G.R. No. 211382, March 21, 2018

FIRST DIVISION [ G.R. No. 211382, March 21, 2018 ] PEDRO QUINTELA AND EDUARDO ADONAY V. COMMUTERS TRANSPORT CORP.

We resolve this Petition for Review[1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the August 12, 2013 Decision[2] and the January 23, 2014 Resolution[3] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in SP No. 125718.

The Antecedent Facts
Alpha Corona Union Manpower Services, Inc. (Alpha), a business entity engaged in manpower services, hired Petitioners Pedro Quintela (Quintela) and Eduardo Adonay (Adonay; collectively, petitioners) as drivers. They were assigned to drive the buses owned by respondent Commuters Transport Corp., (respondent), a Laguna-based corporation engaged in transportation services.

On May 25, 2010, Quintela and Adonay, claiming that they were illegally dismissed from service between April 18, 2010 and January 13, 2010, respectively, filed a Complaint for illegal dismissal against respondent and its owner/president Christopher Lim.[4] The Complaint was later amended on July 13, 2010 to implead Alpha and other officers, namely, Carmelo Lagura and Michael Macam (Macam), the respondent's Secretary and Officer-in-Charge (OIC), respectively.[5]

Petitioners filed their Position Paper,[6] attaching thereto separate affidavits, i.e., Sinumpaang Salaysay, detailing the manner in which Alpha and respondent allegedly effected their dismissal.

According to Quintela, he drove respondent's bus for the last time on April 15, 2010. On April 18, 2010, through respondent's OIC, Arnel Manaoag (Manaoag), Quintela was ordered to no longer to drive the company's bus.[7]For his part, Adonay averred that he requested respondent's teller, Helward Velayo to replace his conductor due to a misunderstanding. He later read from respondent's bulletin board on January 13, 2010 that he was "on hold". The respondent's guard advised Adonay to report to Macam, the respondent's Operations Manager. Adonay, however, was simply told by Macam to wait for his text message. Similar to Quintela's treatment, Adonay did not receive either a text message or a call from Macam.[8]

Only respondent and Lim filed their Position Paper, alleging, among others that petitioners' employer was Alpha and not the respondent. Respondent likewise alleged that based on Alpha's records, Quintela and Adonay were each served a "return-to-worfc" order dated May 24, 2010,[9] stating that they have been absent without official leave (AWOL) since April 16, 2010, in the case of Quintela, and since January 13, 2010 in the case of Adonay.[10] Alpha sent petitioners separate notices[11] of violation and invitation to an administrative hearing scheduled on June 21, 2010, but they did not appear. Respondent, thus maintains that there was no illegal dismissal.

On December 21, 2011, the Labor Arbiter (Arbiter) rendered a Decision, dismissing the Complaint. The Arbiter ruled, among others, that Alpha is a labor-only contractor and as such, a mere agent of respondent. This, notwithstanding, the Arbiter held that the petitioners failed to submit objective and verifiable evidence to support their allegations of illegal dismissal.[12]

On April 4, 2012, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) issued a Resolution, partially granting petitioners' appeal. The NLRC ruled, among others, that since there is neither illegal dismissal nor proof that petitioners refused to work, the parties are directed to observe the status quo. The NLRC also ruled that considering the sensitivity of the petitioners' position, it would be unwise to compel respondent to reinstate the petitioners. Hence, the NLRC ordered the respondent to give petitioners separation pay.[13]

However, on June 25, 2012, the NLRC issued another Resolution and modified its earlier ruling, by ordering the respondent to reinstate petitioners to their positions as bus drivers, thereby deleting the award of separation pay.[14]

Aggrieved, respondent elevated the case to the CA via Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65.[15]

The Ruling of the CA
On August 12, 2013, the CA rendered its Decision,[16] and proceeded to grant the petition; to annul the NLRC's twin resolutions; and to reinstate the Arbiter's decision, which dismissed the petitioners' Complaint. The CA, ruled among others, that petitioners failed to prove the fact of their alleged dismissal; and that there is proof that petitioners simply refused to report to work.

Their motion for reconsideration,[17] having been denied in the CA's Resolution[18] dated January 23, 2014, petitioners filed this appeal.

The Sole Issue
Essentially, the issue to be resolved is whether or not the petitioners were illegally dismissed.
The Ruling of the Court

The petition is denied.
On the aspect of dismissal, the records show that the Arbiter, the NLRC and the CA were in unison in finding that indeed, no illegal dismissal was effected by the respondent. Since this Court is not a trier of facts, We are not inclined to once again sift through, calibrate and re-examine the credibility and probative value of the evidence on record so as to ultimately decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prove petitioners' allegation of dismissal.

It is doctrinal that in a petition for review on certiorari, our jurisdiction is limited to reviewing errors of law in the absence of any showing that the factual findings complained of are devoid of support in the records or are glaringly erroneous.[19]

In labor cases, it is a settled rule that the employer has the burden of proving that the termination was for a valid or authorized cause.[20] However, We stress that it remains incumbent upon the employees that they should first establish by competent evidence the fact of their dismissal from employment.[21] As an allegation is not evidence, it is elementary that a party alleging a critical fact must support his allegation with substantial evidence.[22] It has also been held that the evidence to prove the fact of dismissal must be clear, positive and convincing.[23] Logically, if there is no dismissal, as in this case, then there can be no question as to the legality or illegality thereof.

Here, there is no ample evidence to establish aprimafacie case that petitioners were dismissed from employment. Other than the affidavits attached to their Position Paper, there were no other documentary evidence to support, or at the very least corroborate their claim of dismissal. As allegation is not evidence, the rule is settled that the burden of evidence lies with the party who asserts the affirmative of an issue.[24] As the parties claiming the existence of illegal dismissal, it was, therefore, petitioners who had the burden of proving that the respondent eased them out of their employment without cause. This, they failed to do.

As aptly pointed out by the Arbiter:

First, the crux of the controversy is the complainants' allegation that they were illegally dismissed without any cause, notice or hearing. However, other than their bare allegations, the complainants failed to submit objective and verifiable evidence to support their allegations.

Instead, what appears on record are concrete documentary evidence that numerous notices were sent by [Alpha], among which were notices of violation, notices of administrative hearings, notices of AWOL and return to work orders to the complainants.

The evidence presented before this Office shows that the respondents discharged the burden of proof that this is not a case of illegal dismissal when they submitted credible and relevant documentary evidence proving that they in fact, did not dismiss the complainants, and that the latter refused to return-to-work despite the notices sent to them.[25]

This was echoed by the NLRC when it held that:
x x x We sustain the findings of the Labor Arbiter that the complainants failed to substantiate their claim of dismissal, xxx

x x x x

xxx There was no indication at all that complainants were dismissed permanently, due to some disagreement or friction between the parties, or on account of certain accusations of any wrongdoing on their part which preceeded the alleged date of termination. On the part of Adonay, it cannot be believed that the only reason for his alleged termination was because he requested for replacement of his bus conductor.

Thus, We cannot give credence to complainants' bare and self-serving statement that they were dismissed, in the absence of any other corroborative statement or proof that respondents did terminate their employment.[26]
Nonetheless, the CA and the NLRC arrived at different conclusions as regards the reinstatement of petitioners.

The NLRC, relying on the case of Asia Fancy Plywood Corp. v. NLRC,[27] opined that reinstatement is still plausible considering that both parties declared that there are no strained relations between them. The CA, however, rejected this view for the reason that the case cited by the NLRC is not on all fours with the circumstances of this case. As the CA correctly observed:

The doctrine laid down in Asia Fancy Plywood, however, is inapplicable in this case.

First, there is substantial evidence to support [respondent's] defense that [Petitioners] have been AWOL since April 16, 2010 in the case of Quintela, and since January 13, 2010 in the case of Adonay - a circumstance different from that obtaining in Asia Fancy Plywood. Aside from the return to work orders and notices of administrative hearing and investigation sent by ACUMSI [Alpha] to [petitioners], Manaoag's "Salaysay" also attested to the fact that [petitioners] have indeed been AWOL. Against these pieces of evidence, [petitioners] offered nothing but their bare denial.

Second, [respondent] did not express willingness on its part to accept [petitioners] to their former positions, unlike in Asia Fancy Plywood.[28]

The above-quoted portion of the CA's decision was no longer challenged by the petitioners in this instant appeal. Thus, there is no need to further belabor on the matter.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The August 12, 2013 Decision and the January 23, 2014 Resolution of the Court of Appeals, in SP No. 125718 are hereby AFFIRMED in toto.

SO ORDERED. Sereno, C.J.,on leave.

[1] Rollo, pp. 9-32.

[2] Penned by CA Associate Justice Florito S. Macalino, and concurred in by Associate Justices Sesinando E. Villon, and Pedro B. Corales. Id. at 185-194.

[3] Id. at 202-204.

[4] Id. at 186.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 35-47.

[7] Id. at 48-49.

[8] Id. at 50-51.

[9] Id. at 73, 75.

[10] Id. at 64-72.

[13] Id. at 74.

[12] Id. at 109-115.

[13] Id. at 128-141.

[14] Id. at 156-158.

[15] Id. at 159-177.

[16] Id. 185-194.

[17] Id. at 195-201.

[18] Id. at 202-204.

[19] Crewlink, Inc., et al. v. Teringtering, et al., 697 Phil. 302, 309 (2012).

[20] Ledesma, Jr. v. NLRC- Second Division, 562 Phil. 939, 951 (2007).

[21] Noblejas v. Italian Maritime Academy Phils., Inc., et al.,735 Phil. 713, 721 (2014).

[22] Tan Brothers Corporation of Basil an City v. Escudero, G.R. No. 188711, July 8, 2013, 700SCRA583, 593.

[23] Exodus International Construction Corp., et al. v. Biscocho, et al., 659 Phil. 142, 155 (2011).

[24] Aklan Electric Cooperative Incorportedv. NLRC, 380 Phil. 225, 245 (2000).

[25] Rollo, pp. 113-115.

[26] Id. at 136-137.

[27] 361 Phil. 135(1999).

[28] Rollo, p. 193.

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