April 13, 2016 at 12:01 am
Rey E. Requejo
The National Association of Lawyers for Justice and Peace on Tuesday challenged senatorial bet Risa Hontiveros to prove that she’s worthy of the people’s trust by spearheading the return of the P1.761 billion in unauthorized bonuses granted to officers and employees of PhilHealth in 2013 during her term there as board member.
NALJP founding chairman Jesus Santos pointed out that public office is a public trust.
“Since PhilHealth funds are the people’s money, Ms. Hontiveros should show us that we can trust her with our welfare by leading efforts to get back the illegal bonuses. If she will not do anything about it, there’s no reason to be confident that she will indeed serve the people should she win,” Santos said.
PhilHealth had claimed that the bonuses were covered by board resolutions. But the Commission on Audit said the resolutions were not submitted to the Office of the President for approval as required under Section 6 of Presidential Decree 1597.
“As a board member, Ms. Hontiveros should have known of the conflict with Presidential Decree 1597. But it has never been reported that she has exerted any effort for the return of the illegal bonuses. Nobody knows if she had even opposed the unauthorized bonuses, or had just simply went along with those who allowed it,” Santos said.
Santos said PhilHealth funds are exclusively for the medical needs of its members and not for the personal interests of a few.
“One can only imagine the volume of medicines and medical needs, or the extent of medical care and the number of beneficiaries which could have been bought and provided for the sick by the P1.761-billion unauthorized bonuses.
“Ms. Hontiveros owes the people a lot of explanation,” Santos stressed.
Another group of lawyers asked the Department of Budget and Management to release the P139-million retirement benefits of public attorneys that it has been withholding since 2010.
“With no more income from any form of employment, we are relying on our retirement package to support our needs for sustenance—utilities, food and most of all, medicines. Most of us are nearing the end of our days and slowly, our bodies are beginning to succumb to various forms of illness; yet, we refuse to accept even the remote possibility that we will be abandoned by this government, our former employer, in a hapless state,” 40 retired lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office said in a manifesto.
The P139 million is the total amount of retirement gratuity package for the 40 public defenders using as basis for its computation are Republic Act 9406 or the PAO Law in relation to RA 10071 or the National Prosecution Service Law.
In an opinion released by its Legal Service, the DBM said PAO lawyers are not entitled to the same retirement package as that of the prosecutors and judges prompting the withholding of the retirement gratuity package.
Under Section 5 of the PAO Law, a PAO lawyer shall have the same qualifications for appointment, rank, salaries, allowances and retirement privileges as those of a public prosecutor.
However, last paragraph of Section 16 of the Napross Law provides that “the salaries, allowances and other emoluments herein fixed shall not apply to officers other than those of prosecutors in the National Prosecution Service, notwithstanding any provision of law assimilating the salaries of other officers to those herein mentioned.”
The DBM then requested a legal opinion from the Department of Justice which turned the request into an arbitration proceeding where the PAO office is the respondent and set a hearing on May 3.
In a separate statement, incumbent PAO lawyers backed the call of their retired colleagues, saying Section 16 of the NAPROSS Law is a general provision that may not repeal Section 5 of the PAO Law, which is a special provision.
“To interpret the Napross Law as repealing the PAO Law would be to offend the legislative intent of Congress in enacting both laws,” the PAO lawyers stressed.
PAO lawyers also scored on the current position of the DBM as it pointed out that its previous issuances—letter to former Justice secretary Leila de Lima, DBM and GSIS Joint Circular 2013-1 signed by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad himself recognized that PAO lawyers are entitled to the same retirement pay of public prosecutors.
PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said the only benefits claimed by the retirees are the return of the premium and life insurance from the Government Service Insurance System.
The return of the premium is simply the reimbursement of excess of six percent deducted from PAO lawyers. Previously, it was nine percent but it was reduced to only three percent.