G.R. No. 158828. January 22, 2014

FIRST DIVISION [ G.R. No. 158828, January 22, 2014 ] UNITED PHILIPPINE SCOUT VETERANS DETECTIVE & PROTECTIVE AGENCY, INC. AND ATTY. DANILO MENDEZ, PETITIONERS, V. ROYAL SALAO, RESPONDENT.

The petitioners seek exemption from the application of the settled rule that the factual findings of the Labor Arbiter and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), when confirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA), are accorded respect and finality, and are binding upon this Court. They insist that they were able to prove that the acts committed by their employee constituted abandonment of his post, justifying his dismissal from his employment. The labor tribunals and the CA declared otherwise. Hence, this appeal by petition for review on certiorari.

Respondent Royal Salao was a security guard employed by petitioner UPSVEDPA Security Agency (UPSVEDPA) at the premises of Diamond Motors Corporation in Santolan Road, Quezon City. He claimed that on March 4, 1996 he reported for his usual shift from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm; that after his shift, he was relieved by Security Guard Merlino Dalupang whose own shift was from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am of the next day; that when he (Salao) reported to work on March 5, 1996, he took over from Dalupang; that it turned out that another security guard had been absent, and Dalupang had taken over the absentee's shift, thereby effectively rendering a straight 24-hour duty, from 7:00 pm of March 4th to 7:00 am of March 5th (his regular shift), then from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm of March 5th; that after he (Salao) completed his shift at 7:00 pm of March 5th, Dalupang told him that he could already go home;[1] that when he (Salao) reported for his shift on March 6th, Ricarte Galope, Jr., UPSVEDPA's personnel manager, summoned him to tell him that he should not report anymore to work because he had been guilty of abandonment of his post; and that although he still reported for his shift on March 7, 1996, another security guard had already been assigned at his post.[2]

Aggrieved, Salao filed on March 12, 1996 a complaint for illegal dismissal, seeking reinstatement, payment of full backwages and other monetary benefits, plus damages.[3]

The petitioners countered that their Chief Security Officer Necito M. Sayson served a memo on March 5, 1996 requiring Salao to explain why he had left his post on March 4, 1996 without waiting for his reliever and without entrusting his firearm to Dalupang, who was then posted at the Fourth Dimension Agency in the same building; that Sayson tried to talk to Salao but the latter reacted angrily, causing a heated argument between them; that Sayson reported the argument to Galope, Jr. on March 6, 1996,[4] and the latter issued a memo on the same day directing Salao to give his side;[5] that Salao ignored the memo and instead filed the complaint for illegal dismissal; and that on March 9, 1996 UPSVEDPA received a memo from Rey Pador, the Maintenance Chief of Diamond Motors Corporation, reporting his discovery of Salao's absence from his post without any reliever while on his routine inspection at around 2:00 pm of March 5, 1996.[6]In a decision rendered on September 30, 1999, the Labor Arbiter declared UPSVEDPA guilty of illegal dismissal, and ordered Salao's reinstatement with full backwages and other benefits from the date of dismissal until actual reinstatement,[7] viz:

WHEREFORE, above premises duly considered, judgment is hereby rendered finding the respondents guilty of illegal dismissal.

Accordingly, the respondents are hereby ordered to reinstate complainant within five (5) days from receipt of this decision to his position with full backwages and other benefits from the date of his dismissal up to the date of his actual reinstatement, the award being tentatively computed as follows:
Dismissal Decision Monthly Rate Mos. Basic Pay 13th Mo. Pay SILP Back wages
3/6/96 9/30/99 6,300.00 42.8 269,640.00 22,470.00 3,193.75 295,303.75
The rest of the claims are dismissed for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED.[8]
In compliance with the decision of the Labor Arbiter, UPSVEDPA sent on November 5, 1999 a notice for Salao for him to report to work within three days from receipt.[9] Salao did not report to work, however, because his security guard license had meanwhile lapsed and he had failed to renew it.

On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the Labor Arbiter through its decision of February 5, 2001,[10] and later on denied the petitioners' motion for reconsideration on March 5, 200l.[11]

Thus, UPSVEDPA elevated the ruling to the CA on certiorari.[12]

On November 28, 2002,[13] however, the CA promulgated its assailed decision dismissing the petition for certiorari for its lack of merit.

UPSVEDPA moved for reconsideration, but the CA denied the motion on June 27, 2003.[14]

Hence, this appeal by petition for review on certiorari, with the petitioners submitting that:
  1. THE QUESTIONED DECISIONS AND/OR RESOLUTIONS OF THE NLRC AND THE COURT OF APPEALS WERE BASED ON ERRONEOUS CONCLUSIONS.
  2. THE RESPONDENT WAS NOT ILLEGALLY DISMISSED BY THE PETITIONER.
  3. EVEN ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT THE RESPONDENT IS ENTITLED TO THE AWARD OF BACK WAGES, THE SAME SHOULD BE LIMITED TO THE TIME THAT HE WAS IN POSSESSION OF A VALID PRIVATE SECURITY LICENSER]
  4. THE AWARD OF BACK WAGES, IF RESPONDENT IS ENTITLED THERETO AT ALL, SHOULD NOT BE COMPUTED WITHOUT INTERRUPTION.[15]
Ruling: The appeal is partly meritorious.

The first issue concerns Salao's objection to the verification and certification of non-forum shopping executed by UPSVEDPA's General Manager, Ricarte Galope, Jr., on the ground that Galope, Jr. was not shown to be duly authorized to execute them in behalf of petitioner Atty. Danilo Mendez, the chairman of UPSVEDPA.

Salao's objection was inconsequential. The inclusion of Atty. Mendez as a petitioner herein was by reason of his having been impleaded as a party in the proceedings below. Nonetheless, his inclusion was merely nominal although it was due to his being the chairman of the employer. It is clear, however, that because UPSVEDPA and Atty. Mendez shared a common interest and actually invoked a common cause of action, the signature of one in the verification and the certification substantially complied with the requirements. In Altres v. Empleo,[16] the Court has set the rule that the requirement of the verification is deemed substantially complied with when the affiant signing the verification has ample knowledge to swear to the truth of the allegations in the complaint or petition, and the matters alleged in the complaint or petition have been alleged in good faith or are true and correct; and that there is a substantial compliance with the requirement for the certification against forum shopping when only one of the plaintiffs or petitioners signs the certification against forum shopping they share a common interest and invoke a common cause of action or defense.

The second issue is whether the dismissal of Salao had factual and legal bases.

The parties differed on the actual date when the abandonment of post by Salao supposedly took place, and whether UPSVEDPA as the employer successfully established the abandonment. On the one hand, the petitioners adamantly claim that Salao abandoned his post on March 5, 1996, basing its claim on Sayson's memo and the report of Pador. On the other hand, Salao insists that UPSVEDPA actually alleged two occasions of abandonment - on March 4, 1996 and on March 5, 1996 - but did not establish either; hence, he argues that the petitioners’ claim did not prevail over the uniform findings of the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC and the CA.

The Labor Arbiter found that the UPSVEDPA's allegations of abandonment of post referred to March 4, 1996 at on or about 7:00 p.m., and that there was no indication of any abandonment committed on March 5, 1996;[17] that UPSVEDPA did not adduce evidence to prove its claim that Salao abandoned his post on March 4, 1996; that Sayson's March 6, 1996 report to Galope, Jr., while it related to the abandonment incident on March 5, 1996, negated UPSVEDPA's allegation insofar as it stated that Sayson and Salao even had a heated argument on March 5, 1996, for they could not have heatedly argued had Salao not been personally present there; and that even assuming that Salao abandoned his post, the penalty of dismissal was too harsh and disproportionate to the infraction committed.[18]

The foregoing findings were affirmed by both the NLRC and the CA.

The rule is that findings of fact of administrative agencies and quasi-judicial bodies like the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC are accorded not only respect but finality when affirmed by the CA. This rule derives from the fact that such official and administrative agency have acquired expertise by virtue of their jurisdiction being confined to specific matters.[19]

Nonetheless, the Court will not hesitate to deviate from the rule, and to disturb and strike down the findings of fact of administrative agencies and quasi-judicial bodies upon a showing that the findings were unsupported by the evidence on record or that there was a patent misappreciation of facts.[20] In this regard, it becomes relevant to mention that in dealing with factual issues in labor cases, substantial evidence - that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to justify a conclusion - is sufficient.[21]

The Court concludes that there was substantial evidence to warrant the finding that Salao committed an act tantamount to the abandonment of his post in violation of UPSVEDPA's company policy.

The findings of fact of the Labor Arbiter, as affirmed by the NLRC and the CA, focused on the evidence that UPSVEDPA did not present in order to support the allegation that Salao abandoned his post on March 4, 1996. In the view of the Labor Arbiter, however, the "best evidence" to prove the abandonment of post would be the security guard logbook. The Labor Arbiter also mentioned Sayson's report on the heated argument with Salao on March 5, 1996, thereby indicating that Salao was then actually in his post on said date. Under the circumstances, the Court upholds the conclusion of the Labor Arbiter that UPSVEDPA failed to prove its allegation that Salao abandoned his post on March 4, 1996.

But the Court cannot agree that UPSVEDPA equally failed to prove Salao's abandonment on March 5, 1996. UPSVEDPA's non-presentation of the logbook did not preclude it from offering other competent proof to sufficiently establish the veracity of its allegation. In his report dated March 9, 1996, Pador relayed to UPSVEDPA that "Sg Salao. (assigned guard) left assigned post last March 05, 1996 at around 2:00 p.m. without any reliever. x x x"[22] The memo issued to Salao by Galope, Jr. earlier on March 6, 1996 confirmed that Pador reported that "on or about 2:00 p.m. of March 5, 1996, [Salao] abandoned [his] post (Entrance Gate) leaving behind customers waiting to be attended to. x x x"[23] That Sayson had an argument with Salao at around 3:00 pm on March 5, 1996 did not negate the fact that Salao left his post without any reliever at 2:00 pm and in so doing placed at risk the security of the premises of Diamond Motors Corporation. The Labor Arbiter thus erred in ignoring the two memos and in insisting that the logbook should have been presented instead, considering that Pador was a disinterested witness who was not shown to have any ill-motive to complain against Salao.

Having committed abandonment of his post in breach of UPSVEDPA's company policy, Salao had to be disciplined. But dismissal was definitely a penalty not commensurate to the violation. It is true that the employer had its own interest to protect and could validly terminate its employee for a just cause. However, its prerogative to dismiss must be exercised with due regard to the attendant circumstances. Where a penalty less punitive would suffice, whatever missteps have been committed by the employee ought not to be visited with a consequence so severe like dismissal from employment.[24] Here, UPSVEDPA admitted that the usual penalty for abandonment of post was suspension for 30 days for the first offense.[25] With that, Salao's unjust dismissal should be set aside.

Under Article 279 of the Labor Code, an employee unjustly dismissed from work is 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.

The Court realizes that his evident strained relations with UPSVEDPA rendered his reinstatement impracticable.[26] To still require his reinstatement would be perilous to UPSVEDPA and to others given the nature of the security services being rendered. It further appears that Salao failed to renew his security guard license, making his reinstatement legally impossible.[27] This is because Republic Act No. 5487 (Private Security Agency Law), as amended, prescribes a license before a security guard may be employed.[28] Consequently, in lieu of reinstatement, Salao should be given separation pay computed at the rate of one month pay for every year of service reckoned from the start of his employment until November 5, 1999, the date when UPSVEDPA issued the memorandum informing Salao to return to work but he could not comply with due to his lack of license. The award of backwages and monetary benefits should likewise be computed only from the time of his illegal dismissal until November 5, 1999. It would be the height of inequity to oblige UPSVEDPA to pay Salao's full backwages when the impossibility of his re-employment was his own doing.

WHEREFORE, the Court PARTIALLY GRANTS the petition for review; AFFIRMS the decision promulgated on November 28, 2002 with the MODIFICATION that respondent Royal Salao be granted separation pay in lieu of reinstatement, and that his backwages and other monetary benefits be computed only up to November 5, 1999.

No pronouncement on costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 54-55.[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 85-86.

[4] Id. at 79.

[5] Id. at 80, 81.

[6] Id. at 59-60.

[7] Id. at 94.

[8] Id. at 94-95.

[9] Id. at 109.

[10] Id. at 118.

[11] Id. at 126.

[12] Id. at 128-143.

[13] Id. at 38-42; penned by Associate Justice Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis (retired), with Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr., and Associate Justice Regalado E. Maambong (retired/deceased) concurring.

[14] Id. at 44.

[15] Id. at 16-31.

[16] G.R. No. 180986, December 10, 2008, 573 SCRA 583. 596-597, cited in TraveƱo v. Bohongon Banana Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, G.R. No. 164205, September 3. 2009, 598 SCRA 21, 35-36.

[17] Rollo, p. 91.

[18] Id. at 91-93.

[19] Sarona v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 185280, January 18, 2012, 663 SCRA 394, 414-415.

[20] Id.

[21] Javier v. Fly Ace Corporation, G.R. No. 192558, February 15, 2012, 666 SCRA 382, 394-395.

[22] Rollo, p. 78.

[23] Id. at 81.

[24] The Coca-Cola Export Corporation v. Gacayan, G.R. No. 149433, December 15, 2010,638 SCRA 377, 400-401, citing Fujitsu Computer Products Corporation of the Phils. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 158232, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 737, 771; Blazer Car Marketing Inc. v. Bulauan, G.R. No. 181483, March 9, 2010, 614 SCRA 713, 722.

[25] Rollo, p. 104; respondent's Appeal.

[26] Session Delights Ice Cream and Fast Foods v. Court of Appeals (Sixth Division), G.R. No. 172149, February 3, 2010, 612 SCRA 10, 25.

[27] Salvaloza v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 182086, November 24, 2010, 636 SCRA 184, 200.

[28] Section 6 of R.A. No. 5487 states, among others, that "no person shall engage in the business of, or act either as a private detective, or detective agency; and either engage in the occupation, calling or employment of watchman or in the business of watchman's agency without first having obtained the necessary permit from the Chief, Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police) which permit as approved is prerequisite in obtaining a license or license certificate. x x x"

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