G.R. No. 208735, July 19, 2017
BDO UNIBANK, INC. (FORMERLY EQUITABLE PCI BANK), Petitioner, v. NESTOR N. NERBES AND ARMENIA F. SURAVILLA, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Assailed in this Petition for Review1 under Rule 45 are the Decision2 dated May 9, 2012 and Resolution3 dated August 15, 2013 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 108317 which reversed the decision of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and reinstated the Decision4 dated August 26, 2005 of the Labor Arbiter (LA) in NLRC NCR Case No. 00-11-12543-04, finding respondents Nestor N. Nerbes (Nerbes) and Armenia F. Suravilla (Suravilla) to have been illegally dismissed and thus ordered their reinstatement and payment of backwages, or in lieu thereof, payment of separation pay.
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby made finding [Nerbes and Suravilla's] dismissal for insubordination a valid exercise of management prerogative but considering that [Nerbes and Suravilla's] defiance is anchored on law, ordering the [bank] to reinstate them to their former or equivalent positions in the [bank], without loss of seniority rights, with one (1) year backwages or, at the option of [Nerbes and Suravilla], to accept from the [bank], in lieu of reinstatement and backwages, a separation pay computed at thirty (30) days pay for every year of service, a fraction of at least six (6) months to be considered a full year or an applicable separation pay under the subsisting [CBA], whichever is higher.The bank appealed to the NLRC. In its Decision19 dated November 11, 2008, the NLRC reversed the ruling of the LA and dismissed Nerbes and Suravilla's complaint. The NLRC disposed as follows:
Subject to any subsequent developments involving the leadership of the [EPCIBEU] or a final decision of an administrative body and/or superior court, the [bank] are hereby ordered to allow [Nerbes and Suravilla], within the context of the [CBA], to go on paid union leaves and exercise their other rights as the duly elected President and Executive Vice President of the union.
The charge of unfair labor practice and other claims are dismissed for lack of merit.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated August 26, 2005 of [LA] Amansec is VACATED and SET ASIDE, and a NEW ONE rendered dismissing the case for lack of merit.Their Motion for Reconsideration21 likewise having been denied in the NLRC Resolution22 dated January 30, 2009, Nerbes and Suravilla filed a certiorari petition23 before the CA.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing considerations, the Petition for Certiorari is GRANTED. The Decision of the [NLRC] in NLRC NCR CA No. 047601-06 dated November 11, 2008 and its subsequent Resolution dated January 30, 2009 are ANNULLED AND SET ASIDE. The Decision of the [LA] dated August 26, 2005 is REINSTATED insofar as it ordered private respondent Equitable PCI Bank (Now Banco De Oro) to reinstate [Nerbes and Suravilla] to their former or equivalent positions in the bank, without loss of seniority rights, with one (1) year backwages or, at the option of [Nerbes and Suravilla], to accept from [the bank], in lieu of reinstatement and backwages, a separation pay computed at thirty (30) days pay for every year of service, a fraction of at least six (6) months to be considered a full year or an applicable separation pay under the subsisting [CBA], whichever is higher.The bank's Motion for Reconsideration25 was similarly rebuked by the CA, in its Resolution26 dated August 15, 2013. Undaunted, the bank filed the instant petition.
x x x xAttached to said motion are plain copies of the Compromise Agreement with Undertaking29 executed by and between the bank and Suravilla; and Release Waiver and Quitclaim30 executed by Suravilla. Consequently, Atty. Emmanuel R. Jabla (Atty. Jabla) of Jabla Brigola Bagas & Sampior Law Offices, counsel for Nerbes and Suravilla, moved to intervene.31 Atty. Jabla alleged that said Compromise Agreement was wrung from Suravilla without his knowledge and consent, as a result of which, he was deprived of his professional fee supposed to be payable upon full recovery of her monetary claims. He alleged that there was a verbal agreement between him and Suravilla for the latter to pay a contingent fee of 10% of all money recovered. He prayed that the bank and Suravilla be held solidarily liable as joint tortfeasors to pay his professional fee equivalent to 10% of the amount received by Suravilla, or PhP 348,751.27 and that a lien upon all judgments for the payment of money and executions issued in pursuance of such judgments be granted in his favor.32
2. Within five working days from the signing of this agreement, BDO, shall release to Ms. Suravilla the amount of PESOS: THREE MILLION FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED TWELVE AND 771100 (Php3,487,512.77) and Statement of Account, representing her separation pay net of her accountabilities on loans, insurance, and credit cards if any. The Bank shall likewise release to Ms. Suravilla, her BIR Form 2316.
3. Upon receipt of the check with the foregoing amount, Ms. Suravilla will acknowledge the same as the full satisfaction of the separation benefits due her in connection with her employment with the BDO, as well as any and all claims or court case she may have against the Bank.
4. Furthermore, Ms. Armenia F. Suravilla, her heirs, successors and assigns, hereby unconditionally release, remiss, waive and forever discharge BDO Unibank, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries and successors-in interest, stockholders, officers, directors, agents, employees, associates, contractors, and consultants from any and all actions, whether civil, criminal, administrative or otherwise, or from any claim of any kind or character arising directly from, incidental to, or in any manner related to her employment with the Bank, as well as the release of her separation benefits and retirement claims in the amount quoted above.
5. More particularly, Ms. Armenia F. Suravilla, her heirs, successors and assigns, likewise unconditionally release, remiss, waive and forever discharge BDO Unibank, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries, and successors-in-interest, stockholders, officers, directors, agents, employees, associates, contractors, and consultants from ALL claims of any kind or character arising directly from, incidental to,or in any manner related with the case entitled "BDO Unibank, Inc. vs. Nestor Nerbes and Armenia Suravilla", pending with the Supreme Court of the Philippines, and docketed as SC GR NO. 208735.
6. By virtue of the release of the said amount under this Compromise Agreement, Ms. Armenia F. Suravilla hereby affirms that she has no further cause of action, demand, complaint, case or grievance whatsoever against BDO, its affiliates, subsidiaries and succesors-ininterest stockholde:rs, officers, directors, agents, employees, associates, contractors, and consultants in respect of any matter arising out of the said separation benefits and retirement claims; and further affirms that this present agreement serves as the FULL SATISFACTION of the judgment in any and all claims she has against the Bank, specifically in the case "BDO Unibank, Inc. vs. Nestor Nerbes and Armenia Suravilla", pending with the Supreme Court of the Philippines, and docketed as SC GR No. 208735.
x x x x28 (Emphasis omitted)
[I]n a Rule 45 review (of the CA decision rendered under Ru1e 65), the question of law that confronts the Court is the legal correctness of the CA decision - i.e., whether the CA correctly determined the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC decision before it, and not on the basis of whether the NLRC decision on the merits of the case was correct.Given this narrow scope of review, the ultimate question to be addressed by the Court is whether or not the CA erred in finding that the NLRC gravely abused its discretion in holding that Nerbes and Suravilla were dismissed for cause.
Specifically, in reviewing a CA labor ruling under Rule 45 of the Ru1es of Court, the Court's review is limited to:(1) Ascertaining the correctness of the CA's decision in finding the presence or absence of a grave abuse of discretion. This is done by examining, on the basis of the parties' presentations, whether the CA correctly determined that at the NLRC level, all the adduced pieces of evidence were considered; no evidence which should not have been considered was considered; and the evidence presented supports the NLRC findings; and
(2) Deciding any other jurisdictional error that attended the CA's interpretation or application of the law.33
On considerations of equity and fairness, the Court disapproves of the tendencies of clients compromising their cases behind the backs of their attorneys for the purpose of unreasonably reducing or completely setting to naught the stipulated contingent fees. Thus, the Court grants the Intervenor's Motion for Intervention to Protect Attorney's Rights as a measure of protecting the Intervenor's right to its stipulated professional fees that would be denied under the compromise agreement. The Court does so in the interest of protecting the rights of the practicing Bar rendering professional services on contingent fee basis.In this case, We find that Atty. Jabla adequately and sufficiently represented Suravilla and prepared all the required pleadings50 on her behalf before the LA, the NLRC, the CA and this Court. Despite the absence of a written agreement as to the payment of fees, his entitlement to reasonable compensation may still be fairly ascertained. In this regard, Section 24 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court should be observed in determining Atty. Jabla's compensation which provides:
Nonetheless, the claim for attorney's fees does not void or nullify the compromise agreement between Malvar and the respondents. There being no obstacles to its approval, the Court approves the compromise agreement. The Court adds, however, that the Intervenor is not left without a remedy, for the payment of its adequate and reasonable compensation could not be annulled by the settlement of the litigation without its participation and conformity. It remains entitled to the compensation, and its right is safeguarded by the Court because its members are officers of the Court who are as entitled to judicial protection against injustice or imposition of fraud committed by the client as much as the client is against their abuses as her counsel. In other words, the duty of the Court is not only to ensure that the attorney acts in a proper and lawful manner, but also to see to it that the attorney is paid his just fees. Even if the compensation of the attorney is dependent only on winning the litigation, the subsequent withdrawal of the case upon the client's initiative would not deprive the attorney of the legitimate compensation for professional services rendered.49 (Citations omitted)
SEC. 24. Compensation of attorney's; agreement as to fees. - An attorney shall be entitled to have and recover from his client no more than a reasonable compensation for his services, with a view to the importance of the subject matter of the controversy, the extent of the services rendered, and the professional standing of the attorney. No court shall be bound by the opinion of attorneys as expert witnesses as to the proper compensation, but may disregard such testimony and base its conclusion on its own professional knowledge. A written contract for services shall control the amount to be paid therefor unless found by the court to be unconscionable or unreasonable.As well, the criteria found in the Code of Professional Responsibility are considered in assessing the proper amount of compensation that a lawyer should receive. Canon 20, Rule 20.01 provides:
CANON 20 - A LAWYER SHALL CHARGE ONLY FAIR AND REASONABLE FEES.Taking into account the foregoing, the Court finds that the amount equivalent to 10% of the settlement amount received by Suravilla, or PhP 348,751.27 is reasonable compensation for the skill and services rendered by Atty. Jabla.
Rule 20.01. A lawyer shall be guided by the following factors m determining his fees:
(a) The time spent and the extent of the services rendered or required; (b) The novelty and difficulty of the question involved; (c) The importance of the subject matter; (d) The skill demanded; (e) The probability of losing other employment as a result of acceptance of the proffered case; (f) The customary charges for similar services and the schedule of fees of the IBP Chapter to which he belongs; (g) The amount involved in the controversy and the benefits resulting to the client from the service; (h) The contingency or certainty of compensation; (i) The character of the employment, whether occasional or established; and (j) The professional standing of the lawyer.
Article 279. Security of Tenure. - In cases of regular employment, the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except for a just cause or when authorized by this Title. An employee who is unjustly dismissed from work 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.Interpreting this provision, the Court held in Bustamante, et al. v. NLRC, et al.,52 that illegally dismissed employees are entitled to full backwages without conditions or limitations. TheCA's award ofbackwages that is limited to only one (1) year is thus without basis.
1Rollo, pp. 1-36.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang, concurred in by Associate Justices Ricardo R. Rosario and Danton Q. Bueser; id. at 41-56.
3 Id. at 58-61.
4 Issued by Labor Arbiter Arthur L. Amansec; id. at 340-347.
5 Id. at 128-129.
6 Id. at 129-130.
7 Id. at 130-131.
8 Id. at 157-158.
9 Id. at 155.
10 Id.at 160-161.
11 Id. at 161.
12 Docketed as NLRC Case No. 00-04-04718-04; id. at 169.
13 Id. at 14-15.
14 Id. at 15-16.
15 Id. at 228-232.
16 Id. at 413-416.
17 Id. at 340-347.
18 Id. at 346-347.
19 Id. at 94-105.
20 Id. at 105.
21 Id. at 106-123.
22 Id. at 125-126.
23 Id at 63-90.
24 Id. at 55.
25 Id. at 613-625.
26 Id. at 58-61.
27 Id. at 700-701.
29 Id. at 701-704.
30 Id. at 705-708.
31 Id. at 715-728.
32 Id. at 725.
33Stanley Fine Furniture, et al. v. Gallano, et al., G.R. No. 190486, November 26, 2014, 743 SCRA 306, 319.
34 The Court held in Chevron (Phils.), Inc. v. Galit, et al., G.R. No. 186114, October 7, 2015:
It is settled that this Court is not a trier of facts, and this applies with greater force in labor cases. Corollary thereto, this Court has held in a number of cases that factual findings of administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, which are deemed to have acquired expertise in matters within their respective jurisdictions, are generally accorded not only respect but even finality, and bind the Court when' supported by substantial evidence. However, it is equally settled that the foregoing principles admit of certain exceptions, to wit: (1) the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises or conjectures; (2) the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (3) there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) in making its findings, the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; (7) the findings are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) the facts set forth in the petition, as well as in petitioners main and reply briefs, are not disputed by respondent; (10) the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record; and (11) the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion. (Citations omitted)
Here, the Court gives due course to the instant petition considering that the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the NLRC differ from those of the CA.
35See Rowena A. Santos v. Integrated Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Katheryn Tantiansu, G.R. No. 204620, July 11, 2016; Convoy Marketing Corp. v. Albia, G.R. No. 194969, October 7, 2015; and United Tourist Promotions (UTP), et al. v. Kemplin, 726 Phil. 337, 349 (2014).
36Mercury Drug Corporation v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 75662, September 15, 1989, 177 SCRA 580, 586-587.
37 ART. 282. Termination of Employer. x x x
An employer may tenninate an employment for any of the following causes:
(a) Serious misconduct or willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work;
(b) Gross and habitual neglect by the employee of his duties;
(c) Fraud or willful breach by the employee of the trust reposed in him by his employer or duly authorized representative;
(d) Commission of a crime or offense by the employee against the person of his employer or any immediate member of his family or his duly authorized representative; and
(e) Other causes analogous to the foregoing.
38Yabut v. Manila Electric Company, et al., G.R. No. 190436, January 16, 2012, 663 SCRA 92, 105.
39Caltex (Philippines), Inc., et al. v. Agad, et al., G.R. No. 162017, April 23, 2010, 619 SCRA 196, 213.
40Tomada, Sr. v. RFM Corporation-Bakery Flour Division, et al., G.R. No. 163270, September 11, 2009, 599 SCRA 381, 391.
42Micro Sales Operation Network, et al. v. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 155279, October 11, 2005, 472 SCRA 328, 335-336.
43Rollo, p. 132.
44Montallana v. La Consolacion College Manila, et al., G.R. No. 208890, December 8, 2014, 744 SCRA 163, 175.
45See Samson v. NLRC, et at., 386 Phil. 669, 686 (2000).
46Aro v. Nañawa, No. L-24163, April 28, 1969, 27 SCRA 1090.
47Republic v. CA, et al., G.R. No. 143108-09, September 26, 2001, 366 SCRA 87, 90.
48 G.R. No. 183952, September 9, 2013.
50 Consisting of a petition for certiorari, rollo, pp. 63-87; motion for reconsideration to the NLRC decision, rollo, pp. 106-121; Nerbes and Suravilla's position paper, rollo, pp. 127-147; reply to the bank's position paper; rollo, pp. 208-216, motion for reconsideration to the decision dated April 22, 2004, rollo, pp. 324-333; supplemental motion for reconsideration, rollo, pp. 335-337; and answer to bank's appeal, rollo, pp. 426-442.
51Malvar v. Kraft Foods Philippines, Inc., et al., supra note 48.
52 265 Phil. 61 (1996).
53Wenphil Corporation v. Abing, et al., G.R. No. 207983, April 7, 2014.
54See Nightowl Watchman & Security Agency, Inc. v. Lumahan, G.R. No. 212096. October 14, 2015.