SOMETIME in 2004, respondent Marinduque Electric Cooperative Inc. (Marelco) discovered certain highly irregular activities committed by some of its employees regarding the Smart and Globe projects. It came to its knowledge that several Globe cell sites were illegally tapped to service the connection of member-consumers near the area. Marelco thus made an inquiry inviting among others, petitioner who was then its sub-office chief to shed light on the matter. When asked for the name of the person who ordered or approved the energization of the Globe cell sites and the installation of the KWH meter at Brgy. San Antonio, Sta. Cruz, petitioner answered that it was given by someone from the Technical Services Department but he could not remember who the person was considering that the approval was made through a telephone conversation.

After the inquiry, petitioner was placed under floating status on the ground that he was “concealing information apparently designed for whatever favor either or both yourself and any party/ies which may be classified as collusion or conspiracy including conflict of interest xxx.” On March 21, 2005, Marelco terminated the services of petitioner based on said ground.

Was petitioner’s dismissal justified?

Ruling: No.

From the foregoing, this Court holds and so rules that petitioner’s failure to divulge the identity of the person who instructed him to energize the cell sites does not constitute willful disobedience, and fraud or willful breach of trust and confidence as to warrant his termination.

Furthermore, during his appeal with Marelco after his termination, petitioner admitted to energizing the cell sites because “I thought there were no more problems as the documents were complete and the required payments have been paid,” such admission was not made the basis for his termination. The Court of Appeals (CA), therefore, committed a reversible error when it concluded that such was the ground for petitioner’s dismissal. To raise this, his failure to ensure that Globe’s application had gone through the proper procedure before acting thereon, as a ground for petitioner’s dismissal, the CA had deprived petitioner of due process.

It bears stressing at this point that Marelco, in its comment, admits that the only basis for petitioner’s dismissal is his failure to name and identify the person who approved the energization of cell sites and the installation of the KWH meter. In fact, the Labor Arbiter and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) made no mention as to petitioner’s failure to await for the approval of the Board of Directors before pushing through with the energization of the cell sites. This Court is, thus, baffled, why the CA based petitioner’s dismissal on a ground different from the established facts.

As things are, while petitioner indeed committed an infraction or dishonesty when he refused to identify the person who instructed him to energize the cell site, his outright dismissal from service is not commensurate with his misdemeanor. Likewise, it is settled that in determining the penalty to be imposed on an erring employee, due consideration must be given to the employee’s length of service and the number of violations he committed during his employ.

In the case at bench, considering that petitioner has been in the service of Marelco for 21 years prior to his dismissal, and nowhere in the records does it appear that he committed any previous infractions of company rules and regulations, this Court holds and so rules that the decision of the NLRC declaring him illegally dismissed, despite his infraction, is just and equitable. Petitioner’s dismissal from work would be too severe a penalty under the circumstances.

All told, this Court concludes that the findings of the NLRC are supported by substantial evidence. Clearly, petitioner’s allegation of illegal dismissal has legal and factual bases. The CA, therefore, committed reversible error when it ruled that petitioner was legally dismissed. A reversal thereof is, thus, warranted in this case. (Jimmy Paez vs. Marinduque Electric Cooperative Inc. et al., G.R. 211185, Dec. 9, 2020).