Case Digest: Tegimenta Chemical v. Oco

G.R. No. 175369 : February 27, 2013




Starting 5 September 2001, respondent worked as a clerk, and later on as a material controller, for petitionerTegimenta Chemical Philippines, Incorporated (Tegimenta), a company owned by petitioner Vivian Rose D. Garcia (Garcia).

By reason of her pregnancy, Oco incurred numerous instances of absence and tardiness from March to April 2002. Garcia subsequently advised her to take a vacation, which the latter did from 1 to 15 May 2002.

On her return, Oco immediately worked for the next four working days of May. However, on 21 May 2002, Garcia allegedly told her to no longer report to the office effective that day. Hence, respondent no longer went to work. She nevertheless called petitioner at the end of the month, but was informed that she had no more job to do.

Immediately thereafter, on 3 June 2002, respondent filed a Complaint for illegal dismissal and prayed for reinstatement and back wages before the LA. Later on, she amended her Complaint by asking for separation pay instead of reinstatement.

Meanwhile, Oco maintained that petitioner verbally dismissed her without any valid cause and without due process. To bolster her story, respondent adduced that Tegimenta hired new employees to replace her. In their defense, petitioners countered that she had abandoned her job by being continuously absent without official leave (AWOL). They further narrated that they could not possibly terminate her services, because she still had to settle her accountabilities.

The LA disbelieved the narration of petitioners and thus ruled in favor of respondent. Aggrieved, petitioners appealed to the NLRC. They assailed the ruling of the LA for having been issued based not on solid proof, but on mere allegations of the employee. They advanced further that Oco had abandoned her employment, given that she claimed separation pay instead of reinstatement. The NLRC reviewed the records of the case and found that the documentary evidence coincided with the allegations of Oco.

Petitioners pursued their action before the CA via a Rule 65 Petition. Alleging grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, petitioners again assailed the factual determinations of the LA and the NLRC. In doing so, they attacked Oco allegations for being inconsistent with the evidence on record.

The CA overturned the courts a quo and pronounced that no actual dismissal transpired; rather, Oco was merely on AWOL. Subsequently, respondent sought reconsideration. She insisted that petitioners actually terminated her services, and that they failed to discharge their burden to prove that it was she who had abandoned work by being on AWOL. This time around, the CA reversed its earlier ruling.

ISSUE: Whether or not petitioner illegally dismissed respondent.

HELD: The Court of Appeals Decision is affirmed.


Petitioners adamantly try to persuade this Court to believe their narration that they did not dismiss Oco. To prove their version of the story, they poke holes in her narration by harping on her allegedly false claim thatTegimenta hired replacements and by faulting her for rendering work on the very day that her services were supposedly terminated. Unfortunately, these purported defects in her narration cannot carry the day for petitioners.

According to the CA, the hiring of new employees and the presence of Oco on the day of her termination wereall immaterial to resolving the issue of whether she was on AWOL or was illegally dismissed. We find this appreciation to be correct. Courts consider the evidence as material if it refers to the be-all and end-all of a petitioner cause. Here, none of the loopholes can resolve the case, since it is expected that dismissals may occur even if no prior replacements were hired, and an employer can indeed attempt to terminate employees on any day that they come in for work.

Petitioners also make a big fuss about the differing termination dates that Oco stated in her Complaint (3 June 2002) and her Position Paper (30 May 2002). But in Prieto v. NLRC, it was held that employees who are not assisted by lawyers when they file a complaint with the LA may commit a slight error that is forgivable if rectified later on.

Here, Oco only had one inadvertence when she filled out the Complaint in template form. She also stated in all her subsequent pleadings before the LA, the NLRC, the CA and this Court that she was dismissed on 30 May 2002. On this point, we similarly rule by regarding the inaccuracy as an error that is insufficient to destroy her case.

Most notably, the LA observed that the employers "did not deny the claims of complainant [Oco] that she was simply told not to work." As in Solas v. Power & Telephone Supply Phils. Inc., this silence constitutes an admission that fortifies the truth of the employee narration. Section 32, Rule 130 of the Rules Court, provides:

An act or declaration made in the presence and within the hearing or observation of a party who does or says nothing when the act or declaration is such as naturally to call for action or comment if not true, and when proper and possible for him to do so, may be given in evidence against him.

Considering this rule of evidence, together with the immaterial discrepancies, this Court thus rules against wholly invalidating the findings of the courts a quo.


After unsuccessfully assailing the narration of the employee, petitioners argue that Oco abandoned her job by being on AWOL. As bases for this affirmative defense, they highlight her previous instances of absence and tardiness. Then, they emphasize the marginal notes in the 16 to 30 Jun 2002 payroll, which showed that she was on leave. Finally, they equate the employee act of asking for separation pay instead of reinstatement as an act of abandonment.

The bases cited by petitioners are bereft of merit.

First, the nonappearance of Oco at work was already accepted by the company as having resulted from complications in her pregnancy. In fact, Garcia herself offered respondent a vacation leave. Therefore, given that the absences of the latter were grounded on justifiable reasons, these absences cannot serve as the antecedent to the conclusion that she had already abandoned her job.

For abandonment to exist, two factors must be present: (1) the failure to report for work or absence without a valid or justifiable reason; and (2) a clear intention to sever the employer-employee relationship, with the second element as the more determinative factor being manifested by some overt acts.

The mere absence of an employee is not sufficient to constitute abandonment. As an employer, Tegimenta has the burden of proof to show the deliberate and unjustified refusal of the employee to resume the latter employment without any intention of returning.

Here, Tegimenta failed to discharge its burden of proving that Oco desired to leave her job. The courts a quo uniformly found that she had continuously reported for work right after her vacation, and that her office attendance was simply cut off when she was categorically told not to report anymore. These courts even noted that she had also called up the office to follow up her status; and when informed of her definite termination, she lost no time in filing a case for illegal dismissal. Evidently, her actions did not constitute abandonment and instead implied her continued interest to stay employed.

Second, the marginal notes in the 16 to 30 June 2002 payroll showing that she was on leave are dubious. For one, the CA dutifully detected that none of the succeeding payroll sheets indicated that Oco was considered by the company as merely AWOL. Hence, it becomes questionable whether there is regularity in making simple notations as Tegimenta reference in considering the status of an employee. Therefore, we hold that the marginal notations in a single payroll sheet are not competent proofs to back up petitioner main defense.


This Court also rejects the invocation by petitioners of the best-evidence rule. According to them, the payroll sheet, and not the mere allegation of Oco, is the best evidence that they did not terminate her.

However, petitioners seem to miss the whole import of the best-evidence rule. This rule is used to compel the production of the original document, if the subject of the inquiry is the content of the document itself.The rule provides that the court shall not receive any evidence that is merely substitutionary in nature, such as a photocopy, as long as the original evidence of that document can be had.

Based on the explanation above, the best-evidence rule has no application to this case. The subject of the inquiry is not the payroll sheet of Tegimenta rather, the thrust of this case is the abundance of evidence present to prove the allegation that Oco abandoned her job by being on AWOL. Consequently, the employer cannot be logically stumped by a payroll sheet, but must be able to submit testimonial and other pieces of documentary evidence like leave forms, office memos, warning letters and notices to be able to prove that the employee abandoned her work.


Petitioners posit that Oco act of replacing the prayer for reinstatement with that for separation pay implied that respondent abandoned her employment.

Abandonment is a matter of intention and cannot lightly be inferred or legally presumed from certain equivocal acts. For abandonment to be appreciated, there must be a "clear, willful, deliberate, and unjustified refusal of the employee to resume employment." Here, the mere fact that Oco asked for separation pay, after she was told to no longer report for work, does not reflect her intention to leave her job. She is merely exercising her option under Article 279 of the Labor Code, which entitles her to either reinstatement and back wages or payment of separation pay.