CASE DIGEST: Tenazas v. Villegas Taxi

G.R. No. 192998 : April 2, 2014




On July 4, 2007, Bernard A. Tenazas (Tenazas) and Jaime M. Francisco (Francisco) filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against R. Villegas Taxi Transport and/or Romualdo Villegas (Romualdo) and Andy Villegas (Andy) (respondents). At that time, a similar case had already been filed by Isidro G. Endraca (Endraca) against the same respondents. The two (2) cases were subsequently consolidated.In their position paper, Tenazas, Francisco and Endraca (petitioners) alleged that they were hired and dismissed by the respondents.

Relaying the circumstances of his dismissal, Tenazas alleged that on July 1, 2007, the taxi unit assigned to him was sideswiped by another vehicle, causing a dent on the left fender near the driver seat. The cost of repair for the damage was estimated at 500.00. Upon reporting the incident to the company, he was scolded by respondents Romualdo and Andy and was told to leave the garage for he is already fired. He was even threatened with physical harm should he ever be seen in the company's premises again. Despite the warning, Tenazas reported for work on the following day but was told that he can no longer drive any of the company's units as he is already fired.

Francisco, on the other hand, averred that his dismissal was brought about by the company's unfounded suspicion that he was organizing a labor union. He was instantaneously terminated, without the benefit of procedural due process, on June 4, 2007.

Endraca, for his part, alleged that his dismissal was instigated by an occasion when he fell short of the required boundary for his taxi unit. He related that before he was dismissed, he brought his taxi unit to an auto shop for an urgent repair. He was charged the amount of 700.00 for the repair services and the replacement parts. As a result, he was not able to meet his boundary for the day. Upon returning to the company garage and informing the management of the incident, his drivers license was confiscated and was told to settle the deficiency in his boundary first before his license will be returned to him. He was no longer allowed to drive a taxi unit despite his persistent pleas.

For their part, the respondents admitted that Tenazas and Endraca were employees of the company, the former being a regular driver and the latter a spare driver. The respondents, however, denied that Francisco was an employee of the company or that he was able to drive one of the company's units at any point in time.

The respondents further alleged that Tenazas was never terminated by the company. They claimed that on July 3, 2007, Tenazas went to the company garage to get his taxi unit but was informed that it is due for overhaul because of some mechanical defects reported by the other driver who takes turns with him in using the same. He was thus advised to wait for further notice from the company if his unit has already been fixed. On July 8, 2007, however, upon being informed that his unit is ready for release, Tenazas failed to report back to work for no apparent reason.

As regards Endraca, the respondents alleged that they hired him as a spare driver in February 2001. They allow him to drive a taxi unit whenever their regular driver will not be able to report for work. In July 2003, however, Endraca stopped reporting for work without informing the company of his reason. Subsequently, the respondents learned that a complaint for illegal dismissal was filed by Endraca against them. They strongly maintained, however, that they could never have terminated Endraca in March 2006 since he already stopped reporting for work as early as July 2003. Even then, they expressed willingness to accommodate Endraca should he wish to work as a spare driver for the company again since he was never really dismissed from employment anyway.

The Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered a Decision declaring that there was no illegal dismissal in the case at bar.

The NLRC rendered a Decision, reversing the appealed decision of the LA, holding that the additional pieces of evidence belatedly submitted by the petitioners sufficed to establish the existence of employer-employee relationship and their illegal dismissal. On July 24, 2009, the respondents filed a motion for reconsideration but the NLRC denied the same.

Unperturbed, the respondents filed a petition for certiorari with the CA. On March 11, 2010, the CA rendered a Decision, affirming with modification the Decision dated June 23, 2009 of the NLRC. The CA agreed with the NLRCs finding that Tenazas and Endraca were employees of the company, but ruled otherwise in the case of Francisco for failing to establish his relationship with the company. It also deleted the award of separation pay and ordered for reinstatement of Tenazas and Endraca.

ISSUE: Whether there is an employer-employee relationship and whether there was an illegal dismissal

HELD: The petition lacks merit.

LABOR LAW: employer-employee relationship

In determining the presence or absence of an employer-employee relationship, the Court has consistently looked for the following incidents, to wit: (a) the selection and engagement of the employee; (b) the payment of wages; (c) the power of dismissal; and (d) the employer's power to control the employee on the means and methods by which the work is accomplished. The last element, the so-called control test, is the most important element.

There is no hard and fast rule designed to establish the aforesaid elements. Any competent and relevant evidence to prove the relationship may be admitted. Identification cards, cash vouchers, social security registration, appointment letters or employment contracts, payrolls, organization charts, and personnel lists, serve as evidence of employee status.

In this case, however, Francisco failed to present any proof substantial enough to establish his relationship with the respondents. He failed to present documentary evidence like attendance logbook, payroll, SSS record or any personnel file that could somehow depict his status as an employee. Anent his claim that he was not issued with employment records, he could have, at least, produced his social security records which state his contributions, name and address of his employer, as his co-petitioner Tenazas did. He could have also presented testimonial evidence showing the respondent's exercise of control over the means and methods by which he undertakes his work. This is imperative in light of the respondent's denial of his employment and the claim of another taxi operator, Emmanuel Villegas (Emmanuel), that he was his employer. Specifically, in his Affidavit, Emmanuel alleged that Francisco was employed as a spare driver in his taxi garage from January 2006 to December 2006, a fact that the latter failed to deny or question in any of the pleadings attached to the records of this case. The utter lack of evidence is fatal to Francisco's case especially in cases like his present predicament when the law has been very lenient in not requiring any particular form of evidence or manner of proving the presence of employer-employee relationship.

In Opulencia Ice Plant and Storage v. NLRC, this Court emphasized, thus:

No particular form of evidence is required to prove the existence of an employer-employee relationship. Any competent and relevant evidence to prove the relationship may be admitted. For, if only documentary evidence would be required to show that relationship, no scheming employer would ever be brought before the bar of justice, as no employer would wish to come out with any trace of the illegality he has authored considering that it should take much weightier proof to invalidate a written instrument.

Here, Francisco simply relied on his allegation that he was an employee of the company without any other evidence supporting his claim. Unfortunately for him, a mere allegation in the position paper is not tantamount to evidence. Bereft of any evidence, the CA correctly ruled that Francisco could not be considered an employee of the respondents.

The CAs order of reinstatement of Tenazas and Endraca, instead of the payment of separation pay, is also well in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence. In Macasero v. Southern Industrial Gases Philippines, the Court reiterated, thus:

An illegally dismissed employee is entitled to two reliefs: backwages and reinstatement. The two reliefs provided are separate and distinct. In instances where reinstatement is no longer feasible because of strained relations between the employee and the employer, separation pay is granted. In effect, an illegally dismissed employee is entitled to either reinstatement, if viable, or separation pay if reinstatement is no longer viable, and backwages.

The normal consequences of respondents illegal dismissal, then, are reinstatement without loss of seniority rights, and payment of backwages computed from the time compensation was withheld up to the date of actual reinstatement. Where reinstatement is no longer viable as an option, separation pay equivalent to one (1) month salary for every year of service should be awarded as an alternative. The payment of separation pay is in addition to payment of backwages.

Clearly, it is only when reinstatement is no longer feasible that the payment of separation pay is ordered in lieu thereof. For instance, if reinstatement would only exacerbate the tension and strained relations between the parties, or where the relationship between the employer and the employee has been unduly strained by reason of their irreconcilable differences, it would be more prudent to order payment of separation pay instead of reinstatement.

This doctrine of strained relations, however, should not be used recklessly or applied loosely nor be based on impression alone. It bears to stress that reinstatement is the rule and, for the exception of strained relations to apply, it should be proved that it is likely that if reinstated, an atmosphere of antipathy and antagonism would be generated as to adversely affect the efficiency and productivity of the employee concerned.

Moreover, the existence of strained relations, it must be emphasized, is a question of fact.

In Golden Ace Builders v. Talde, the Court underscored:

Strained relations must be demonstrated as a fact, however, to be adequately supported by evidence substantial evidence to show that the relationship between the employer and the employee is indeed strained as a necessary consequence of the judicial controversy.

After a perusal of the NLRC decision, this Court failed to find the factual basis of the award of separation pay to the petitioners. The NLRC decision did not state the facts which demonstrate that reinstatement is no longer a feasible option that could have justified the alternative relief of granting separation pay instead.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing disquisition, the petition for review on certiorari is DENIED.