G.R. No. 116123, 13 March 1997
Petitioner CFTI held a concessionaire’s contract with the Army Air Force Exchange Services (“AAFES”) for the operation of taxi services within Clark Air Base. Sergio F. Naguiat was CFTI’s president, while Antolin T. Naguiat was its vice-president. Like Sergio F. Naguiat Enterprises, Incorporated (“Naguiat Enterprises”), a trading firm, it was a family-owned corporation. Individual respondents were previously employed by CFTI as taxicab drivers.
During their employment, they were required to pay a daily “boundary fee” in the amount of US$26.50 for those working from 1:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and US$27.00 for those working from 12:00 noon to 12:00 midnight. All incidental expenses for the maintenance of the vehicles they were driving were accounted against them, including gasoline expenses. Due to the phase-out of the US military bases in the Philippines, from which Clark Air Base was not spared, the AAFES was dissolved, and the services of individual respondents were officially terminated on November 26, 1991.
The AAFES Taxi Drivers Association (“drivers’ union”), through its local president, Eduardo Castillo, and CFTI held negotiations as regards separation benefits that should be awarded in favor of the drivers. They arrived at an agreement that the separated drivers will be given P500.00 for every year of service as severance pay. Most of the drivers accepted said amount in December 1991 and January 1992. However, individual respondents herein refused to accept theirs.
Instead, after disaffiliating themselves from the drivers’ union, individual respondents, through the National Organization of Workingmen (“NOWM”), a labor organization which they subsequently joined, filed a complaint against herein petitioner for payment of separation pay due to termination/phase-out. Said complaint was later amended to include additional taxi drivers who were similarly situated as complainants, and CFTI with Antolin T. Naguiat as vice president and general manager, as party respondent, alleging that they were regular employees of Naguiat Enterprises, although their individual applications for employment were approved by CFTI.
They claimed to have been assigned to Naguiat Enterprises after having been hired by CFTI, and that the former thence managed, controlled and supervised their employment. They averred further that they were entitled to separation pay based on their latest daily earnings of US$15.00 for working sixteen (16) days a month. They also claimed that the cessation of business of CFTI on November 26, 1991, was due to “great financial losses and lost business opportunity” resulting from the phase-out of Clark Air Base brought about by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption and the expiration of the RP-US military bases agreement. CFTI had agreed with the drivers’ union, through its President Eduardo Castillo who claimed to have had blanket authority to negotiate with CFTI in behalf of union members, to grant its taxi driver-employees separation pay equivalent to P500.00 for every year of service.
The labor arbiter, finding the individual complainants to be regular workers of CFTI, ordered the latter to pay them P1,200.00 for every year of service “for humanitarian consideration,” setting aside the earlier agreement between CFTI and the drivers’ union of P500.00 for every year of service. Herein individual private respondents appealed to the NLRC. In its Resolution, the NLRC modified the decision of the labor arbiter by granting separation pay to the private respondents.
Whether or not officers of corporations are ipso facto liable jointly and severally with the companies that they represent for the payment of separation pay?
A.C. Ransom Labor Union-CCLU vs. NLRC is the case in point. A.C. Ransom Corporation was a family corporation, the stockholders of which were members of the Hernandez family. In 1973, it filed an application for clearance to close or cease operations, which was duly granted by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, without prejudice to the right of employees to seek redress of grievance, if any. Backwages of 22 employees, who engaged in a strike prior to the closure, were subsequently computed at P164,984.00. Up to September 1976, the union filed about ten (10) motions for execution against the corporation, but none could be implemented, presumably for failure to find leviable assets of said corporation.
In its last motion for execution, the union asked that officers and agents of the company be held personally liable for payment of the backwages. This was granted by the labor arbiter. In the corporation’s appeal to the NLRC, one of the issues raised was: “Is the judgment against a corporation to reinstate its dismissed employees with backwages, enforceable against its officer and agents, in their individual, private and personal capacities, who were not parties in the case where the judgment was rendered!” The NLRC answered in the negative, on the ground that officers of a corporation are not liable personally for official acts unless they exceeded the scope of their authority.
On certiorari, this Court reversed the NLRC and upheld the labor arbiter. In imposing joint and several liability upon the company president, the Court, speaking through Mme. Justice Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera, ratiocinated this wise:(b) How can the foregoing (Articles 265 and 273 of the Labor Code) provisions be implemented when the employer is a corporation? The answer is found in Article 212(c) of the Labor Code which provides:
(c) “Employer” includes any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly. The term shall not include any labor organization or any of its officers or agents except when acting as employer.
The foregoing was culled from Section 2 of RA 602, the Minimum Wage Law. Since RANSOM is an artificial person, it must have an officer who can be presumed to be the employer, being the “person acting in the interest of (the) employer” RANSOM. The corporation, only in the technical sense, is the employer.
The responsible officer of an employer corporation can be held personally, not to say even criminally, liable for nonpayment of back wages. That is the policy of the law. . . .
(c) If the policy of the law were otherwise, the corporation employer can have devious ways for evading payment of back wages. . . .
(d) The record does not clearly identify “the officer or officers” of RANSOM directly responsible for failure to pay the back wages of the 22 strikers. In the absence of definite Proof in that regard, we believe it should be presumed that the responsible officer is the President of the corporation who can be deemed the chief operation officer thereof. Thus, in RA 602, criminal responsibility is with the “Manager or in his default, the person acting as such.” In RANSOM. the President appears to be the Manager. (Emphasis supplied.)
Sergio F. Naguiat, admittedly, was the president of CFTI who actively managed the business. Thus, applying the ruling in A.C. Ransom, he falls within the meaning of an “employer” as contemplated by the Labor Code, who may be held jointly and severally liable for the obligations of the corporation to its dismissed employees.
Moreover, petitioners also conceded that both CFTI and Naguiat Enterprises were “close family corporations” owned by the Naguiat family. Section 100, paragraph 5, (under Title XII on Close Corporations) of the Corporation Code, states:(5) To the extent that the stockholders are actively engage(d) in the management or operation of the business and affairs of a close corporation, the stockholders shall be held to strict fiduciary duties to each other and among themselves. Said stockholders shall be personally liable for corporate torts unless the corporation has obtained reasonably adequate liability insurance. (emphasis supplied)
Our jurisprudence is wanting as to the definite scope of “corporate tort.” Essentially, “tort” consists in the violation of a right given or the omission of a duty imposed by law. Simply stated, tort is a breach of a legal duty. Article 283 of the Labor Code mandates the employer to grant separation pay to employees in case of closure or cessation of operations of establishment or undertaking not due to serious business losses or financial reverses, which is the condition obtaining at bar. CFTI failed to comply with this law-imposed duty or obligation. Consequently, its stockholder who was actively engaged in the management or operation of the business should be held personally liable.
In fact, in posting the surety bond required by this Court for the issuance of a temporary restraining order enjoining the execution of the assailed NLRC Resolutions, only Sergio F. Naguiat, in his individual and personal capacity, principally bound himself to comply with the obligation thereunder, i.e., “to guarantee the payment to private respondents of any damages which they may incur by reason of the issuance of a temporary restraining order sought, if it should be finally adjudged that said principals were not entitled thereto.
The Court here finds no application to the rule that a corporate officer cannot be held solidarily liable with a corporation in the absence of evidence that he had acted in bad faith or with malice. In the present case, Sergio Naguiat is held solidarily liable for corporate tort because he had actively engaged in the management and operation of CFTI, a close corporation.
*Case Digest by Mary Tweetie Antonette G. Semprun, JD – IV, Andres Bonifacio College, SY 2019 – 2020