Almirante: Lack of due process, legal dismissal but awarded separation pay

DOMINADOR A. ALMIRANTE

On Sept. 1, 2008, respondent Reynaldo P. Betonio was employed by petitioner Del Monte Fresh Produce (Phil.) Inc. (DMFPPI) as its manager for port operations at Tadeco Wharf, San Vicente, Panabo, Davao del Norte. On April 1, 2009, he was promoted as senior manager.

Through a show cause memorandum dated June 21, 2010, Betonio was charged with gross and habitual neglect of duties and breach of trust and confidence. He was required to explain the 12 infractions he allegedly committed. An administrative committee was created which found Betonio inefficient in the management and operation of the port. It however opined that his lapses were not enough for dismissal. As such, the committee recommended that the charges against Betonio be dismissed. Despite the recommendation, a notice of disciplinary action dated July 21, 2010 was issued by top management terminating Betonio’s employment.

On Aug. 11, 2010, Betonio filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with money claims alleging among others, lack of due process in his dismissal.

Does his allegation find merit?

Ruling: Yes.

Finally, although there was a just cause for Betonio’s dismissal, he was not afforded procedural due process. Under the internal rules of DMFPPI, the administrative committee will first come up with a recommendatory report on the case of Betonio; that if the top management disagrees with the committee’s recommendation, they will reconvene to discuss the decision to be adopted.

While the administrative committee found Betonio to be inefficient and ineffectual in the operation of the port, it opined that his lapses were not enough for his dismissal. Consequently, the top management disagreed to the administrative committee’s recommendation. However, instead of reconvening with the administrative committee to discuss the final decision to be adopted on Betonio’s case, DMFPPI unilaterally proceeded to terminate Betonio’s employment. This deprived Betonio of his last chance to be heard by DMFPPI.

Following the prevailing jurisprudence on the matter, if the dismissal is based on a just cause, then the noncompliance with the procedural due process should not render the termination from employment illegal or ineffectual. Instead, the employer must indemnify the employee in the form of nominal damages. The law and jurisprudence allow the award of nominal damages in favor of an employee in a case where a valid cause for dismissal exists but the employer fails to observe due process in dismissing the employee. Considering all the circumstances surrounding this case, the Court finds the award of nominal damages in the amount of P30,000 to be in order.

While we uphold the dismissal of Betonio, the Court, as a measure of social justice and equitable concession, grants financial assistance to him. As a general rule, an employee who has been dismissed for any of the just causes enumerated under Article 297[282] of the Labor Code is not entitled to separation pay. However, by way of exception, separation pay or financial assistance may be granted to an employee who was dismissed for a just cause as a measure of social justice or on grounds of equity. The Court thoroughly discussed this concept in Solid Bank Corp. v. NLRC, et al., 63 Phil. 158 (2010).

Applying in this case the concept of equity or the principle of social and compassionate justice to the cause of labor, the Court agrees with the National Labor Relations Commission, in the decision dated Dec. 29, 2011, that Betonio is entitled to separation pay as a measure of financial assistance— equivalent to one month salary for every year of service, a fraction of at least six months being considered as one whole year. This is in consideration of the fact that Betonio’s dismissal was not due to any act attributable to his moral character. (Del Monte Fresh Produce (Phil.) Inc. vs. Reynaldo P. Betonio, G.R. 223485, Dec. 4, 2019).

CORRECTION:

In the column of Atty. Dominador Almirante titled “Job contractor” in the Business section of the SunStar Cebu issue of May 15, 2020, the decision cited (Alaska Milk Corp. vs. Ruben P. Paez, et al., G.R. 237277, Nov. 27, 2019) is not final and is still subject to a Motion for Reconsideration filed by Alaska Milk Corp. on Feb. 10, 2020.