SC reverses CA decision on money claims of PLDT employee

September 19, 2010 6:43 am 

MANILA, Sept. 18 – The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the monetary claims filed by a former employee of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.(PLDT), effectively voiding an earlier Court of Appeals (CA) ruling favoring the former.

The SC Second Division, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, granted the petition for review filed by PLDT and dismissed the complaint of Roberto R. Pingol, a former employee of the company, dismissed for being absence without official leave.

It also reversed and set aside the assailed Dec. 21, 2007 decision and April 18, 2008 resolution of the CA.

“Although the Constitution is committed to the policy of social justice and the protection of the working class, it does not necessary follow that every labor dispute will be automatically decided in favor of labor. The management also has its own rights,” the SC said.

Records showed respondent Pingol was hired by petitioner PLDT as a maintenance technician in 1979.

On April 13, 1999 , Pingol was admitted at The Medical City, Mandaluyong City , for “paranoid personality disorder,” triggered by his alleged financial and marital problems.

On May 14, 1999 , he was discharged from the hospital. Thereafter, he reported for work but frequently absented himself due to his poor mental condition.

From Sept. 16, 1999 to Dec. 31, 1999 , Pingol was absent from work without official leave.

According to PLDT, notices were sent to him with a stern warning that he would be dismissed from employment if he continued to be absent without official leave “pursuant to PLDT Systems Practice A-007 which provides that ‘Absence without authorized leaves for seven consecutive days is subject to termination from the service.” Despite the warning, Pingol failed to show up for work.

On Jan. 1, 2000 , PLDT terminated his services on the grounds of unauthorized absences and abandonment of office.

On March 29, 2004 , four years later, Pingol filed a complaint for constructive dismissal and monetary claims against PLDT.

In his complaint, he alleged that he was hastily dismissed from his employment on Jan. 1, 2000.

In response, PLDT filed a motion to dismiss claiming, among others, that respondent’s cause of action had already prescribed as the complaint was filed four years and three months after his dismissal.

Pingol, however, countered that in computing the prescriptive period, the years 2001 to 2003 must not be taken into account.

He said that from 2001 to 2003, he was inquiring from PLDT about the financial benefits due him as an employee who was no longer allowed to do his work, but he merely got empty promises.

It could not, therefore, result in abandonment of his claim.

On July 30, 2004, the labor arbiter (LA) issued an order granting petitioner’s motion to dismiss on the ground of prescription, pertinent portions of which read: “As correctly cited by (PLDT), as ruled by the Supreme Court in the case of Callanta vs. Carnation Phils., 145 SCRA 268, the complaint for illegal dismissal must be filed within four years from and after the date of dismissal.”

Needless to state, the money claims have likewise prescribed.

Pingol appealed to the NLRC arguing that the 4-year prescriptive period has not yet lapsed because PLDT failed to categorically deny his claims.

The NLRC in its Nov. 15, 2006 resolution reversed the LA’s resolution and favored Pingol and ordered that the entire records of the case be remanded to the labor arbiter a quo for further proceedings.

PLDT moved for reconsideration but the same was denied by the NLRC in its Resolution dated Jan. 31, 2007. Unsatisfied, PLDT elevated the case to the CA by way of a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NLRC in issuing the assailed resolutions.

The CA denied the petition in its Dec. 21, 2007 decision.

Not in conformity with the ruling of the CA, PLDT seeks relief with the SC raising the following issues:

The issues boil down to whether or not respondent Pingol filed his complaint for constructive dismissal and money claims within the prescriptive period of four years as provided in Article 1146 of the Civil Code and three years as provided in Article 291 of the Labor Code, respectively.

PLDT argues that the declaration under oath made by Pingol in his complaint before the LA stating Jan. 1, 2000 as the date of his dismissal, should have been treated by the NLRC and the CA as a judicial admission pursuant to Section 4, Rule 129 of the Revised Rules of Court.

According to PLDT, Pingol has never contradicted his admission under oath.

On the basis of said declaration, the telephone firm claimed that the LA was correct in finding that Pingol’s complaint for illegal dismissal was filed beyond the prescriptive period of four years from the date of dismissal pursuant to Article 1146 of the New Civil Code.

The SC finds the petition meritorious and said parties apparently do not dispute the applicable prescriptive period.

In this case, respondent Pingol never made any written extrajudicial demand.

Neither did PLDT make any written acknowledgment of its alleged obligation.

Thus, the claimed “follow-ups” could not have validly tolled the running of the prescriptive period. It is worthy to note that respondent never presented any proof to substantiate his allegation of follow-ups.

Concurring with the decisions were Associate Justices Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, Diosdado M. Peralta and Roberto Abad. (PNA)

RMA/PFN

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