[G.R. NO. 155389 : February 28, 2005]
DMA SHIPPING PHILIPPINES, INC. and MONSOON MARITIME SERVICES PTE. LTD., Petitioners, v. HENRY CABILLAR and NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION (Fourth Division), Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure of the Decision1 and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 49428.
Monsoon Maritime Services Pte. Ltd. (Monsoon) is a foreign corporation based in Singapore. It is the owner of the vessel M/V Eagle Moon while DMA Shipping Phils. Inc. (DMA Shipping), is its manning agent in the Philippines.
On April 15, 1994, Henry Cabillar was hired by Monsoon, through DMA Shipping, as Chief Officer of the M/V Eagle Moon, for a period of ten (10) months, with a basic salary of US$1,000.00 per month.2
On July 30, 1994, Cabillar wrote the manager of Monsoon, coursed through the ship master, requesting for an early repatriation and for his reliever grounded on the failure of DMA Shipping to give the promised additional allowance.3 Acting on the said letter-request, Monsoon approved an increase in Cabillar's wage by US$700.00.4 He withdrew his request for repatriation.5
On August 20, 1994, while the vessel was docked in Calcutta, India, the gantry crane operators refused to work and demanded that their gantry crane driving allowance be increased from US$0.50 per container to US$3.00 per container. The crane operators learned that gantry crane operators of the American President Lines were given US$3.00 per container as driving allowance while the gantry crane operators of Monsoon were given US$.50 only. When Capt. Raphael Patrick Graham, master of the vessel M/V Eagle Moon, learned of an impending strike to be conducted by the gantry crane operators of the vessel. He instructed Cabillar to talk to the crew members under his immediate supervision to convince them not to proceed with the intended strike and have the matter discussed with the management when the vessel returns to Singapore.
Instead of talking to the crew members, Cabillar himself joined in the strike. The loading and unloading of cargoes of the vessel were suspended. Monsoon sent a telex to Graham urging him to persuade the crew members to honor the agreed rate of US$.50 per container instead of trying to pressure the owner of the vessel. It expressed its displeasure on Cabillar for joining the strike.
Nevertheless, Monsoon was impelled to agree to the demands of the striking crew members to avert any further loss and expense to the operation of the vessel. The strike lasted for about four (4) hours.
After the incident, Capt. Graham listed the names of those who staged the strike in the official logbook of the vessel which included Cabillar.6
On September 1, 1994, the vessel arrived at the port of Singapore. Capt. Graham made an entry in the official logbook that Cabillar was dismissed from the service for a disciplinary offense.7
On the same date, the officers of Monsoon, namely, Operations Manager Andy Wang, Assistant Operations Manager Captain Gabriel Tan, and Managing Director Pan Boon Pin, boarded the vessel and informed Cabillar that he has been separated from his employment because of the incident in Calcutta. Cabillar disembarked from the vessel.
On May 17, 1995, Cabillar filed with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Regional Center a complaint against DMA Shipping and Monsoon seeking payment for the unexpired portion of his contract. He claimed that he was forced to resign when he had been informed that he had already been replaced. He was also forced to affix his signature in the Ship's article. When he received an amount short of what was due him, he signed the wage account "under protest." He further claimed that he was threatened to be picked up by the Singapore police if he refused to resign, thus, leaving him with no choice but to resign. He claimed that he was likewise forced to pay for his airfare to the Philippines.
The respondents specifically denied the allegations of the complainant. They claimed that the latter opted to sign off. They submitted, in support of their defense, the joint affidavit of Andy Wang and Capt. Gabriel Tan and the affidavit of Pan Boon Pin, duly authenticated by the Philippine Consul to Singapore, Ernesto G. Diserto, and the appendages thereof. Wang, Tan, and Pin declared in their affidavits that, on September 1, 1994, they boarded the M/V Eagle Moon at the Singapore port and confronted Cabillar of the incident in Calcutta and the decision of the master of the vessel dismissing him. They gave Cabillar the option either to sign off or to be dismissed for reasons contained in the logbook in the vessel and the Standard Employment Contract; Cabillar apologized and opted to sign off on condition that the ship master will not pursue his complaint against him; Cabillar appealed to them that he be given a rating of "Very Good" upon signing off to enable him to seek employment in Singapore to which they agreed and gave him a "very good " rating; he was paid his wages and the cost of his plane fare back to the Philippines; before his return to the Philippines, he stayed at the Katong Park Hotel Pte. Ltd., at the expense of the company, in the amount of Singapore $797.67;8 they were shocked when, after the lapse of more than eight months Cabillar filed his complaint.
On January 13, 1998, Executive Labor Arbiter Reynoso A. Belarmino rendered a Decision in favor of Cabillar declaring his dismissal as illegal. The dispositive portion of the decision reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered declaring the dismissal of complainant illegal and directing DMA Shipping Phils., Inc. and Monsoon Maritime Services PTE. LTD. to pay complainant, jointly and severally, the sum of FIVE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED ($5,100.00) DOLLARS as backwages and ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED ($1,700.00) DOLLARS in damages plus SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY ($680.00) DOLLARS as attorney's fees or the peso equivalent of the aforecited amounts.
DMA Shipping and Monsoon appealed to the NLRC. After due proceedings, the NLRC dismissed the appeal and affirmed the decision of the Labor Arbiter.
DMA Shipping and Monsoon (now the petitioners) sought recourse from the Court of Appeals by way of a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. They asserted therein that -
PUBLIC RESPONDENT NLRC GRAVELY ERRED AND ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN RELYING TO A MERE SAMPLE, UNVERIFIED AND UNAUTHENTIC COPY OF AN ABSTRACT OF VARIOUS ARTICLES OF THE MERCHANT SHIPPER LAWS 1963 ON LOG BOOK ENTRIES TO DENY PETITIONERS' MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION.
PUBLIC RESPONDENT NLRC GRAVELY ERRED AND ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN RULING THAT PRIVATE RESPONDENT CABILLAR WAS ILLEGALLY DISMISSED AND, THEREFORE, ENTITLED TO DAMAGES. THIS NOTWITHSTANDING HIS VOLUNTARY RESIGNATION AS CLEARLY ESTABLISHED BY PETITIONER MONSOON.
PUBLIC RESPONDENT NLRC GRAVELY ERRED IN ITS RULING THAT IF INDEED PRIVATE RESPONDENT CABILLAR REFUSED TO FOLLOW THE CAPTAIN'S ORDERS, THAT ACT CONSTITUTES INSUBORDINATION AS GROUND FOR DISMISSAL, WHICH THE LOG BOOK IS MYSTERIOUSLY SILENT AS TO THE OFFENSE.
PUBLIC RESPONDENT NLRC GRAVELY ERRED AND ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN AFFIRMING THE LABOR ARBITER'S AWARD OF BACKWAGES, DAMAGES AND ATTORNEY'S FEES.
PUBLIC RESPONDENT NLRC GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT AWARDING DAMAGES TO PETITIONER MONSOON ON ACCOUNT OF PRIVATE RESPONDENT CABILLAR (SIC) BAD FAITH AND MALICE IN FILING THE PRESENT CASE.9
On October 19, 2000, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision dismissing the petition. It also resolved to deny the motion for reconsideration of DMA Shipping and Monsoon of the decision.
DMA Shipping and Monsoon filed their Petition for Review and raised the following errors: (a) whether the respondent was dismissed by the petitioner Monsoon and; if so, whether his dismissal was for a valid cause; and (b) whether the respondent is entitled to backwages, damages and attorney's fees.
On the first issue, the petitioners maintained that the respondent voluntarily resigned as Chief Officer after the docking of the vessel in Singapore on September 1, 1994. They posit that the respondent failed to adduce any evidence that he was dismissed as chief officer. They emphasized that, in contrast, they adduced evidence that the petitioner Monsoon remitted to the respondent his salary and leave pay and paid for his plane fare back to the Philippines and his hotel bills in Singapore prior to his return to the Philippines. The petitioners argue that even if the respondent was dismissed, however, his dismissal was for cause as shown by the entries in the official logbook of the vessel dated August 20, 1994 and September 1, 1994. They aver that the CA erred in giving probative weight to the Contract of Waiver, Abstract of Various Articles of the Merchant Shipper Laws of 1963, the affidavit of the respondent, and in not giving credence to those of the witnesses of the petitioners.
We rule against the petitioners.
Whether or not the respondent was dismissed or that he resigned as chief officer of the vessel is a question of fact. The Labor Arbiter ruled that the respondent was dismissed. The finding of the Labor Arbiter was affirmed by the NLRC and the Court of Appeals. We have constantly ruled that:
At the outset, it bears stressing that in a Petition for Review on Certiorari , the scope of the Supreme Court's judicial review of decisions of the Court of Appeals is generally confined only to errors of law; questions of fact are not entertained. Thus, only questions of law may be brought by the parties and passed upon by this Court in the exercise of its power to review.
The Supreme Court is not a trier of facts, and this doctrine applies with greater force in labor cases. Factual questions are for the labor tribunals to resolve. In this case, the factual issues have already been determined by the labor arbiter and the National Labor Relations Commission. Their findings were affirmed by the CA. Judicial review by this Court does not extend to a reevaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the proper labor tribunal has based its determination.
Indeed, factual findings of labor officials who are deemed to have acquired expertise in matters within their respective jurisdictions are generally accorded not only respect, but even finality, and are binding on the Supreme Court. Verily, their conclusions are accorded great weight upon appeal, especially when supported by substantial evidence. Consequently, the Supreme Court is not duty-bound to delve into the accuracy of their factual findings, in the absence of a clear showing that the same were arbitrary and bereft of any rational basis.10
In this case, the petitioners failed to make a clear showing that the findings of the Labor Arbiter affirmed by the NLRC and the Court of Appeals are arbitrary and bereft of any rational basis.
Indeed, the entry in the logbook of the vessel dated September 1, 1994 shows that the ship captain, for and in behalf of the petitioners dismissed the respondent for joining the strike of the crew members of the vessel.
Date and Hour of Occurrence Place of Occurrence or situation by Latitude and Longitude at Sea Date of Entry Entries required by Section 126, Merchant Shipping Act If fine imposed for disciplinary offense
01-09-94 Singapore 01-09-94
Chief Officer H. Cabillar dismissed from vessel for disciplinary reasons
Dismissal of Cf. Officer Henry Cabillar, in accordance with POEA standard contract table of offenses para. 11, for activity which create discontent or dissension amongst crew members, specifically by participating as senior officer in unjustly demanding for higher compensation for crane driving allowance, while the vessel was in Calcutta on 20-08-94 despite the earnest request to be given reasonable time to discuss any such grievances without affecting the cargo operations on board the vessel.
Although earlier on July 30, 1994 the respondent wrote the petitioner Monsoon for a reliever, however, he withdrew the same when his request for additional allowance as agreed upon between him and the petitioner DMA Shipping was granted by the petitioners.
The Labor Arbiter, NLRC and the CA cannot be faulted for disbelieving the claim of Wang, Tan and Pin that the respondent resigned upon the arrival of the vessel in Singapore on September 1, 1994. The petitioners failed to adduce any documentary evidence to prove their allegation. Nor did the petitioners adduce any documentary evidence to prove their claim that they and the respondent had agreed that, in consideration of the respondent's resignation, the petitioners would give him a "very good" rating and will defray his plane fare back to the Philippines and for his hotel bills in Singapore. Absent such evidence, the entry by Capt. Graham in the logbook of the vessel on September 1, 1994 must be given credence and probative weight.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
We agree with the petitioners that the respondent was dismissed for a just cause. It is not disputed that the respondent joined the strike of the gantry crane operators in their demand for an increase of their pay despite the request of the petitioners for the respondent to convince the striking crew members to stop their strike and to air their grievances with management upon the arrival of the vessel in Singapore. The respondent and the crew members refused and continued with the strike. The loading and unloading of cargoes had to be suspended.
It bears stressing that under their Employment Contracts, the crew and officers of the vessel bound themselves to follow the procedures for their grievances, thus:
Section 16. GRIEVANCE MACHINERY
A. If the seafarer considers himself aggrieved, he shall make his complaint in accordance with the following procedures:
1. The seafarer shall first approach the head of the Department in which he is assigned to explain his grievance.
A. In the Deck, Radio and Catering Department, the head is the Chiefmate.
b. In the Engine Department, the head is the Chief Engineer.
c. In the Catering and/or Hotel Department in a passenger ship, the head is the Chief Steward and/or Purser.
2. The seafarer shall make his grievance in writing and in an orderly manner and shall choose a time when his complaint or grievance can be properly heard.
3. The Department head shall deal with the complaint or grievance and where solution is not possible at his level, refer the complaint or grievance to the Master who shall handle the case personally.
4. If no satisfactory result is achieved, the seafarer concerned may appeal to the management of the company or with a Philippine Labor Attaché or consular officer overseas. The master shall afford such facilities necessary to enable the seaman to transmit his appeal.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
5. If, after observing the grievance procedure, the master finds that the seafarer violated the terms of his Contract or has committed breach of discipline, the master shall discipline the seafarer or, if warranted, terminate his employment.
6. The seafarer may also seek the assistance of the highest ranking Filipino seafarer on board.
B. When availed of by the seafarer, the grievance procedure and all actions or decisions agreed upon shall be properly documented for the protection and interest of both parties.
C. The procedure herein shown above stated shall be without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) or the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) over any unresolved complaints arising out of shipboard employment that shall be brought before it by the seafarer.
The crew and the respondent refused to follow the procedure and stop the strike, thereby derailing the loading and unloading of the cargoes of the vessel.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
They may have a valid grievance against the petitioners but they are bound to follow the procedures set forth in their contracts of employment to address said grievances.
On the other hand, the petitioners themselves violated their contracts of employment with the respondent and the crew because the captain of the vessel failed to comply with the disciplinary procedures set forth therein.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Section 17. DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURES
The Master shall comply with the following disciplinary procedures against an erring seafarer:
A. The Master shall furnish the seafarer with a written notice containing the following:
1. Grounds for the charges as listed in Section 31 of this Contract.
2. Date, time and place for a formal investigation of the charges against the seafarer concerned.
B. The Master or his authorized representative shall conduct the investigation or hearing, giving the seafarer the opportunity to explain or defend himself against the charges. An entry on the investigation shall be entered into the ship's logbook.
C. If, after the investigation or hearing, the Master is convinced that imposition of a penalty is justified, the Master shall issue a written notice of penalty and the reasons for it to the seafarer, with copies furnished to the Philippine agent.
D. Dismissal for just cause may be effected by the Master without furnishing the seafarer with a notice of dismissal if doing so will prejudice the safety of the crew or the vessel. This information shall be entered in the ship's logbook. The Master shall send a complete report to the manning agency substantiated by witnesses, testimonies and any other documents in support thereof.
The respondent was not furnished with any written notice of any charges against him. Nor was there any formal investigation of the charges. Neither was the respondent furnished with a copy of the written notice of the penalty imposed on him. He was merely verbally told, when the vessel arrived in Singapore, on September 1, 1994, that he had been dismissed for joining the strike of the crew members. For such violation, the petitioners are liable to the respondent for moral damages or for indemnity of
P30,000.00, if the respondent fails to prove such moral damages.12 In this case, the respondent failed to prove moral damages. Hence, he is entitled to indemnity in the amount of P30,000.00.13
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. The petitioners are ordered to pay, jointly and severally,
P30,000.00 to the respondent by way of indemnity. The awards for other damages and attorney's fees are DELETED.
Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes, with Associate Justices Mariano M. Umali (retired) and Rebecca De Guia-Salvador, concurring.
2 Rollo, p. 53.
3 Id. at 47.
4 Id. at 99.
5 Id. at 100.
6 Id. at 54.
7 Id. at 55.
8 Id. at 28-29.
9 Id. at 29-30.
10 Alfaro v. Court of Appeals, 363 SCRA 798 (2001).
11 Id. at 63.
12 Agabon v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 158693, November 17, 2004.