[G.R. NO. 181688 : June 5, 2009]
DAIKOKU ELECTRONICS PHILS., INC., Petitioner, v. ALBERTO J. RAZA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
In this Petition for Review under Rule 45, Daikoku Electronics Phils., Inc. (Daikoku) assails and seeks to set aside the Decision1 dated September 26, 2007 and Resolution2 dated February 7, 2008 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 96282, effectively dismissing Daikoku's appeal from the resolutions dated May 31, 20063 and July 31, 2006,4 respectively, of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in NLRC CA No. 044001-05.
In January 1999, Daikoku hired respondent Alberto J. Raza as company driver, eventually assigning him to serve as personal driver to its president, Mamuro Ono (Ono, hereafter). By arrangement, Alberto, at the end of each working day which usually starts early morning and ends late at night, parks the car at an assigned slot outside of Ono's place of residence at Pacific Plaza Condominium in Makati City.
On July 21, 2003, at around 8:00 p.m., Alberto, after being let off by Ono, took the company vehicle to his own place also in Makati City. This incident did not go unnoticed, as Ono asked Alberto the following morning where he parked the car the night before. In response, Alberto said that he parked the car in the usual condominium parking area but at the wrong slot.
On July 24, 2003, Alberto received a show-cause notice why he should not be disciplined for dishonesty. A day after, Alberto submitted his written explanation of the incident, owning up to the lie he told Ono and apologizing and expressing his regret for his mistake.
Following an investigation, the investigation committee recommended that Alberto be suspended for 12 days without pay for the infraction of parking the company vehicle at his residence and for deliberately lying about it. The committee considered Alberto's voluntary admission of guilt and apology as mitigating circumstances. Daikoku's general affairs manager, however, was unmoved and ordered Alberto dismissed from the service effective August 14, 2003. "Dishonesty" and "other work related performance offenses" appeared in the corresponding notice of termination as grounds for the dismissal action.
Alberto sought reconsideration but to no avail, prompting him to file a case for illegal dismissal.
The Ruling of the Labor Arbiter
On January 15, 2005, the labor arbiter, on the finding that Alberto's dismissal was predicated, among others, on offenses he was neither apprised of nor charged with, rendered judgment for Alberto, disposing as follows:
WHEREFORE, finding the complainant's dismissal unlawful, respondents are hereby directed to reinstate complainant to his former position without loss of seniority rights and other benefits and further ordered solidarily to pay complainant backwages from the time of his dismissal up to actual reinstatement minus the salary corresponding to the suspension period of twelve days, plus 10% of the total award for attorney's fees, computed as follows:
A. Basic Pay From 8/14/03 to 1/14/05 P12,000 x 17.03 = P 204,360.00 B. 13th month pay P 204,360/12 = 17,030.00 C. Service Incentive Leave Pay P12,000/30 x 5 days x 17.03/12 = 2,838.33
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Less: P12,000/30 x 12 days = 4,800.00
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
TOTAL P 219,428.33 Attorney's fee of P219,428.33 x 10% ===========
The labor arbiter also determined that while some form of sanction against Alberto was indicated, the ultimate penalty of dismissal was not commensurate to the offense actually committed and charged.
From the labor arbiter's ruling, Daikoku appealed to the NLRC, its recourse docketed as NLRC CA No. 044001-05.
For his part, Alberto, thru counsel, wrote Daikoku demanding reinstatement, either actual or payroll, as decreed in the labor arbiter's appealed decision. Daikoku then asked Alberto to report back to work on May 10, 2005 which the company later moved to June 6, 2005.
On July 11, 2005, pending resolution of Daikoku's appeal, Alberto filed before the NLRC a Motion to Cite Respondents in Contempt and to Compel Them to Pay Complainant for the company's alleged refusal to reinstate him. In his accompanying affidavit, Alberto alleged, among other things, that he reported back to work on June 24, 2005. But instead of being given back his old job or an equivalent position, he was asked to attend an orientation seminar and undergo medical examination, at his expense. To compound matters, the company deferred payment of his backwages and some other benefits. These impositions, according to Alberto, impelled him to stop reporting for work.
The Ruling of the NLRC
Initially, the NLRC, by resolution of August 31, 2005, dismissed Daikoku's appeal for failure to perfect it in the manner and formalities prescribed by law. Acting on Daikoku's motion for reconsideration, however, the NLRC issued a Resolution dated May 31, 2006, reinstating Daikoku's appeal, setting aside the arbiter's January 15, 2005 appealed decision, and denying Alberto's motion to cite the company for contempt. But for Daikoku's failure to reinstate Alberto pending appeal, the NLRC ordered the payment of Alberto's backwages, at the basic rate of PhP 8,790 a month, corresponding the period indicated in the resolution of May 31, 2006 which dispositively reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, [Daikoku's] Motion for Reconsideration is GRANTED. [Alberto's] Motion to Cite Respondents in Contempt is DENIED for lack of merit.
The assailed Decision dated January 15, 2005 of the Labor Arbiter is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and a new one is hereby entered declaring that complainant was validly dismissed from his employment. Nevertheless, for failure to reinstate complainant Alberto J. Raza pursuant to the Labor Arbiter's Decision, respondent DAIKOKU ELECTRONICS PHILS., INC. is hereby ordered to pay him his wages from 11 March 2005 up to the promulgation of this Resolution, provisionally computed as follows:
[Basic] pay: (3/11/05 - 5/11/06) (P8,790.00 x 14 months) = P 123,060.00 13th month pay: (P123,060.00 / 12 mos.) = 10,255.55 Service Incentive Leave Pay: (P8,790 / 30 x 5 days x 14 mos./12) = 1,709.17 TOTAL P 135,024.72
SO ORDERED. (Emphasis added.)
Alberto sought reconsideration of the above ruling. Daikoku also moved for reconsideration on the backwages aspect of the NLRC resolution. On July 31, 2006, the NLRC issued a resolution explicitly denying only Alberto's motion.
Obviously on the belief that the NLRC's July 31, 2006 resolution also constituted a denial of its own motion for reconsideration, Daikoku went to the CA via a petition for certiorari, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 96282, to assail the NLRC Resolutions dated May 31, 2006 and July 31, 2006. The same NLRC resolutions were also assailed in Alberto's similar petition to the appellate court, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 100714. Both petitions, while involving the same parties and practically the same subject and issues, were not consolidated in the CA.
Meanwhile, on October 30, 2006, Alberto filed before the CA a Motion for Summary Dismissal and to Cite Petitioner in Direct Contempt, alleging that the assailed NLRC resolutions of May 31 and July 31, 2006 have become final as against Daikoku which filed out of time a prohibited second motion for reconsideration.
The Ruling of the CA
On September 26, 2007, the appellate court rendered the assailed decision dismissing Daikoku's appeal as well as denying Alberto's contempt motion. The fallo reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED and is, accordingly, DISMISSED. The motion to cite petitioner in contempt is, likewise, DENIED for lack of merit.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
The CA anchored its denial of Daikoku's petition on the interplay of the following stated grounds or premises: (1) prematurity of the petition for certiorari, the NLRC not having yet resolved Daikoku's motion for reconsideration of the NLRC's May 31, 2006 resolution; (2) even if the matter of prematurity is to be disregarded, the NLRC May 31, 2006 resolution has become final and executory as to Daikoku as its motion for reconsideration was filed out of time; and (3) there is no compelling reason for the relaxation of procedural rules.
Following the CA's denial on February 7, 2008 of its motion for reconsideration, Daikoku interposed this petition.
I. THE [CA] GRAVELY ABUSED ITS DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION WHEN IT STATED THAT THE DECISION OF THE NLRC AGAINST THE RESPONDENTS ALREADY ATTAINED ITS FINALITY.
II. UPHOLDING THE GRANT OF BACKWAGES TO THE RESPONDENT IS UNJUST, BASELESS AND INEQUITABLE.5
The Court's Ruling
The key issue, as the appellate court aptly put it, boils down to the question of timeliness of Daikoku's motion for reconsideration of the May 31, 2006 NLRC Resolution.
Motion for Reconsideration Belatedly Filed
As the records show, Daikoku admitted receiving a copy of the May 31, 2006 NLRC resolution on June 16, 2006. It only filed its motion for reconsideration on July 3, 2006, or 17 days after the receipt of the May 31, 2006 resolution. Section 15, Rule VII of the NLRC 2005 Rules of Procedure pertinently provides:
SECTION 15. MOTIONS FOR RECONSIDERATION. Motions for reconsideration of any decision, resolution or order of the Commission shall not be entertained except when based on palpable or patent errors; provided that the motion is x x x filed within ten (10) calendar days from receipt of decision, resolution or order, with proof of service that a copy of the same has been furnished, within the reglementary period, the adverse party; and provided further, that only one such motion from the same party shall be entertained. (Emphasis ours.)
Applying the above provision to the case at bench, Daikoku had 10 days from June 16, 2006 when it received the May 31, 2006 NLRC resolution, or until June 26, 2006, to be precise, within which to file a motion for reconsideration. As it were, Daikoku filed its motion for reconsideration of the May 31, 2006 NLRC resolution on the 17th day from its receipt of the said resolution. The motion for reconsideration was doubtless filed out of time, as the CA determined.
To be sure, the relaxation of procedural rules cannot be made without any valid reasons proffered for or underpinning it. To merit liberality, petitioner must show reasonable cause justifying its non-compliance with the rules and must convince the Court that the outright dismissal of the petition would defeat the administration of substantive justice.6 Daikoku urges a less rigid application of procedural rules to give way for the resolution of the case on its merits. The desired leniency cannot be accorded absent valid and compelling reasons for such a procedural lapse. The appellate court saw no compelling need meriting the relaxation of the rules. Neither does the Court.
We must stress that the bare invocation of "the interest of substantial justice" line is not some magic wand that will automatically compel this Court to suspend procedural rules. Procedural rules are not to be belittled, let alone dismissed simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party's substantial rights.7 Utter disregard of the rules cannot be justly rationalized by harping on the policy of liberal construction.8
Daikoku's substantial rights, if any, may still be amply addressed in the appellate proceedings Alberto instituted and pending before the CA, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 100714.9 As to Alberto, his appeal opens de novo his action for illegal dismissal vis - Ã -vis the decision of the NLRC. At the very least, Daikoku still had the opportunity to be heard in opposition to Alberto's appeal. Be that as it may, it behooves the Court to refrain from taking any dispositive action that will likely preempt the CA in its disposition of Alberto's appeal.10 Indeed, the issue as to whether or not there was a valid ground for the dismissal of workers is factual in nature,11 best threshed out before the appellate court which has jurisdiction to rule over controversies traversing both issues or questions of fact and law.
While not determinative of the final outcome of this case, we are inclined to agree with Daikoku's treatment of the July 31, 2006 NLRC Resolution as an action denying its motion for reconsideration of the May 31, 2006 NLRC Resolution. Two factors point to such conclusion: (1) Daikoku filed its motion for reconsideration on July 3, 2006, way before the issuance of the July 31, 2006 NLRC Resolution; and (2) while the NLRC only mentioned Alberto's motion in the July 31, 2006 Resolution, the tenor of this issuance conveys the impression that it was the final ruling of the entire controversy, one that puts to a final rest the clashing interests of the parties. Consider the following NLRC lines:
For want of grave abuse of discretion and serious error, this Commission now write finis to this labor controversy.
WHEREFORE, the assailed Resolution of 31 May 2006 STAND undisturbed.
SO ORDERED. (Emphasis supplied.)
Given the foregoing consideration, it may validly be concluded that Daikoku's motion for reconsideration of the May 31, 2006 NLRC Resolution had, in effect, been denied, on the ground of belated filing. In a very real sense, therefore, the CA was correct in its holding that the May 31, 2006 NLRC Resolution is final and executory as to Daikoku.
To obviate any misunderstanding, however, we wish to stress that this disposition does not purport to pass upon the correctness of, much more sustain, the NLRC's May 31, 2006 Resolution. Neither should this Decision be taken as affirming or negating the propriety of Alberto's dismissal from the service and the consequent money award granted by the NLRC. That kind of adjudication could very well come later should Alberto opt to pursue his cause further with the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 100714. For the moment, we are mainly concerned, as we should be, with what Daikoku has raised before us: the propriety of the assailed September 26, 2007 CA Decision, as reiterated in its resolution of February 7, 2008.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby DENIED for lack of merit. Accordingly, the CA Decision dated September 26, 2007 and Resolution dated February 7, 2008 in CA-G.R. SP No. 96282 are hereby AFFIRMED.Costs against petitioner.
* Additional member as per Special Order No. 645 dated May 15, 2009.
** Additional member as per Special Order No. 635 dated May 7, 2009.
1 Rollo, pp. 27-36. Penned by Associate Justice Rebecca De Guia-Salvador and concurred in by Associate Justices Magdangal M. De Leon and Ricardo R. Rosario.
2 Id. at 38.
3 Id. at 54-65. Penned by Commissioner Gregorio O. Bilog III and concurred in by Presiding Commissioner Lourdes C. Javier and Commissioner Tito F. Genilo.
4 Id. at 66-67.
5 Id. at 14 & 18.
6 United Paragon Mining Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 150959, August 4, 2006, 497 SCRA 638, 648; citing Philippine Valve Mfg. Company v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 152304, November 12, 2004, 442 SCRA 383.
7 Land Bank of the Philippines v. Ascot Holdings and Equities, Inc., G.R. No. 175163, October 19, 2007, 537 SCRA 396, 406.
8 Torres v. Abundo, G.R. No. 174263, January 24, 2007, 512 SCRA 556, 565; citing Castillo v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 159971, March 25, 2004, 426 SCRA 369, 375.
9 CA Ninth Division.
10 Per verification, on December 22, 2008, CA-G.R. SP No. 100714 was dismissed by the Ninth Division, with Associate Justice Arcangelita R. Lontok III as ponente. The case is pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration filed by Alberto.
11 Espina v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 164582, March 28, 2007, 519 SCRA 327, 355; citing Anvil Ensembles Garment v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 155037, April 29, 2005, 457 SCRA 675, 681.