Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 174173               March 7, 2012

MA. MELISSA A. GALANG, Petitioner,
vs.
JULIA MALASUGUI, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari1 of the Decision2 of the Twenty First Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA G.R. SP No. 62700 dated 18 April 2006, granting the Special Civil Action for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure filed by Julia Malasugui and reversing the Resolution of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Fifth Division. The dispositive portion of the assailed decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is GRANTED. The RESOLUTION dated June 29, 2000 of public respondent National Labor Relations Commission (Fifth Division) is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Private respondent Liza Galang is hereby ORDERED to pay petitioner Julia Malasugui the following: salary differential in the amount of ₱19,554.23; 13th month pay differential in the amount of ₱4,620.50; separation pay equivalent to one month salary for every year of continuous service; and full backwages from the time of her illegal dismissal up to the date of finality of this judgment.3

Respondent has this story:

On 26 June 1993, Julia Malasugui (Malasugui) was hired by Ma. Melissa A. Galang (Galang) to take care, oversee and man the premises of the Davao Royal Garden Compound (Pangi Property) Ė the main compound of Galang where the orchids and other ornamental plants used for the business were nursed and propagated. Aside from taking care of the plants, she was required by Galang to be present at the premises at seven thirty in the morning until five thirty in the afternoon every day, including Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays without any day-offs.4

Galang would visit the premises at least thrice a week and give her instructions on what to do and what were the things to be prioritized. Among these instructions were tending, watering and spraying with chemicals various orchid varieties, packing the orchids for export purposes and cleaning the surroundings of the half-hectare premises.5

From 1993-1995, Malasugui was paid by Galang ₱40.00 as daily wage and after three years, it was increased to ₱70.00 per day until February 1999.6 She was also given one thousand pesos (₱1,000.00) bonus every December by Galang.7

Malasugui was later made to stay and live at the premises, particularly in one of the bunk houses within the Pangi property which was vacated by the family driver of Galang, so that she could watch and guard the premises even during nighttime.8 However, she had to buy her food.9

In November 1998, she became sick with severe cough and asked for financial assistance from Galang for medical check-up. The coughing became incessant which prompted Galang to bring her to a doctor and made to undergo a series of examinations including chest radiographic examination. Thereafter, she was terminated from work and barred from entering the Pangi property on 27 January 1999.10

The allegations of respondent were corroborated by the neighbors of the Pangi property, namely: Nestor Siarot (Siarot) and Ledwina M. Mendoza (Mendoza).

Siarot in his affidavit attested that he was an employee of PG Lumber, the office of which is adjacent to the Pangi property. He attested that he knows that Malasugui slept within the premises and tended to the plants and orchids, either by watering, cultivating or spraying the same with chemicals; and that Galang is the owner of the Davao Royal Garden and Malasugui received instructions from her.11

Mendoza, in turn, confirmed Siarotís statement. She said that she personally knows that Malasugui was an employee of Davao Royal Garden, a business establishment engaged in the business of growing of orchids and that in the course of her employment Malasugui was made to stay inside the premises of the Pangi property.12

On the other hand is the version of the defense:

Petitioner Galang narrated that she is the owner of Davao Royal Garden, a sole proprietorship engaged in the retailing of ornamental plants, consisting of receiving of cut-flowers from farmers or suppliers, packing them for shipment, and shipping them to the buyers.13 However, Galang did not hire respondent Malasugui.

Her mother Elsa Galang (Elsa) is an orchid hobbyist who is engaged in the propagation of orchid plants and occasionally sells them to her friends and acquaintances.14

In 1993, her family bought a parcel of land at Matini, Pangi, Davao City (Pangi property) on which they intended to construct their family home. While construction was yet to start, Elsa transferred her orchid collection to the Pangi property. There thus was a need to oversee the property and Elsa decided to allow their laundrywoman Aurora Solis (Solis) to stay in one of the bunk houses within the property to take care of the orchid collection. At the same time, Solis would also assist Galang in her business. The other bunkhouse was then occupied by their family driver.15

Sometime in 1995, Malasugui visited Solis, a relative by affinity, in the Pangi property. She told Solis of her intention to find a job in the city but she had no place to stay in the meantime. Malasugui could not be hired by the Galang. There was no need for another employee since Solis was already taking care of Elsaís orchid collection and Galangís orchid business. However, Malasugui was allowed to stay in the bunkhouse occupied by Solis.16

When the family driver left the other bunkhouse, Malasugui occupied it and brought along her family as well. The Galang family tolerated this arrangement for around six years as an act of kindness. During these times, Malasugui did not look for any job as initially intended. They did not require Malasugui to pay for rentals, electricity, water and other utilities.17

Solis, on the other hand, asked Malasugui to help out in her tasks of weeding, watering, spraying chemicals on the orchids as well as cleaning the Pangi property. When Galang inquired why Malasugui was doing such tasks, Solis replied that she asked Malasugui to assist her since she and her family were occupying the property. The assistance rendered by Malasugui was in gratitude for the hospitality of the Galang family.18

Admittedly, Galang occasionally gave money to Malasugui out of charity. She even answered for the medical expenses of Malasugui when the latter became sick of excessive coughing early in 1999. She even made an arrangement with a radiologist for her diagnostic examination but Malasugui did not show up at the appointed time. When confronted by Galang about this, Malasugui packed her belongings and left the Pangi property. She was not asked nor forced to leave the premises by any member of the Galang family.19

Malasugui filed a complaint for illegal dismissal before the National Labor Relations Commission, Regional Arbitration Branch No. XI of Davao City on 8 February 1999 claiming underpayment of wages, holiday pay, separation pay and 13th month differential.20

On 28 September 1999, Labor Arbiter Antonio M. Villanueva rendered judgment21 finding complainantís charge of illegal dismissal without merit. The dispositive portion reads:

WHEREFORE, in consideration of all the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered finding complainantís charge of illegal dismissal without merit but ordering respondents Davao Royal Garden and Melissa Galang to pay jointly and severally the sum of TWENTY FOUR THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY FOUR PESOS AND SEVENTY THREE CENTAVOS (₱24,174.73) to complainant as wage differential and 13th month pay differential.

Ordering the dismissal of the claims for holiday pay and separation pay for lack of merit.22

The Labor Arbiter found that Malasugui was hired to work for Galang in relation to her orchid business. Her tasks of assisting Solis in watering, weeding and cleaning the surroundings led the Labor Arbiter to conclude that with the knowledge and acquiescence of Melissa Galang, Malasugui was made "to suffer or permit to work" within the definition of employee under Article 97(e) of the Labor Code. However, the Labor Arbiter ruled that there was no substantial evidence that Malasugui was illegally dismissed and barred from entering the property after she, without any notice to her employer, packed her belongings and left the Pangi property. Respondent was awarded salary differential and 13th month pay but was denied holiday pay.

Galang appealed before the NLRC assailing the finding of the Labor Arbiter that there was an employer-employee relationship between her and Malasugui.

On 29 June 2000, the NLRC affirmed with modification the Decision of the Labor Arbiter. The dispositive portion of the resolution reads:

WHEREFORE, premises laid, the decision appealed from is hereby MODIFIED by deleting the award of salary differentials. The rest of the Labor Arbiterís decision stands.23

The NLRC in its Resolution24 deleted the award of salary differentials on the reason that even though the salary received by the complainant was below that provided by law by Ten Pesos (₱10.00) per day, the non-monetary benefits received by her such as lodging, free water, electricity and telephone, if quantified, will be more than enough to compensate the difference. To do otherwise would result in unjust enrichment on the part of Malasugui to the detriment of Galang.

The Motion for Reconsideration25 filed by Malasugui was denied by the NLRC in a Resolution dated 29 September 2000.

Aggrieved, Malasugui filed a Special Civil Action for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure before the CA alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of NLRC.26

The CA granted the petition filed by Malasugui. It ruled that respondent was illegally dismissed by Galang. It reinstated the award of salary differential to Malasugui in addition to the 13th month pay. Further, because of the ruling of illegal dismissal against Galang, the appellate court awarded separation pay to Malasugui for every year of continuous service and full backwages from the time of her dismissal up to the time of the finality of the judgment.

The following are the assignment of errors presented before this Court:

THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN DECIDING QUESTIONS OF SUBSTANCE CONTRARY TO LAW AND SETTLED RULINGS OF THE SUPREME COURT IN THE FOLLOWING:

A. THE RESPONDENT [MALASUGUI] WAS ILLEGALLY AND CONSTRUCTIVELY DISMISSED FROM EMPLOYMENT DESPITE ABSENCE OF AN EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP AND THEREFORE ENTITLED TO SEPARATION PAY AND BACKWAGES.

B. THE CONCLUSIONS REACHED BY THE COURT OF APPEALS ARE CONTRARY TO THOSE OF THE LABOR ARBITER AND NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION AND ARE MERE CONCLUSIONS PREMISED ON ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTIONS OF FACTS NOT BORNE OUT OF THE RECORD.27

The basic issues are, first, whether or not Malasugui is an employee of Galang; and second if she is an employee, whether or not Malasugui was constructively dismissed.

All three, Labor Arbiter, the NLRC and the CA ruled that there was an employer-employee relationship between Galang and Malasugui. We do not see any reason to rule otherwise. This Court is not a trier of facts and does not routinely undertake the re-examination of the evidence presented by the contending parties for the factual findings of the labor officials who have acquired expertise in their own fields are accorded respect and even finality if affirmed on appeal to the Court of Appeals.28

Such principle cannot, however, apply to the finding of illegal dismissal against Galang. The Labor Arbiter and the NLRC both ruled that there was no illegal dismissal, but the Court of Appeals reversed such findings. We find a need to look into the decision of the CA.

When supported by substantial evidence, the findings of fact of the CA are conclusive and binding on the parties and are not reviewable by this Court, unless the case falls under any of the following recognized exceptions:

(1) When the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculation, surmises and conjectures;

(2) When the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible;

(3) Where there is a grave abuse of discretion;

(4) When the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts;

(5) When the findings of fact are conflicting;

(6) When the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee;

(7) When the findings are contrary to those of the trial court [in this case the administrative bodies of Labor Arbiter and NLRC];

(8) When the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based;

(9) When the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioners' main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondents; and

(10) When the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)29

That said and done, we conclude that there was indeed an illegal dismissal of the respondent by the petitioner.

We proceed from the premises that (1) as found by the labor arbiter, the NLRC and the CA, there is an employer-employee relationship between petitioner and respondent; and (2) it is a fact that there was a severance of employment.

The dispute is on the reason for the severance. Petitioner pleads that there was abandonment. Respondent, as she had charged petitioner at the outset, submits that there was illegal dismissal.

Jurisprudence provides that the burden of proof to show that the dismissal was for a just cause is on the employer.

Petitioner alleged that respondent packed her bags and left the property after being scolded due to her non-appearance at the medical examination arranged by the petitioner. The submission is that respondent left the premises and abandoned her work.

Abandonment is a form of neglect of duty, one of the just causes for an employer to terminate an employee. It is a hornbook precept that in illegal dismissal cases, the employer bears the burden of proof. For a valid termination of employment on the ground of abandonment, the employer must prove, by substantial evidence, the concurrence of the employeeís failure to report for work for no valid reason and his categorical intention to discontinue employment.30

There is in this case no substantial evidence that will prove respondentís categorical intention to discontinue employment. On the contrary, the story of abandonment is simply doubtful. The Court of Appeals was correct in ruling that:

xxxx

It is not in accord with normal human experience and too flimsy a reason for petitioner so circumstanced, to just pack up her things and vacate the Pangi property after being queried on why she did not show up at the appointed time with the radiologist. The allegation that private respondent was displeased after incurring expenses for petitionerís medical check-up remained unrebutted. Hence, petitionerís testimony that she was prevented entry into the Pangi property appeared more credible.

xxxx31

Respondent has been in the employ of petitioner for six years when the alleged abandonment happened. Being scolded, if it were true, is hardly a reason for a gardener of six years to just pack up and leave the work premises where she was even allowed to reside, at a time when she was ill and needed medical attention. Indeed, the alleged scolding is itself incredible. The given reason was that respondent failed to show up at her arranged appointment with the radiologist. It is hard to believe that a sick gardener, certainly of minimal means, would refuse the offer of medical services. In fact, the basic allegation in respondentís complaint for illegal dismissal was that petitionerís "treatment to her became sour especially when she requested that she be examined by a doctor for her cough."32 And, completely belying the petitionerís assertion that respondent failed to show up at the appointed time with the radiologist are two certificates issued by Radiologist Susan R. Gaspar stating that on 30 January 1999 and on 1 February 1999 respondent had her chest x-ray taken at the Radiology Section of the Polyclinic Davao.33

In the case of Garcia v. NLRC correctly relied upon by the Court of Appeals, we emphasized that there must be a concurrence of the intention to abandon and some overt acts from which an employee may be deduced as having no more intention to work.34 Such intent to discontinue the employment must be shown by clear proof that it was deliberate and unjustified.35

In the instant case, the overt act relied upon by petitioner is not only a doubtful occurrence but is, if it did transpire, even consistent with the dismissal from employment posited by the respondent. The factual appraisal of the Court of Appeals is correct. Petitioner was displeased after incurring expenses for respondentís medical check-up and, it is credible that, thereafter, respondent was prevented entry into the work premises. This is tantamount to constructive dismissal.36

Constructive dismissal exists where there is cessation of work because continued employment is rendered impossible, unreasonable or unlikely, as an offer involving a demotion in rank and a diminution in pay.37 Constructive dismissal is a dismissal in disguise or an act amounting to dismissal but made to appear as if it were not.38 In constructive dismissal cases, the employer is, concededly, charged with the burden of proving that its conduct and action or the transfer of an employee are for valid and legitimate grounds such as genuine business necessity.39 1‚wphi1

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the incredibility of petitionerís submission about abandonment of work renders credible the position of respondent that she was prevented from entering the property. This was even corroborated by the affidavits of Siarot and Mendoza which were made part of the records of this case.

The dismissal of respondent places upon petitioner the burden of proof of legality of dismissal.

In AMA Computer College-East Rizal v. Ignacio40 as reiterated in Gurango v. Best Chemicals and Plastics, Inc.,41 the Court ruled that:

In termination cases, the burden of proof rests on the employer to show that the dismissal is for just cause. When there is no showing of a clear, valid and legal cause for the termination of employment, the law considers the matter a case of illegal dismissal and the burden is on the employer to prove that the termination was for a valid or authorized cause. And the quantum of proof which the employer must discharge is substantial evidence. An employeeís dismissal due to serious misconduct must be supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is that amount of relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds, equally reasonable, might conceivably opine otherwise.42 1‚wphi1

In this case, petitioner, instead of proving the legality of dismissal, relied entirely on the defense of abandonment. When such defense fell and failed, illegal dismissal was left undisputed.

Having disposed of the basic issues and found that there is an employee-employer relationship between the parties and that respondent was illegally dismissed, the rest of the disposition of the Court of Appeals will have to be, consequently, affirmed.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DENIED. The 18 April 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. SP No. 62700 is hereby AFFIRMED in toto. No cost.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice
MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
Associate Justice

BIENVENIDO L. REYES
Associate Justice

A T T E S T A T I O N

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courtís Division.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairpersonís Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courtís Division.

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice


Footnotes

1 Rollo, pp. 11-34.

2 Penned by Associate Justice Ramon R. Garcia with Associate Justices Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores and Rodrigo F. Lim, Jr. concurring. Id. at 35-50.

3 Id. at 49.

4 Position Paper of the Complainant. CA rollo, p. 45.

5 Id. at 46.

6 Affidavit of the Complainant. Id. at 53.

7 Id.

8 Position Paper of the Complainant. Id. at 46.

9 Id.

10 Position Paper of the Complainant. Id.; Complaint of Julia Malasugui. Id. at 43.

11 Affidavit of Nestor Siarot. Id. at 51.

12 Affidavit of Ledwina M. Mendoza, Id. at 52.

13 Position Paper of Ma. Melissa Galang. Id. at 92-93.

14 Id. at 93.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Id. at 93-94.

18 Id. at 94.

19 Id.

20 Complaint of Julia Malasugui. Id. at 43.

21 Rollo p. 73-82.

22 Id. at 82.

23 Id. at 104.

24 Id. at 101-105.

25 CA rollo, pp. 70-77.

26 Special Civil Action for Certiorari of Julia Malasugui. Rollo pp. 108-123.

27 Id. at 21-22.

28 Ledesma, Jr. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 174585, 19 October 2007, 537 SCRA 358, 366.

29 Cirtek Employees Labor Union-Federation of Free Workers v. Cirtek Electronics, Inc., G.R. No. 190515, 6 June 2011, 650 SCRA 656, 660.

30 Martinez v. B&B Fish Broker, G.R. No. 179985, 18 September 2009, 600 SCRA 691, 696.

31 Rollo, p. 44

32 Id. at 46.

33 Id. at 42.

34 372 Phil. 482, 493 (1999)

35 Id.

36 Id.

37 Endico v. Quantum Foods Distribution Center, G.R. No. 161615, 30 January 2009, 577 SCRA 299, 310 citing Blue Dairy Corporation v. NLRC, 373 Phil. 179, 186 (1999).

38 Uniwide Sales Warehouse Club v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 154503, 29 February 2008, 547 SCRA 220, 236.

39 Philippine Veterans Bank v. National Labor Relations Commission (Fourth Division), G.R. No. 188882, 30 March 2010, 617 SCRA 204, 212.

40 G.R. No. 178520, 23 June 2009, 590 SCRA 633.

41 G.R. No. 174593, 25 August 2010, 629 SCRA 311.

42 AMA Computer College-East Rizal v. Ignacio, supra note 40 at 651-652.


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