NEGROS SLASHERS, INC., RODOLFO C. ALVAREZ AND VICENTE TAN,
- versus -
G.R. No. 187122
VILLARAMA, JR., and
ALVIN L. TENG,
February 22, 2012
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VILLARAMA, JR., J.:
Before us is a petition for review on certiorari assailing
The facts are undisputed.
Respondent Alvin Teng is a professional basketball player who started his career as such in the Philippine Basketball Association and then later on played in the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA).
of which remained to be the obligation of the Laguna Lakers. On
On Game Number 4 of the MBA Championship Round for the year 2000 season, Teng had a below-par playing performance. Because of this, the coaching staff decided to pull him out of the game. Teng then sat on the bench, untied his shoelaces and donned his practice jersey. On the following game, Game Number 5 of the Championship Round, Teng called-in sick and did not play.
P2,530,000 representing his
unpaid salaries, separation pay and attorneys fees. The Labor Arbiter ruled that the penalty of
dismissal was not justified since the grounds relied upon by petitioners did
not constitute serious misconduct or willful disobedience or insubordination
that would call for the extreme penalty of dismissal from service. The dispositive portion of the Labor Arbiters
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered declaring the dismissal of complainant illegal and respondents Negros Slashers, Inc. are hereby ordered to PAY complainant the total sum of TWO MILLION FIVE HUNDRED THIRTY THOUSAND (P2,530,000.00) PESOS representing complainants unpaid salaries, separation pay and attorneys fee, the award to be deposited with this Office within ten (10) days from receipt of this Decision.
All other claims are hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.
The case was then appealed to the NLRC. On September 10, 2004, the NLRC issued a Decision setting aside the July 16, 2002 Decision of the Labor Arbiter and entering a new one dismissing the complaint for being premature since the arbitration proceedings before the Commissioner of the MBA were still pending when Teng filed his complaint for illegal dismissal. The dispositive portion of the NLRC Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the decision of the Executive Labor Arbiter a quo is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. A new one is entered, dismissing the instant case for being premature.
Teng filed a motion for reconsideration, but it was denied for being filed beyond the ten-day reglementary period provided for in Section 15, Rule VII of the NLRC Rules of Procedure.
filed a petition for certiorari with the CA assailing the NLRC Decision dated
The CA reinstated the findings of the Labor Arbiter that Teng was illegally dismissed because the grounds relied upon by petitioners were not enough to merit the supreme penalty of dismissal. The CA held that there was no serious misconduct or willful disobedience or insubordination on Tengs part. On the issue of jurisdiction, the CA ruled that the Labor Arbiter had jurisdiction over the case notwithstanding the pendency of arbitration proceedings in the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA.
reconsideration of the above ruling, but their motion was denied by the CA in a
now come to this Court assailing the Decision dated
petitioners argue that respondent Teng and his counsel committed a blatant
violation of the rule against forum shopping.
Petitioners aver that on
Secondly, petitioners argue that the CA erred in ruling that Tengs offenses were just minor lapses and irresponsible action not warranting the harsh penalty of dismissal. Petitioners allege that the CA paid scant attention to two very important pieces of evidence which would clearly show the gravity and seriousness of the offenses committed by Teng. Petitioners claim that these two documents, i.e., the minutes of the meeting of players, management, and coordinating staff, and a petition by the players to the management not to allow Teng to come back to the team, would show that Teng should not have been treated as an ordinary working man who merely absented himself by feigning sickness when called upon to work. Petitioners argue that the nature of the work and team atmosphere should have been considered and given credence. By neglecting these two documents, the CA failed to appreciate the gravity of the misconduct committed by Teng and the effects it had on the basketball organization.
also argue that respondents petition for certiorari with the CA should have
been dismissed outright because it was filed beyond the reglementary
period. Petitioners point out that Teng
received the NLRC Decision on
Teng, on the
other hand, maintains that there is no violation of the rule against forum
shopping. He submits that he indeed
filed his complaint before the MBA as early as
On the merits, Teng relies on the reasoning of the Labor Arbiter in finding that his alleged lapses and misconduct were too minor to justify the extreme penalty of dismissal from service. In large part, he quotes the Labor Arbiters decision, and emphasizes the Labor Arbiters statements that (1) loosening of the shoe laces and the donning of the practice jersey are not indicative of serious misconduct that would justify dismissal from employment; (2) it cannot be concluded that he merely feigned sickness when he informed the Coach of his inability to play during Game No. 5; and (3) there is no showing of any bad faith or ill motive on his part that would qualify his actions as serious, severe and grave as to warrant termination from service.
Teng also argues that the CA aptly clarified and explained the legal reason why the petition for certiorari was given due course despite some procedural lapses regarding the motion for reconsideration with the NLRC. Teng stresses that jurisprudence allows the relaxation of procedural rules even of the most mandatory character in the interest of substantial justice. In this particular case, justice and equity calls for the relaxation of the reglementary period for filing a motion for reconsideration as well as the rule prohibiting the filing of a petition for certiorari without first filing a motion for reconsideration.
Simply put, the basic issues for our resolution are as follows: (1) whether the CA erred in giving due course to respondent Tengs petition for certiorari despite its late filing; (2) whether Teng violated the rule on forum shopping when he filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the Regional Arbitration Branch of the NLRC while a similar complaint was pending in the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA; and (3) whether the CA erred in ruling that Tengs dismissal from the Negros Slashers Team was unjustified and too harsh considering his misconduct.
The petition is bereft of merit.
On the first issue raised by petitioners, we rule that the CA did not commit a reversible error in giving due course to Tengs petition for certiorari although said petition was filed late. Ordinarily, rules of procedure are strictly enforced by courts in order to impart stability in the legal system. However, in not a few instances, we relaxed the rigid application of the rules of procedure to afford the parties the opportunity to fully ventilate their cases on the merits. This is in line with the time honored principle that cases should be decided only after giving all the parties the chance to argue their causes and defenses. In that way, the ends of justice would be better served. For indeed, the general objective of procedure is to facilitate the application of justice to the rival claims of contending parties, bearing always in mind that procedure is not to hinder but to promote the administration of justice. In Ong Lim Sing, Jr. v. FEB Leasing and Finance Corporation, we ruled:
Courts have the prerogative to relax procedural rules of even the most mandatory character, mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to speedily put an end to litigation and the parties right to due process. In numerous cases, this Court has allowed liberal construction of the rules when to do so would serve the demands of substantial justice and equity. x x x
Indeed the prevailing trend is to accord party litigants the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of their causes, free from the constraints of needless technicalities.
Here, besides the fact that a denial of the recourse to the CA would serve more to perpetuate an injustice and violation of Tengs rights under our labor laws, we find that as correctly held by the CA, no intent to delay the administration of justice could be attributed to Teng. The CA therefore did not commit reversible error in excusing Tengs one-day delay in filing his motion for reconsideration and in giving due course to his petition for certiorari.
As regards the second issue, we likewise find no merit in petitioners claim that respondents act of filing a complaint with the Labor Arbiter while the same case was pending with the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA constituted forum shopping.
For forum shopping to exist, it is necessary that (a) there be identity of parties or at least such parties that represent the same interests in both actions; (b) there be identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts; and (c) the identity of the two preceding particulars is such that any judgment rendered in one action will, regardless of which party is successful, amount to res judicata in the other action.
Petitioners are correct as to the first two requisites of forum shopping. First, there is identity of parties involved: Negros Slashers Inc. and respondent Teng. Second, there is identity of rights asserted i.e., the right of management to terminate employment and the right of an employee against illegal termination. However, the third requisite of forum shopping is missing in this case. Any judgment or ruling of the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA will not amount to res judicata. As defined in Agustin v. Delos Santos,
Res Judicata is defined as a matter adjudged; a thing judicially acted upon or decided; a thing or matter settled by judgment. According to the doctrine of res judicata, an existing final judgment or decree rendered on the merits, and without fraud or collusion, by a court of competent jurisdiction, upon any matter within its jurisdiction, is conclusive of the rights of the parties or their privies, in all other actions or suits in the same or any other judicial tribunal of concurrent jurisdiction on the points and matters in issue in the first suit. To state simply, a final judgment or decree on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive of the rights of the parties or their privies in all later suits on all points and matters determined in the former suit. (Emphasis supplied.)
To clarify, res judicata is defined in jurisprudence as to have four basic elements: (1) the judgment sought to bar the new action must be final; (2) the decision must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) the disposition of the case must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be as between the first and second action, identity of parties, subject matter, and causes of action.
Here, although contractually authorized to settle disputes, the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA is not a court of competent jurisdiction as contemplated by law with respect to the application of the doctrine of res judicata. At best, the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA is a private mediator or go-between as agreed upon by team management and a player in the MBA Players Contract of Employment. Any judgment that the Office of the Commissioner of the MBA may render will not result in a bar for seeking redress in other legal venues. Hence, respondents action of filing the same complaint in the Regional Arbitration Branch of the NLRC does not constitute forum shopping.
On the third issue, we find that the penalty of dismissal handed out against Teng was indeed too harsh.
petitioners in asserting that a basketball organization is a team-based
enterprise and that a harmonious working relationship among team players is
essential to the success of the organization.
We also take into account the petition of the other team members voicing
out their desire to continue with the team without Teng. We note likewise the sentiments of the players
and coaching staff during the meeting of
Petitioners rely heavily on the alleged effects of Tengs actions on the rest of the team. However, such reaction from team members is expected after losing a game, especially a championship game. It is also not unlikely that the team members looked for someone to blame after they lost the championship games and that Teng happened to be the closest target of the teams frustration and disappointment. But all these sentiments and emotions from Negros Slashers players and staff must not blur the eyes of the Court from objectively assessing Tengs infraction in order to determine whether the same constitutes just ground for dismissal. The incident in question should be clear: Teng had a below-par performance during Game Number 4 for which he was pulled out from the game, and then he untied his shoelaces and donned his practice jersey. In Game Number 5, he did not play.
As an employee of the Negros Slashers, Teng was expected to report for work regularly. Missing a team game is indeed a punishable offense. Untying of shoelaces when the game is not yet finished is also irresponsible and unprofessional. However, we agree with the Labor Arbiter that such isolated foolishness of an employee does not justify the extreme penalty of dismissal from service. Petitioners could have opted to impose a fine or suspension on Teng for his unacceptable conduct. Other forms of disciplinary action could also have been taken after the incident to impart on the team that such misconduct will not be tolerated.
In Sagales v. Rustans Commercial Corporation, this Court ruled:
Truly, while the employer has the inherent right to discipline, including that of dismissing its employees, this prerogative is subject to the regulation by the State in the exercise of its police power.
In this regard, it is a hornbook doctrine that infractions committed by an employee should merit only the corresponding penalty demanded by the circumstance. The penalty must be commensurate with the act, conduct or omission imputed to the employee and must be imposed in connection with the disciplinary authority of the employer. (Emphasis in the original.)
In the case at bar, the penalty handed out by the petitioners was the ultimate penalty of dismissal. There was no warning or admonition for respondents violation of team rules, only outright termination of his services for an act which could have been punished appropriately with a severe reprimand or suspension.
WHEREFORE, the petition for review on
certiorari is DENIED for lack of
merit and the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated
With costs against the petitioners.
MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
RENATO C. CORONA
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN Associate Justice
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, 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 Courts Division.
RENATO C. CORONA
Designated additional member per
Special Order No. 1203 dated
 Rollo, pp. 87-99. Penned by Associate Justice Francisco P. Acosta with Associate Justices Amy C. Lazaro-Javier and Edgardo L. Delos Santos concurring.
 CA rollo, pp. 53-55.
 Rollo, pp. 45-46, 89; CA rollo, p. 186.
 Section 15. Motions for Reconsideration. - Motion for reconsideration of any decision/resolution/order of the Commission shall not be entertained except when based on palpable or patent errors, provided that the motion is under oath and filed within ten (10) calendar days from receipt of decision/resolution/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.
x x x x
 Rollo, pp. 100-102.
 CA rollo, pp. 108-112.
 Section 15, Rule VII of the NLRC Rules of Procedure, supra note 15.
 Rollo, p. 80.
 CA rollo, pp. 2-20.
 Republic Cement Corporation v. Guinmapang, G.R.
 G.R. No. 168115, June 8, 2007, 524 SCRA 333, 343, citing Barnes v. Padilla, G. R. No. 160753, June 28, 2005, 461 SCRA 533, 539.
 Korea Exchange Bank v. Gonzales, G.R. Nos. 142286-87, April 15, 2005, 456 SCRA 224, 243, citing Benedicto v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125359, September 4, 2001, 364 SCRA 334, 345.
 G.R. No. 168139, January 20, 2009, 576 SCRA 576, 585, citing Oropeza Marketing Corporation v. Allied Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 129788, December 3, 2002, 393 SCRA 278, 285-286, quoting Blacks Law Dictionary, 4th Ed. (1968) 1470, Philippine National Bank v. Barreto, 52 Phil. 818, 823-824 (1929), Taganas v. Emuslan, G.R. No.146980, September 2, 2003, 410 SCRA 237, 241-242.
 Social Security Commission v. Rizal Poultry and Livestock Association, Inc., G.R. No. 167050, June 1, 2011, 650 SCRA 50, 57-58, citing Oropeza Marketing Corporation v. Allied Banking Corporation, id. at 287.
 Rollo, p. 47.
 G.R. No. 166554, November 27, 2008, 572 SCRA 89, 104, citing Manila Trading and Supply Co. v. Zulueta, 69 Phil. 485, 486 (1940), Caltex Refinery Employees Association (CREA) v. National Labor Relations Commission (Third Division) G.R. No. 102993, July 14, 1995, 246 SCRA 271, 279; Radio Communications of the Phils., Inc. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 102958, June 25, 1993, 223 SCRA 656, 667.