Uncorroborated email messages may be found self-serving and cannot satisfy the requirement of substantial evidence to overcome the burden of employer to prove validity of dismissal.

Thus, the Supreme Court held in the following case:

Maersk-Filipinas Crewing, Inc., A.P. Moller Singapore PTE Limited and Jesus Agbayani vs. Toribio C. Avestruz
G.R. No. 207010. February 18, 2015


Petitioner Maersk-Filipinas Crewing, Inc. (Maersk), on behalf of its foreign principal, petitioner A.P. Moller Singapore Pte. Ltd. (A.P. Moller), hired Avestruz as Chief Cook on board the vessel M/V Nedlloyd Drake for a period of six (6) months.

On June 22, 2011, in the course of the weekly inspection of the vessel’s galley, Captain Charles C. Woodward (Captain Woodward) noticed that the cover of the garbage bin in the kitchen near the washing area was oily. As part of Avestruz’s job was to ensure the cleanliness of the galley, Captain Woodward called Avestruz and asked him to stand near the garbage bin where the former took the latter’s right hand and swiped it on the oily cover of the garbage bin, telling Avestruz to feel it. Shocked, Avestruz remarked, “Sir if you are looking for [dirt], you can find it[;] the ship is big. Tell us if you want to clean and we will clean it.” Captain Woodward replied by shoving Avestruz’s chest, to which the latter complained and said, “Don’t touch me,” causing an argument to ensue between them.

Later that afternoon, Captain Woodward summoned and required9Avestruz to state in writing what transpired in the galley that morning. Avestruz complied and submitted his written statement10 on that same day. Captain Woodward likewise asked Messman Jomilyn P. Kong (Kong) to submit his own written statement regarding the incident, to which the latter immediately complied. On the very same day, Captain Woodward informed Avestruz that he would be dismissed from service and be disembarked in India. On July 3, 2011, Avestruz was disembarked in Colombo, Sri Lanka and arrived in the Philippines on July 4, 2011.

Subsequently, he filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, payment for the unexpired portion of his contract, damages, and attorney’s fees against Maersk, A.P. Moller, and Jesus Agbayani (Agbayani), an officer of Maersk.

In their defense, Maersk, A.P. Moller, and Agbayani (petitioners) claimed that during his stint on the vessel, Avestruz failed to attend to his tasks, specifically to maintain the cleanliness of the galley, which prompted Captain Woodward to issue weekly reminders. Unfortunately, despite the reminders, Avestruz still failed to perform his duties properly.

On June 22, 2011, when again asked to comply with the aforesaid duty, Avestruz became angry and snapped, retorting that he did not have time to do all the tasks required of him. As a result, Captain Woodward initiated disciplinary proceedings and informed Avestruz during the hearing of the offenses he committed, i.e., his repeated failure to follow directives pertaining to his duty to maintain the cleanliness of the galley, as well as his act of insulting an officer.

Thereafter, he was informed of his dismissal from service due to insubordination. Relative thereto, Captain Woodward sent two (2) electronic mail messages (e-mails) to Maersk explaining the decision to terminate Avestruz’s employment and requesting for Avestruz’s replacement. Avestruz was discharged from the vessel and arrived in the Philippines on July 4, 2011.

LA Ruling:

The Labor Arbiter (LA) dismissed Avestruz’s complaint for lack of merit. The LA found that he failed to perform his duty of maintaining cleanliness in the galley, and that he also repeatedly failed to obey the directives of his superior, which was tantamount to insubordination.

Aggrieved, Avestruz appealed to the NLRC.

NLRC Ruling:

The NLRC sustained the validity of Avestruz’s dismissal but found that petitioners failed to observe the procedures laid down in Section 17 of the POEA-SEC.

Avestruz moved for reconsideration of the aforesaid Decision, which was denied by the CA. Dissatisfied, he elevated the matter to the CA via petition for certiorari.

CA Ruling:

The CA reversed and set aside the rulings of the NLRC and instead, found Avestruz to have been illegally dismissed.

The CA found that the conclusion of the NLRC, which affirmed that of the LA, that Avestruz was lawfully dismissed, was not supported by substantial evidence, there being no factual basis for the charge of insubordination which petitioners claimed was the ground for Avestruz’s dismissal.

It found that petitioners, as employers, were unable to discharge the burden of proof required of them to establish that Avestruz was guilty of insubordination, which necessitates the occurrence of two (2) conditions as a just cause for dismissal: (1)the employee’s assailed conduct must have been willful, that is, characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged to discharge.

The CA found that, contrary to the rulings of the labor tribunals, there was no evidence on record to bolster petitioners’ claims that Avestruz willfully failed to comply with his duties as Chief Cook and that he displayed a perverse and wrongful attitude.


Whether or not the dismissal on the ground of insubordination was valid

Whether or not uncorroborated email messages which allegedly chronicled the relevant circumstances that eventually led to employee’s dismissal is substantial evidence to prove its validity

Whether or not procedural due process requirements were complied with

SC Ruling:

The SC did not find merit in the petition.

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Insubordination, as a just cause for the dismissal of an employee, necessitates the concurrence of at least two requisites: (1) the employee’s assailed conduct must have been willful, that is, characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must have been reasonable, lawful, made known to the employee, and must pertain to the duties which he had been engaged to discharge.

In this case, the contents of Captain Woodward’s e-mails do not establish that Avestruz’s conduct had been willful, or characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude. The Court concurs with the CA’s observation that Avestruz’s statement regarding the incident in the galley deserves more credence, being corroborated by Kong, a messman who witnessed the same.

The SC found said e-mails to be uncorroborated and self-serving, and therefore, do not satisfy the requirement of substantial evidence as would sufficiently discharge the burden of proving that Avestruz was legally dismissed. On the contrary, petitioners failed to prove that he committed acts of insubordination which would warrant his dismissal.

Conversely, apart from Captain Woodward’s e-mails, no other evidence was presented by the petitioners to support their claims. While rules of evidence are not strictly observed in proceedings before administrative bodies, petitioners should have offered additional proof to corroborate the statements described therein.

Likewise, in Skippers United Pacific, Inc. vs. NLRC, the Court ruled that the lone evidence offered by the employer to justify the seafarer’s dismissal, i.e., the telexed Chief Engineer’s Report which contained the causes for said dismissal, did not suffice to discharge the onus required of the employer to show that the termination of an employee’s service was valid.

The same doctrine was enunciated in Pacific Maritime Services, Inc. vs. Ranay, where the Court held that the telefax transmission purportedly executed and signed by a person on board the vessel is insufficient evidence to prove the commission of the acts constituting the grounds for the dismissal of two seafarers, being uncorroborated evidence.

It was incumbent upon the petitioners to present other substantial evidence to bolster their claim that Avestruz committed acts that constitute insubordination as would warrant his dismissal. At the least, they could have offered in evidence entries in the ship’s official logbook showing the infractions or acts of insubordination purportedly committed by Avestruz, the ship’s logbook being the official repository of the day-to-day transactions and occurrences on board the vessel. Having failed to do so, their position that Avestruz was lawfully dismissed cannot be sustained.

There is dearth of evidence to show that Avestruz had been given a written notice of the charge against him, or that he was given the opportunity to explain or defend himself. The statement given by Captain Woodward requiring him to explain in writing the events that transpired at the galley in the morning of June 22, 2011 hardly qualifies as a written notice of the charge against him, nor was it an opportunity for Avestruz to explain or defend himself. While Captain Woodward claimed in his e-mail that he conducted a “disciplinary hearing” informing Avestruz of his inefficiency, no evidence was presented to support the same.

Neither was Avestruz given a written notice of penalty and the reasons for its imposition. Instead, Captain Woodward verbally informed him that he was dismissed from service and would be disembarked from the vessel. It bears stressing that only in the exceptional case of clear and existing danger to the safety of the crew or vessel that the required notices may be dispensed with, and, once again, records are bereft of evidence showing that such was the situation when Avestruz was dismissed.

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