Jerome was hired by respondent ELPI in 1998 as a Professional Sales Representative. After several promotions, he was retrenched in 2003. He was rehired in 2005 and held the position of Sales and Marketing Services Manager in 2011.
On November 4, 2011, ELPI issued a Show-Cause Letter, charging Jerome with violation of company rules and breach of trust and confidence. ELPI claims that on May 14, 2008, or more than three years back, Jerome simulated the purchase of four tires from a certain tire supplier and claimed reimbursement for the cost. He was placed under preventive suspension for 30 days. ELPI did not reveal the source of the damning information against Jerome.
Jerome submitted his explanation and questioned ELPI’s failure to identify the source of the damaging information.
In response, ELPI attached a copy of the official receipt, sales invoice, and car repairs request relating to the tire supplier.
Jerome then submitted a certification dated December 7, 2011 issued by Lilia, proprietor of the tire supplier, stating that she issued the official receipt under the name of ELPI for the purchase of four tires.
During the formal investigation, ELPI confronted Jerome with a notarized certification dated December 17, 2011 from Arnulfo, the husband of Lilia, stating that Jerome did not purchase tires from her. However, record showed that Arnulfo issued another statement dated December 20, 2011 acknowledging that he lacked knowledge of the sale and that his wife was the one who issued the official receipt.
When ELPI filed its position paper, it presented two affidavits. First was the affidavit of Timothy dated December 18, 2011. Timothy narrated that Jerome directed him to obtain a receipt for the purchase of tires. Timothy further narrated that he obtained the receipt from the tire supplier and gave it to Jerome who, in turn, used it to obtain reimbursement. The second was the affidavit of Sojit dated December 19, 2011, who narrated that sometime in 2009, Timothy told him of Jerome’s directive to produce a receipt, of Jerome’s anger should Timothy fail to do so, and of Timothy’s fear during the conversation.
The Office of the Labor Arbiter declared the dismissal of Jerome valid. The NLRC, however, ruled that Jerome was illegally dismissed from employment. The Court of Appeals’ ruling was that Jerome was validly dismissed.
Was Jerome illegally dismissed from employment?
The Supreme Court reiterated the settled rule that the employer has the right to terminate the services of an employee for a just or authorized cause.1Mayon Hotel & Restaurant v. Adana, G.R. No. 157634, [May 16, 2005], 497 PHIL 892-932 The dismissal of employees must, however, be made within the parameters of law and pursuant to the tenets of fair play. “[I]n termination disputes, the burden of proof is always on the employer to prove that the dismissal was for a just or authorized cause. Where there is no showing of a clear, valid and legal cause for termination of employment, the law considers the case a matter of illegal dismissal.”
Here, the Court remarked that during the administrative proceedings, ELPI had in its possession the official receipt, the sales invoice, the repairs request, Lilia’s statement, and the two contradicting statements of Arnulfo, as basis for its decision that Jerome committed dishonesty.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that Jerome was illegally dismissed from employment because of ELPI’s failure to prove by substantial evidence the presence of a just cause for terminating Jerome’s employment. Specifically, ELPI had failed to show through substantial evidence that Jerome simulated the tire purchase transaction.
Re: the official receipt, sales invoice, repairs request and Lilia’s certification
The Court found that the official receipt, sales invoice, repairs request and Lilia’s certification only revealed the genuine transaction conducted by Jerome.
The Court presumed the official receipt to be regular and in accordance with the ordinary course of business.2Section 3 (p) and (q), Rule 131, of the Rules of Court.
Although noting the doubt expressed by the Court of Appeals on Jerome’s transaction because he presented an old receipt, the Supreme Court, nonetheless, stated that an old official receipt did not lead to Jerome’s guilt, especially in the face of Lilia’s undisputed certification to having herself issued the receipt for the purchase of four tires. According to the Court, that Lilia used an old receipt did not mean that the purchase of the tires did not happen.
With regard to the repairs request, the Court found that it was approved by ELPI through its Human Resource Department (HRD) Manager, who had the duty to first ascertain that repairs were actually conducted on the car.
For the Court, the said pieces of evidence contained no indication that Jerome simulated the sale and that no anomaly characterized Jerome’s claim for reimbursement.
Re: Arnulfo’s statements
The Court added that the evidence that would have contradicted Lilia’s statement was Arnulfo’s first statement. However, given the inconsistencies in Arnulfo’s two statements, the fact that Lilia sold tires to ELPI over which Jerome claimed reimbursements remained undisputed at the time of the administrative proceedings conducted by ELPI.
Re: the affidavits of Timothy and Sojit
The Court considered the affidavits unreliable given the circumstances under which they were executed.
According to the Court, since the affidavits and their contents were only made known to Jerome when ELPI submitted its Position Paper, the presentation of the same was an attempt to validate Jerome’s termination post facto. These new allegations contained in the affidavits, the Court said, were not available at the time ELPI conducted the administrative hearing. It could therefore not have been its basis for dismissing Jerome.
The Court even stated that even if it were to consider these affidavits, it would find it unusual for ELPI to not have initiated administrative proceedings against Timothy. The Court added that ELPI had not even explained why it took Timothy more than three years to inform ELPI of such simulated sale.
Re: additional findings
Other matters on record led the Court to doubt the validity of Jerome’s dismissal.
First, despite the fact that Jerome’s tire transaction was readily verifiable, ELPI did not explain why it still initiated administrative proceedings against Jerome three years after his request for reimbursement was made and approved by ELPI’s HRD Manager. The Court pointed out that Timothy and the HRD Manager were not even directed to explain their participation in the purported simulation and approval of the reimbursement, respectively.
Second, ELPI was the one who introduced as evidence the statement of Arnulfo that Jerome did not purchase any tires from the tire supplier, only for Arnulfo to issue a statement of recantation later.
And third, on May 9, 2018, Jerome filed with the Court a Manifestation with Motion to Admit Attached Affidavit of Recantation. Jerome informed the Court that Sojit communicated to him the severance of the latter’s connection with ELPI. Sojit likewise disclosed that he was pressured to sign his purported affidavit dated December 19, 2011, under threats of including him in the investigation and dismissal should he refuse. Hence, on April 4, 2018, Sojit executed an Affidavit of Recantation, denying the events narrated in his affidavit dated December 19, 2011.
The Court concluded that ELPI failed to show a clear, valid and legal cause to dismiss Jerome. According to the Court, the pieces of evidence ELPI presented were riddled with inconsistencies and unexplained material facts that leave much to be desired. Jerome’s dismissal was accordingly declared illegal.
- Bautista v. Eli Lilly Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 235865, February 3, 2021.
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