PEPSI COLA PRODUCTS PHILIPPINES, INC. (Formerly Pepsi Cola Bottling Co.), petitioner, vs. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and RENE ESTILO, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
On 08 October 1993, private respondent Rene Estilo sued herein petitioner Pepsi Cola Products Philippines, Inc., before the Regional Arbitration, Branch VI, of public respondent National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Estilos complaint charged the beverage firm with illegal dismissal, as well as underpayment of wages, 13th month pay, overtime pay, premium pay for holidays and rest days and commission, and additionally sought to recover moral damages, attorneys fees and, in general, any other benefit that he might be entitled to under the existing collective bargaining agreement, company policies, practices and laws.
Executive Labor Arbiter Oscar S. Uy sent notices to the parties of the case to appear before him on 21 December 1993. On the scheduled date, only private respondents counsel showed up before the Labor Arbiter constraining the latter to reset the conference to 15 February 1994. Again, on the new date set, only private respondents lawyer appeared, prompting Labor Arbiter to instead issue, on 01 March 1994, an order directing the parties to submit their position papers; viz:
The parties are hereby directed to submit their position papers together with supporting proof within twenty (20) days from receipt hereof. Thereafter, the above-entitled case is deemed submitted for decision.
The company, herein petitioner, complied with the foregoing order. Its position paper and supporting evidence controverted the allegations and various claims of private respondent. The latter did not submit any paper.
On 10 May 1995, the Labor Arbiter rendered a decision dismissing the complaint of private respondent.
Under date of 28 June 1995, private respondent filed with public respondent NLRC a Notice of Appeal with attached appeal Memorandum from the decision of the Labor Arbiter, asseverating that
The Honorable Labor Arbiter acted with grave abuse of discretion in deciding the above case without affording complainant all the available opportunity to be heard and just deciding the above case on the basis alone of respondent Pepsis position paper.
In a resolution, dated 26 September 1996, following petitioners opposition to the appeal, public respondent NLRC, through Commissioner Amorito V. Caete, found the appeal to be impressed with merit; it held:
WHEREFORE, finding the appeal impressed with merit, as discussed above, the Decision appealed from is SET ASIDE and the case be REMANDED to the Labor Arbiter a quo to conduct the necessary proceedings as soon as practicable for the early disposition hereof.
In its instant petition before the Court, petitioner Pepsi Cola Products Philippines, Inc., submits
x x x that the Public respondent NLRC had acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when, despite the Labor Arbiters and its very own categorical findings that Private respondent had been afforded all and every opportunity of submitting his Position Paper with supporting proof in the suit at bench but had failed to do so, the said Public respondent had nevertheless proceeded to accept Private respondents claim that he had been deprived of due process and/or the opportunity to be heard; and in thereby --, in a manner contrary to the dictates of impartiality, justness and fair play and to the untold prejudice of herein Petitioner -- capriciously and whimsically setting aside (on appeal) the clearly correct, just and valid Decision (Appendix D) of the Arbiter as clearly rendered on the basis of substantial evidence on record following proper observance of due process of law.
It does appear from the foregoing recital and the comments of private respondent and the NLRC, as well as the Manifestation and Motion (In Lieu of Comment) filed by the Solicitor General (who took the same position as that of petitioner), that the sole issue before the Court is whether or not private respondent has been denied due process of law by Executive Labor Arbiter Oscar Uy in rendering a decision based only on petitioners position paper.
The petition is meritorious, and the NLRC appears to have indeed gravely abused its discretion in reversing the Labor Arbiter. The records easily substantiate the fact that private respondent has been duly accorded an opportunity to submit his position paper in the proceedings before the Regional Arbitration Branch. On the 15th February 1994 hearing, counsel for private respondent was informed that an order would be issued by the Labor Arbiter for the contending parties to submit their respective position papers along with their supporting evidence. In an order, dated 01 March 1994, Labor Arbiter Uy required the parties to formally make the above submission. The Labor Arbiter attested:
Records show that on March 1, 1994, this Commission issued an Order directing the parties to submit their position paper together with supporting proofs within twenty (20) days from receipt with a reminder that thereafter, the case shall be deemed submitted for decision. Up to this writing, only respondent was able to submit their position paper while complainant failed to do so despite their receipt of the said Order on March 9, 1994.
Public respondent NLRC itself, in its own questioned resolution, confirmed the above finding; it said:
While the records disclose that more, than one (1) year had elapsed from the time the complainants counsel received on May 9, 1994 the Order dated March 1, 1994 directing the parties to submit position papers up to the time of the rendition of the assailed decision on May 10, 1995, complainant had all the opportunity to file his position paper. But he did not.
Nevertheless, the NLRC ruled in favor of respondent Estilo citing for its main thesis the case of Maebo vs. NLRC. This reliance was unfortunate. In Maebo, both parties had filed their position papers and agreed to consider the case submitted for decision after the submission of their respective memoranda. The Labor Arbiter was held to have thus gravely abused his discretion by admitting, without proof of service to the petitioner-complainant or his counsel, the Supplemental Position Paper and Memorandum of respondent company, and by taking into consideration, as basis for his decision, the facts there alleged and the documents thereto attached. Here, there was no surprise at all despite petitioners apparent failure to furnish private respondent with a copy of its position paper.
At all events, a plea of denial of procedural due process, where the defect consists in the failure to furnish an opponent with a copy of a partys position paper, cannot be entertained when he who makes the plea is effectively given the opportunity to be heard in a Memorandum of Appeal. Even if a party has not been heard at the stage of mediation and fact-finding, he still can take that opportunity to present his side when the Memorandum of Appeal is given due course, as it has so given in this instance, by the NLRC. Thus, the fundamental rule of due process that mandates notice and an opportunity to be heard has here been amply met.
Private respondent was the complainant in this case and in him rested the primary burden of proving his claim. He unfortunately failed to discharge that burden. Strangely indeed, in his Memorandum of Appeal to the NLRC, private respondent did not refute the evidence presented by petitioner to the effect that he was not dismissed from work but voluntarily resigned after the management had found him guilty of serious misconduct and dishonesty.
WHEREFORE, the questioned resolutions of public respondent NLRC, of 26 September 1996 and 19 December 1996 are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE, and the decision of the Labor Arbiter, dated 10 May 1995, is REINSTATED. No costs.
Davide, Jr., C.J.,(Chairman), Melo, Panganiban, and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.