House Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. on Thursday acccused Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of hostaging the salary increase due government workers this month in his bid to avoid appearing at a congressional inquiry on the alleged irregularities in the preparation of the proposed 2019 national government budget.
“The increases are not General Appropriations Act-dependent and are authorized by separate laws crafted by Congress and issued by the President himself. Delaying their release is unconstitutional,” Andaya said.
Andaya said Diokno “should stop using our civil servants as pawns in his bid to avoid answering questions of public interest”
He added that “the salaries of government officials as determined by existing pay scales are deemed in force regardless of the status of the national budget. The Salary Standardization Law 4 is for civilian employees and the second round of the pay increase for soldiers, policemen, firemen, jail guards, Coast Guard personnel are multiyear commitments. Their annual implementation as prescribed by law cannot be suspended by the whims of one man.”
Andaya, chairman of the House committee on rules which initiated a probe against Diokno, said that while Diokno wants debt servicing to foreign banks to go on as scheduled, salary increases of government workers are frozen.
“What he can defer during the pendency of the budget approval is the release of personnel services [PS] funds for new employees. Withholding part of the salaries for services rendered by regular employees is abuse of power,” Andaya said.
Andaya said there is no truth to Diokno’s claim that there is enough government money to release the salary increase under a reenacted budget.
“Under the reenacted budget, there is P100 billion allocated for salary increases under the MPBF,” he said.
“Besides, who says we need to use the full amount during the reenacted period? That budget is for the entire year,” he added.
Andaya maintained that Diokno should refrain from treating the national budget as his personal kitty.
“Our civil servants deserve the salary increase due them this year,” he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said the stalemate over the proposed P3.7-trillion budget for 2019 should not be a reason to put on hold a scheduled salary increase for government workers.
He said the Department of Budget and Management can use P99.446 billion under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MBPF) in the 2018 budget for the purpose.
“Mr. DBM Secretary, implement the salary increase now. It is not unconstitutional. It has basis in law and there is P99.446 billion under the MPBF in the 2018 budget,” Lacson said.
“Pointing to a re-enacted budget won’t fly,” he added.
Lacson said the MPBF allows the government to address the personnel requirements of public institutions.
The senator noted that of the P99.4 billion in the MPBF in the 2018 budget, P62.8 billion is for Compensation Adjustment, while P12.36 billion is for Stafing Modification Upgrading of Salaries.
“Obviously, there is legal basis as there are funds to implement the salary hike, especially for the first quarter of 2019,” he said.
Sen. Bam Aquino shared Lacson’s sentiments, saying that the government should not delay the scheduled salary increase of its workers, especially public school teachers, as it could help them cope with the prevailing high prices of food and other goods.
Like Lacson. Aquino said the DBM could use the MPBF to ensure that government employees receive their salary increase on time.
During his term as chairman of the Committee on Education, Aquino worked for the enactment of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act as the law’s principal sponsor.
He is also pushing for the passage of the Bawas Presyo sa Petrolyo Bill that he filed in May 2018 to help address the high prices of food and other goods.
The measure aims to fix the TRAIN Law by ensuring the suspension and rollback of excise tax on fuel once the country’s inflation rate exceeds the government’s target for three straight months.
Executive Order No. 201, signed by former President Benigno Aquino III, provides for a salary increase for civilian government employees for 2019, while Joint Resolution No. 1, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, provides for a pay hike for military and uniformed personnel also for this year.
Earlier, DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno said it may be unconstitutional to implement a new round of salary increases for government workers without passing the proposed 2019 budget first.
Diokno was quoted as saying last Wednesday that the DBM cannot implement the scheduled pay hike for government workers “without legal basis.”
The government is presently operating on the reenacted budget for 2018, until the 2019 budget is signed into law. The Senate is due to resume deliberations on the proposed 2019 budget starting Jan. 14.
Last December, Lacson questioned several pork-like insertions in the proposed 2019 budget, which involved grave abuse of discretion by lawmakers. These included the ballooning of allocations for infrastructure in some legislative districts and the Tulong Dunong program where lawmakers distribute checks to their chosen scholars, even when the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (Free Tuition Act) had already been passed.
Lacson had said that a ”pork-laden” budget is far worse than a delayed or reenacted one, adding it is the patriotic duty of lawmakers to be the vanguard of good governance through conscientious spending of the Filipino people’s money.
“The national budget is the lifeblood of the country. Therefore, we must see to it that we do our role in making sure it serves its purpose and not just stuff the pockets of some insatiably greedy politicians,” he said.
Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, for his part, said it probably would not hurt much if the scheduled pay hike of government workers this year would be delayed for a month, since Congress will only be able to pass and ratify the 2019 national budget by January 27.
Diokno earlier said the fourth pay hike tranche for workers will not be released unless the 2019 budget gets approved.
As this developed, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) expressed dismay over Secretary Diokno’s statement that the government was planning to raise the salaries of government workers sometime from 2020 to 2022 and that it will be benchmarked on the salary rates in the private sector.
The group said that the government time frame is ‘too long a wait’ and that benchmarking on the practice of the private sector is “dangerous for teachers.”
The group denounced the “bigay-bawi” stance of the Duterte regime on increasing the teacher’s pay as Diokno’s pronouncement came only two days after Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo declared that teachers can expect the fulfillment of President Duterte’s promise of doubling their salaries within two to three months.
“The Palace said our overdue pay hike will be effected in two to three months, now Diokno says it’s two to three years. Which is it? This administration is treating us like fools and our legitimate demands a plaything to be used whenever convenient to them,” said Joselyn Martinez, ACT National Chairperson.
ACT said Diokno’s statement that they will use private sector rates as benchmark for the adjustment in the current salary scheme of government employees, is “the main reason why teachers almost did not gain anything in the latest salary adjustment scheme which ends this year.’
“Teachers only get 2.8 to 4.2% increase yearly while government executives get 20 to 34% pay hike every year in the last three years precisely because of this exploitative private-sector framework which the government wants to emulate,” Martinez said.
He added that government needs only to look into neighboring countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan ‘to see how these nations appreciate their teachers by giving them decent salary rates.’
“Diokno’s salary increase principle is dangerous to public school teachers as private school teachers’ salaries are even more grievable. The government should be setting the standard in terms of workers’ compensation in the country, following international laws and recommendations, not finding inspiration from the exploitative practice of profit-oriented businesses,” Martinez said.
ACT challenged the administration to address the teachers’ demands by providing immediate economic relief. The group said that the disputed P75 billion pork insertions in the 2019 proposed budget be rechannelled to fund their much-needed P 3,000 increase in the Personnel Economic Relief Allowance (PERA).
ACT also demanded that the President intervene and ensure that teachers’ salary increase be implemented as promised in two to three months.
“First, they ignore our demands for an immediate salary increase, prompting thousands of teachers to stage various protests. Then they attempt to silence us through harassment and intimidation. When their devious plot was exposed, the President himself through Palace spox Panelo tried to fool us with a promise of doubled salary in 2–3 months. Teachers will not stand for this administration’s blatant disregard and utter disrespect of our profession,” Martinez said.