Matis vs. Manila Electric Company
G.R. No. 206629, September 14, 2016
Respondent Manila Electric Company (Meralco) hired petitioner Matis, and complainants Nemencio Hipolito, Jr. (Hipolito), Raymundo M. Zufiiga5 (Zuniga), Gerardo de Guia (De Guia), and Ricardo Ignacio (Ignacio) on various dates and in various capacities. At the time of their dismissal, Matis was a foreman; Hipolito and Zuniga were acting foremen; De Guia was a stockman/driver; and Ignacio was a leadman.
Matis and the others were dismissed on the grounds of serious misconduct, fraud or willful breach of trust, commission of a crime or offense against the employer and other causes analogous to the foregoing. They were dismissed for their alleged cooperation in the pilferages of Meralco’s electrical supplies by one Norberto Llanes (Llanes), a non-Meralco employee, particularly. On that same day, Matis and the rest of the crew of Trucks 183 and 1891 were replacing a rotten pole in Pacheco Subdivision, Dalandan, Valenzuela City.
While the Meralco crew were working at a distance, Llanes was hanging around the work site. He appeared familiar with the crew as he was handing tools and drinking water with them. He nonchalantly boarded the truck in the presence of Zufiiga and De Guia, and rummaged through the cargo bed for tools and materials and stashed them in his backpack without being stopped by any of the crew. Thereafter, Matis and the other crew manning Truck 1891 arrived. Llanes boarded Truck 1891 and filched materials while Matis was around. For more than two hours, Llanes was walking around, boarding the trucks, freely sorting and choosing materials and tools inside the trucks then putting them in his backpack, talking casually with the crew, and even drinking water from the crew’s jug.
Unknown to them, a Meralco surveillance team, composed of Joseph Aguilar (Aguilar), Ariel Dola (Dola) and Frederick Riano (Riano), was monitoring their activities and recording the same with a Sony Video 8 camera. Due to reports of alleged pilferages occurring in Trucks 183 7 and 1891, Meralco was prompted to create the said team or “task force” to tail and monitor Matis and the others. In a Memorandum dated June 16, 2006, Meralco required them to appear before Meralco’s counsel for an investigation relative to the incident. Matis and the others denied any involvement in the stealing of the company properties. Subsequently, they were dismissed.
Matis and the other complainants alleged that Meralco’s dismissal of their employment violated their constitutional right to property protection, social justice and security of tenure. They denied any complicity or participation in the pilferage. They claimed that the affidavits presented by Meralco have weak probative value. They also alleged that Meralco did not observe due process in their termination. Meralco, on the other hand, maintained that petitioner and the complainants were validly dismissed on the ground of serious misconduct. Mcralco presented the affidavits of Aguilar, Dola and the probationary employees who were members of the crew, and the video showing the incident to show that complainants had knowledge, direct participation and complicity in the stealing. Meralco insisted that there is evidence to support that it was not the first instance that Llanes has been stealing supplies and materials, and that such were done in the presence of, and with clear knowledge of the dismissed crew.
The Labor Arbiter (LA) ruled that Matis and the others were not illegally dismissed. The LA considered their dismissal from service too harsh when suspension would have sufficed given that they were not entirely faultless. The charge of serious misconduct cannot prosper as there is no substantial evidence of their alleged cooperation and participation in the theft. Likewise, the LA rejected respondent’s claim that complainants are guilty of gross negligence since there was no evidence of complainants’ habitual neglect of duty.
On appeal, the NLRC ruled that Matis and the other complainants were validly dismissed. Their suspicious leniency and laxity in allowing Llanes to board the trucks, conversing with him intimately, permitting him to return to the trucks with empty sacks in tow, and the quantity of materials stolen, all video-taped and described in detail by the surveillance team, belie their denial of involvement. Even assuming that they were not conspirators in the crime of theft, their dismissal is still justified for they were guilty of gross negligence. Considering the circumstances surrounding the pilferage, the willful inaction of the complainants when there is a duty to stop the stealing amounted to gross negligence. The complainants were also validly dismissed on the ground of loss of trust and confidence. Their gross negligence amounted to a breach of trust and confidence reposed upon them as employees entrusted with properties of respondent. However, the NLRC held that Ignacio was illegally dismissed in the absence of evidence showing his complicity or participation in the theft.
Finding no cogent reason to disturb the findings of the NLRC, the CA denied the petition for certiorari filed by Matis and the others, and affirmed the decision of the NLRC. The CA held that the ruling of the NLRC deserves respect since the same was based on factual findings supported by clear and convincing evidence and accepted jurisprudence.
Upon the denial of the motion for reconsideration, Matis filed before this Court the instant petition.
The SC denied the petition.
Records reveal that it was not only on May 25, 2006 that Llanes, the pilferer, was seen during a Meralco operation as he was previously noticed by Meralco employees in past operations. Also, the evidence ascertained the presence of Matis in the worksite where the pilferage took place, and his familiarity with Llanes. Matis’ s tolerance of the activities of Llanes demonstrates his complicity in the theft, and not a mere want of care in the performance of his duty or gross negligence. Assuming Matis were negligent, his inaction can only be regarded as a single or isolated act of negligence which cannot be considered as gross and habitual, hence, cannot be considered as a just cause for his dismissal. Nevertheless, such finding will not warrant the reversal of the instant case.
Loss of confidence as a ground for dismissal has never been intended to afford an occasion for abuse by the employer of its prerogative, as it can easily be subject to abuse because of its subjective nature. A breach is willful if it is done intentionally, knowingly and purposely, without justifiable excuse, as distinguished from an act done carelessly, thoughtlessly, heedlessly or inadvertently. Matis alleges that he may not be removed on the ground of breach of trust and confidence as he was not a managerial employee or an employee primarily entrusted with the handling of company funds or property.
The SC was not persuaded. Loss of confidence applies to: (1) employees occupying positions of trust and confidence, the managerial employees; and (2) employees who are routinely charged with the care and custody of the employer’s money or property which may include rank-and-file employees, e.g., cashiers, auditors, property custodians, or those who, in the normal routine exercise of their functions, regularly handle significant r amounts of money or property.
It is established that Matis was a foreman with a monthly salary of P57,000.00 at the time of his dismissal. The vehicles being utilized in the repair and maintenance of Meralco’s distribution lines ordinarily carried necessary equipment, tools, supplies and materials. Thus, Matis, as the foreman, is routinely entrusted with the care and custody of Meralco’s properties in the exercise of his function.
Contrary to his allegation that he failed to notice the thievery because he and the crew were preoccupied with the replacement of the rotting post, Matis lingered, by his admission, to supposedly look after the truck. As established, the crew exhibited familiarity with the culprit during the entire operations. Based on the testimonies of the witnesses, Llanes was seen picking up unused supplies and materials that were not returned to the company in the past operations. He was casually boarding the trucks despite the same being prohibited from non-Meralco employees. Matis was seen conversing intimately with Llanes inside Truck 1891. Thereafter, Llanes was able to filch Meralco properties in the presence of Matis. Thus, Matis was complicit in the pilferage by being familiar with Llanes, by his inaction while the looting was being perpetrated, and by not repmiing the same to the authorities and to Meralco. The totality of the circumstances convinces this Court that Matis is guilty of breach of trust.
Proof beyond reasonable doubt is not needed to justify the loss of confidence as long as the employer has reasonable ground to believe that the employee is responsible for the misconduct and his participation therein renders him unworthy of the trust and confidence demanded of his position. Meralco was able to establish through substantial evidence that it has reasonable ground to believe that Matis’s involvement in the incident rendered him unworthy of the trust and confidence reposed upon him as a foreman of Meralco.
As to Acquittal in Criminal Case for Theft
As settled in Vergara v. NLRC, the filing of the complaint by the public prosecutor is sufficient ground for a dismissal of an employee for loss of trust and confidence. The evidence supporting the criminal charge, found sufficient to show prima facie guilt after preliminary investigation, constitutes just cause for termination based on loss of trust and confidence. In this case, the Assistant City Prosecutor of Valenzuela City recommended the filing of information for qualified theft against Matis and the others.
Additionally, an employee’s acquittal in a criminal case does not automatically preclude a determination that he has been guilty of acts inimical to the employer’s interest resulting in loss of trust and confidence. An acquittal in criminal prosecution does not have the effect of extinguishing liability for dismissal on the ground of breach of trust and confidence. The trial court acquitted Matis and the others due to insufficiency of evidence to warrant conviction beyond reasonable doubt. While the evidence presented failed to satisfy the quantum of proof required in criminal cases, the same substantially proved the dishonest act of Matis which warranted his dismissal from employment.
To be sure, length of service is taken into consideration in imposing the penalty to be meted upon an erring employee. However, in cases of breach of trust and loss of confidence, the length of time, if considered at all, shall be taken against the employee, as his involvement in dishonest acts reflects a regrettable lack of loyalty which should have been strengthened, instead of betrayed.
Unlike other just causes for dismissal, trust in an employee, once lost is difficult, if not impossible, to regain. In the case at bar, Matis’s involvement in the pilferage of Meralco’s properties resulted in respondent’s loss of confidence in him. If considered, petitioner’s length of service should be taken against him as his familiarity with Llanes, his disregard of the company rules, and passivity during the thievery echo his disloyalty with his employer which he served for thirty-one years. As such, fairness dictates that Matis, who has breached the confidence reposed on him, should not be allowed to continue his employment with Meralco.
Author’s Book on Employee Dismissal: