of service; and (b) backwages, computed from the time compensation of respondent Mongcal was withheld from him when he was unjustly terminated, up to thetime of payment thereof. For this purpose, the records of this case are hereby REMANDED to the Labor Arbiter for proper computation of said awards.
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