- Philippine Commercial Industrial Bank v. Cabrera
- G.R. No. 160368
- DAVIDE, JR., C.J :
- Decision Date
G.R. No. 160368. March 31, 2005.
PHILIPPINE COMMERCIAL INDUSTRIAL BANK, petitioner, vs. PEDRO L. CABRERA, respondent.
D E C I S I O N
DAVIDE, JR., C.J p:
This case stemmed from two anomalous withdrawals totalling P202,000 against the savings account of one Philip Inocencio, a depositor of the Sixto Antonio-Pasig Branch of petitioner Philippine Commercial Industrial Bank. Such anomaly was imputed on respondent Pedro L. Cabrera, the Assistant Manager-Service Head of that Branch who had been with the petitioner bank for almost two decades.
The anomaly was discovered on 4 April 1998 when Inocencio went to the Branch to have his passbook updated. Customer Service Assistant (CSE) Corazon Alejandro, the branch personnel who attended to him, discovered that there was a discrepancy between his account balance as appearing on the bank's computer and that appearing on his passbook. The computer reported a balance of only P99,061.71, while the passbook reflected a balance of P301,841.43.
Inocencio was referred to Customer Service Support (CSS) Alcelino Gregorio, who made a verification of the unposted transactions on the passbook. In the process of conducting a verification, Gregorio noticed that pages 1 and 2 of the Daily Trial Balance and Transaction Register (DTBTR) print-out dated 23 March 1998 and debit supporting documents were missing. He then asked Inocencio to give him more time to verify the discrepancy and told the latter to come back to the branch at another date. Thereafter, Gregorio reported about the missing pages to Cabrera and requested the latter's assistance. Cabrera then undertook to personally look into the matter.
On the afternoon of 15 April 1998, Cabrera informed the bank's Area Operations Officer for Eastern Metro Manila Area Arnulfo M. Villalobos that he was successful in locating a withdrawal slip for P202,000 dated 21 March 1998. He further informed the latter of the following:
1. The withdrawal slip was validated using the terminal of CSE Amparo Advincula.
2. The withdrawal was approved by Assistant Manager-Sales Head Jose Enriquez, Jr.
3. The typewritten account no. 5433-03251-7 was altered to 5443-03251-7 (correct account number) by crossing out the first number 3 and superimposing number 4 on top.
4. The amount in words was torn off leaving the words "two thousand pesos" with visible traces of cigarette burns.
5. The computer validation was torn off and likewise had traces of cigarette burns with only the date of transaction left visible. AICHaS
6. The withdrawal was post-reviewed by Cabrera himself as Service Head.
7. The denomination breakdown of the amount paid was not indicated on the reverse side of the withdrawal slip.
8. The client's signature on the withdrawal slip differed from the specimen signatures on the signature card on file.
9. Pages 3 and 4 of the Electronic Journal reading on 21 March 1998 of Advincula were missing.
The next day, or on 16 April 1998, the petitioner created a Fact-Finding Committee to investigate the anomaly. Pending investigation, Cabrera was placed under preventive suspension.
The investigation allegedly revealed that a week before the incident, the respondent verbally requested a one-day leave of absence on 21 March 1998 to attend his eldest daughter's graduation. His request for leave was approved by Branch Manager Rogelio B. Blaquera on 20 March 1998. On the same day, at 12:25 p.m. to 12:27 p.m., a balance inquiry, last transaction inquiry, and passbook updating on Inocencio's account were made on respondent's computer terminal. On 21 March 1998, despite the fact that he was supposed to be on the official leave, the respondent reported for work in the morning. Blaquera then offered him to take a half-day leave after lunch. However, in the afternoon, he was seen getting in and out of the Branch a number of times.
When the Electronic Journal of Advincula was retrieved from her computer terminal on 17 April 1998, it was discovered that on 21 March 1998, at 1:39 p.m. and 1:40 p.m., two unauthorized withdrawals amounting to P22,000 and P180,000, respectively, were made against the account of Inocencio. Advincula categorically stated that she did not process the said transactions. The corresponding amount of P202,000 were taken from her unlocked drawer while she was in the Ladies' Room. According to her, as a matter of practice, she would not secure her cash and other valuables in lockable areas or sign off her terminal whenever she would leave her counter. When the unauthorized withdrawals were made, only Corazon Alejandro was in the teller's counter.
The Teller's Electronic Journals, Error Correction Summary Report, and DTBTR print-out also allegedly showed that the respondent approved or overrode transactions using his password or supervisor's code #15 between 1:22 p.m. and 3:51 p.m. and that he delivered coin requisitions to the tellers and received cash deliveries from them between 1:28 p.m. and 3:02 p.m. of 21 March 1998.
For his part, the respondent denied having made a balance inquiry and passbook updating on Inocencio's account, and claimed that either Blaquera or Gregorio accessed his computer terminal. He was supposed to be on vacation leave on 21 March 1998 to attend his eldest daughter's graduation. But having learned that his reliever was not available and considering that his daughter's graduation was still in the afternoon, he decided to report for work in the morning. He left the bank at 1:20 p.m. When he returned at about 5:30 p.m., the bank was already closed. To prove his presence in his daughter's graduation, he submitted photocopies of (1) the program paper where the name of his daughter was listed as among the graduates; and (2) a picture of him, together with his spouse and his daughter, at the venue of the graduation.
After conducting an investigation and evaluating the evidence gathered, including the written explanations of Cabrera and the other personnel assigned to the Branch, the Fact-Finding Committee concluded that Cabrera was culpable in view of the following circumstances:
a. The series of deliberate and premeditated acts before the execution of the planned unauthorized withdrawals balance inquiry, last transaction inquiry and updating on SA # 5443-0-3251-7 under the name of Philip Inocencio were done on 3.20.98 at 12:25 p.m. to 12:27 p.m. in his own computer terminal.
b. On 3.21.98, although he was supposed to be on official leave, he unexpectedly reported for work which prompted BM/Blaquera to advise and offer him to just knock-off in the afternoon. At 1:39 p.m. and 1:40 p.m., the unauthorized withdrawals of P22,000 and P180,000, respectively, were made using the teller's terminal of CSE/Advincula and took the corresponding total amount of P202,000 from the unlocked drawer of aforesaid CSE who at that time was out of her teller's cage/counter. In that afternoon, he was seen going-out/getting-in the branch for several times and have accessed to branch transactions and computer terminals despite the fact that he was supposed to be attending his daughter's graduation day the very reason of his request for a 1-day VL. This was vehemently denied by him claiming that he was no longer in the branch when the transaction took place. He said he left the bank at 1:20 p.m. and never touched/handled any bank transactions/records and computer terminal afterwards. However, it was the other way around as confirmed by several branch personnel and supporting documents/transaction media on hand. HIESTA
c. The sudden appearance and presentation of the forged withdrawal slip for P202,000 which for several days had been missing. The withdrawal slip was altered to distort the facts and several documents/print-outs related to the case were destroyed/missing to conceal the anomalous transactions. He has full access/control/custody of all these vital records.
d. He violated the single occupancy of bank/branch premises during Mondays (off-working day).
e. As SEH, he is directly responsible for the following procedural lapses in the branch, such as:
1. CSE not securing case and other valuables in lockable area and not temporarily signing-off computer terminals when leaving their positions/areas.
2. CSS not microfilming source documents and other transaction media required to be microfilmed.
Acting on the report and recommendation of the Fact-Finding Committee and the recommendation of BBS-Administration Group, the petitioner bank terminated Cabrera's employment on 22 July 1998, with forfeiture of benefits, on the ground of violation of Par. 1, Sec. 1, Art. V of the New Code of Discipline, specifically, "taking, converting or misappropriating Bank funds, money, property for personal profit and benefit"; serious misconduct; and fraud or willful breach of the trust reposed in him by his employer or duly authorized representative as provided for under paragraphs (b) and (c) of Article 282 of the
Having been disgruntled by this turn of events, Cabrera filed on 10 August 1998 a complaint for illegal suspension and illegal dismissal against the petitioner. After the parties submitted their respective position papers and replies, Labor Arbiter Jose G. de Vera rendered a Decision dated 29 February 2000 dismissing respondent's complaint and declaring that the petitioner sufficiently established by substantial evidence that the respondent committed serious misconduct resulting in the loss of trust and confidence reposed on him by the petitioner.
Cabrera appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). But in its Resolution of 21 February 2001, the NLRC dismissed the appeal on the ground that the decision rendered by Labor Arbiter De Vera had become final and executory because Cabrera's counsel, Atty. Reynaldo M. San Juan, received a copy of the decision on 24 March 2000 and the Appeal with Memorandum was filed only on 5 June 2000, way beyond the 10-day reglementary period.
On 19 April 2001, respondent Cabrera moved for the reconsideration of the dismissal of his appeal. Such motion, however, was denied by the NLRC in its Resolution of 16 May 2001. Hence, Cabrera filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari.
While finding Cabrera's appeal with the NLRC to have been filed out of time, the Court of Appeals gave credence to the allegation of Cabrera that said infirmity was due to the gross negligence of his former counsel Atty. Reynaldo San Juan. It then proceeded to declare the illegality of Cabrera's dismissal for failure of the petitioner bank to adduce substantial evidence. The presence of Cabrera at the bank on 21 March 1998 despite his approved leave of absence and his presentation of the missing withdrawal slip for P202,000 are not sufficient bases for concluding that it was Cabrera who made the fraudulent withdrawals. Moreover, not a single person claimed to have seen Cabrera enter the teller's booth of Advincula at the time of the questioned withdrawals. Thus, in its Decision of 26 March 2003, the Court of Appeals ordered the petitioner to immediately reinstate the respondent to his former or equivalent position and to pay him full back wages from the date of his illegal dismissal up to the time of his actual reinstatement.
Its motion for reconsideration having been denied in the Resolution of 9 October 2003, the petitioner filed this petition arguing that the Court of Appeals seriously erred in (1) giving due course to the petition for certiorari of Cabrera, which merely raised factual issues; (2) reversing the Labor Arbiter's decision, which had become final and executory; (3) holding that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing Cabrera's appeal; and (4) reversing the factual finding of the Labor Arbiter that Cabrera was validly and lawfully dismissed for cause when said decision is supported by evidence. aHcDEC
The arguments raised by the petitioner boil down to two basic issues: (1) the propriety of giving due course to the petition for certiorari notwithstanding the undisputed fact that Cabrera's appeal with the NLRC was filed out of time; and (2) the correctness of the Court of Appeals' finding that the dismissal from employment of Cabrera was illegal.
Section 223 of the
It must be stressed at this juncture that rules of procedure are mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice. A strict and rigid application which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice should not be allowed; technicality should not be permitted to prevent the equitable and complete resolution of the rights and obligations of the parties. No procedural rule is sacrosanct if such shall result in subverting justice. The Court has the power to except a particular case from the operation of the rule whenever the purposes of justice requires it because what should guide judicial action is that a party is given the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his action or defense rather than for him to lose life, honor, or property on mere technicalities. Thus, in as in other meritorious cases, the Court allowed, in the higher interest of justice, an appeal from the labor arbiter's decision to the NLRC which was several months late.
We now proceed to determine whether the case at bar is a meritorious case that merits a liberal application of the rules on appeals. Cabrera claims that it was the gross negligence of his counsel that caused the late filing of his appeal and motion for reconsideration. He followed up the case with his lawyer, who promised that he would appeal the Labor Arbiter's decision, only to find out when it was already too late that his lawyer reneged on his obligation. A reading of the records, especially the pleadings filed by Cabrera's former counsel Atty. San Juan, shows a shoddy and haphazard legal service rendered to Cabrera. The pleadings filed for Cabrera leave much to be desired. The Discussions/Arguments in his 6-page Position Paper consisted of only two paragraphs. Likewise, the discussion in his Reply was superficial, and no attempt was made to substantiate the factual allegations. To top it all, Atty. San Juan slept on his duty to appeal the adverse decision of the Labor Arbiter and to move for the reconsideration of the dismissal of respondent's appeal. Certainly, such incompetence and negligence are so gross that it effectively deprived Cabrera of his day in court, so to speak. ICAcTa
A thorough review of the records indicate that the evidence presented by the petitioner consists mainly of the report of the Fact-Finding Committee. No independent finding of facts was done by the Labor Arbiter; he simply adopted the findings of the committee. Thus, in his decision, he echoed the committee's conclusion that it was Cabrera who committed the fraudulent withdrawals based on the following alleged circumstantial evidence: (a) a balance inquiry was made on the account of Inocencio using the computer of Cabrera; (b) Cabrera reported for work on the date the withdrawals were made when he was supposed to be on leave; (c) Cabrera claimed to have left at 1:20 p.m. on 21 March 1998, but some transactions showed that he was still in the bank premises even after 1:20 p.m.; and (d) it was Cabrera who produced the withdrawal slip for P202,000 dated 21 March 1998.
We are not unmindful of the fact that a bank owes great fidelity to the public it deals with, its operation being essentially imbued with public interest. In turn, it cannot be compelled to continue in its employ a person in whom it has lost trust and confidence and. whose continued employment would patently be inimical to the bank's interest. The law, in protecting the rights of labor, authorizes neither oppression nor self-destruction of an employer company, which itself is possessed of rights that must be entitled to recognition and respect.
The respondent is not merely a rank-and-file employee of the petitioner bank. He was an assistant manager of the Sixto Antonio-Pasig Branch of the petitioner. His position thus carried authority for the exercise of independent judgment and discretion characteristic of sensitive posts in corporate hierarchy where a wide latitude could be supposed in setting up stringent standards for continued employment.
However, it is long settled that it is the employer who has the burden of proving the legality of the employee's dismissal. For the respondent to be validly dismissed from the service, the petitioner bank must prove by substantial evidence the bases of the breach of trust or serious misconduct levelled against him. Substantial evidence has been defined as "that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion." It is such amount of evidence as to induce a belief that the employee is responsible for misconduct and that participation therein renders him unworthy of the trust and confidence demanded by the job.
In this case, the allegation that a balance inquiry on the account of Inocencio was actually made by Cabrera was not supported by substantial evidence. In his Memo for Cecilio L. Cortez, FFC/Head, dated 22 May 1998, Cabrera emphasized that he was even the one who discovered the use by the perpetrators of the fraud of his computer terminal for such balance inquiry and that he reported it to the bank manager. It would thus be ironic for him to volunteer that information if he had a hand in the anomalous withdrawals.
The presence of Cabrera at the bank after 1:20 p.m. of 21 March 1998 was not substantially proved either. Notably, the declarations of the bank employees as to respondent's time-ins and time-outs on that fateful day were almost identical and are thus highly suspect. Aside from coming from the mouths of the bank employees who were under investigation themselves, they were not duly sworn and subscribed to. And even if they were reduced into affidavits, such would hardly constitute the relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate, since the respondent was not given the opportunity to test their veracity.
Likewise, in an attempt to establish respondent's presence at the bank's premises at the time the anomaly transpired, the Fact-Finding Committee's Report enumerated several transactions allegedly participated in by Cabrera, such as the approval or overriding of certain transactions, delivery of coin requisitions to the tellers, and receipt of cash deliveries from the tellers. The bases for such finding were allegedly the Teller's Electronic Journal, Error Correction Summary Report, and DBTR print-out, but these were not presented at all. Neither is there any testimony or affidavit of the tellers concerned stating that, indeed, said transactions were done by Cabrera. In any event, far from serving to pin down the respondent, these transactions could even show his innocence. If he were the culprit he would not have dared participate in these transactions which would not anyway facilitate the fraudulent withdrawals, since these transactions would leave a paper trail and establish his presence at the time the withdrawals were made.
At any rate, the mere presence of Cabrera at the bank does not establish his guilt for the fraudulent withdrawals. Significant is the fact that not a single bank personnel claimed to have seen Cabrera enter the teller's booth of Advincula at the time the questioned withdrawals were made. With the allegations of some of the bank's employees of having seen Cabrera go in and out of the bank several times on that fateful day, it is simply incredible that Cabrera could enter Advincula's booth without anyone noticing it. Equally baffling is why the Fact-Finding Committee just accepted hook, line and sinker, so to speak, the explanation of Advincula that at the time the questioned withdrawals were effected, she was in the Ladies' Room and that she left her counter without securing the money and other valuables or without signing off her terminal. It is such a convenient excuse that cannot sit well with this Court. Moreover, it taxes one's credulity that Advincula would not notice that a gargantuan amount of money was taken from her unlocked drawer on that day. ACTESI
The presentation by Cabrera of the missing forged withdrawal slip bolsters his innocence rather than his guilt. It must be recalled that Gregorio turned to the respondent for assistance in threshing out the problem on Inocencio's account. The respondent then undertook to personally look into the matter. As pointed out by the Court of Appeals, with the years of training and experience behind the respondent, he need not be told on how and what to look for in order to resolve the problem; it was not surprising that he would come up with the withdrawal slip. If he was the culprit, he would not have presented said withdrawal slip at all. Being an Assistant Manager-Service Head, Cabrera must not have been so stupid as to produce a document that would incriminate him if he, indeed, was the guilty person.
Considering the dearth of evidence that would prove the guilt of Cabrera, the termination of his employment cannot be sustained.
With respondent's dismissal from the service being illegal, the reinstatement and full backwages decreed by the Court of Appeals are in order. However, if reinstatement is no longer viable as an option, a separation pay equivalent to one month salary for every year of service should be awarded as an alternative.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby DENIED for lack of merit. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 65961 is AFFIRMED with the modification that if reinstatement is no longer feasible and viable owing to attendant circumstances, a separation pay equivalent to one month salary for every year of service is hereby adjudged in favor of respondent Pedro L. Cabrera.
Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1. Rollo, 161-166.
2. Rollo, 330-347.
3. Id., 359-360.
4. Id., 348-353.
5. Id., 371.
6. Id., 373-408.
7. Per Associate Justice (now Supreme Court Associate Justice) Cancio C. Garcia, J., with the concurrence of Associate Justices Eloy R. Bello, Jr. and Mario L. Guari a III. Rollo, 68-104.
8. Rollo, 108-143.
9. Id., 106.
10. , G.R. No. 99346, 7 February 1995, 241 SCRA 165.
11. , G.R. No. 92735, 8 June 2000, 333 SCRA 71.
12. ., G.R. No. 137448, 31 January 2002, 375 SCRA 431.
13. G.R. No. 124224, 17 March 2000, 328 SCRA 404.
14. Rollo, 264-265.
15. Id., 324-326.
16. , G.R. No. 140692, 20 November 2001, 369 SCRA 712, 718.
18. , G.R. No. 151228, 15 August 2002, 387 SCRA 393.
19. Section 5, Rule 133,
20. G.R. No. 131405, 20 July 1999, 310 SCRA 846, 858.
21. Rollo, 237.
22. note 20 at 862-863.
23. , G.R. No. 148241, 27 September 2002, 390 SCRA 181, 192-193; , G.R. No. 147031, 27 July 2004.