MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida and his predecessor, Florin Hilbay, received millions of pesos in “excess” allowances in 2016, according to a Commission on Audit (COA) report on government agencies.
The COA report said that Calida’s excess allowances from July to December 2016 totaled P1.123 million, while Hilbay’s excess allowances from January to June 2016 reached P4.6 million.
While government officials are not prohibited from receiving honoraria and allowances, a COA circular states that extra compensation paid to government officials must not exceed half or 50% of what they earned that year.
A solicitor general earns around P1.8 million annually, but since Calida and Hilbay worked 6 months each in 2016, their salary for the year was P702,516, setting the 50% limit at P351,258.
In the last 6 months of 2016, Calida received P1,132,500 in allowances through the Financial Management Service (FMS) and P342,500 in allowances received directly by the lawyers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
This amounted to P1.475 million, exceeding the allowable limit, as set by COA, by P1.123 million.
In the first half of 2016, Hilbay got P4,547,402 in allowances through FMS, and P466,000 in allowances received directly by OSG lawyers.
The total is P5,013,402, exceeding the allowable limit by P4,662,144, based on the COA circular.
COA added that Calida leads the list of OSG heads without a daily time record, the record of actual work performance of a government employee.
In separate statements, Hilbay and OSG Spokesperson Erik Dy said the allowances of all OSG lawyers have been guided by Republic Act 9417 or the OSG Law.
“It’s an old, recurring issue between OSG and COA. Allowances of all lawyers of OSG, past and present, are allowed by a very specific provision of law, Section 8 of RA 9417 (OSG law). Obviously, the COA doesn’t have the authority to countermand an act of Congress,” Hilbay said.
The provision states that “the legal staff of the Office of the Solicitor General are allowed to receive honoraria and allowances from client departments, agencies, and instumentalities of the Government.”
“The COA can’t amend a law, especially a specific provision of law that goes back to the Administrative Code of 1987 and reiterated under [RA] 9417. That’s always been the position of the OSG under every SolGen,” Hilbay said.
Dy said: “The OSG is steadfast in its position that a COA administrative circular cannot abrogate a substantive law such as the OSG Charter.”
In its report, the COA recommended that the OSG refund the excess amount and deposit it to the office’s trust fund.
The COA has already issued a notice of disallowance (ND) which the OSG has was appealed. The appeal is still pending before COA.
But the COA said that OSG should “limit the receipt of allowances to not more than 50% of their annual salary until such time that a decision on the ND be resolved, become final and executory.”
According to COA, Calida received allowances/honoraria from 37 client agencies, while Hilbay received from 63.
COA said the allowances they received directly were not reported by the OSG to the FMS, which is in violation of an OSG order that all allowances and honoraria except reimbursements should be declared with the FMS. This is so they could be declared additional income that is subject to tax.
“The failure of the OSG employees to report the allowances directly given to them by client agencies provides no assurance that the correct taxes were indeed withheld or no taxes were withheld at all,” the COA report said.
For Hilbay’s part, he said he continued the policy of former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza, who is now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, of FMS collecting all allowances “so all taxes are paid.”
Aside from Calida and Hilbay, the following lawyers also received the following excess allowances in 2016, according to the COA report:
1. Myrna Canuto – P65,878.43
2. Herman Cimafranca – P46,376.00
3. James Cundangan – P388,270.41
4. Renan Ramos – P705,842.00
5. Bernard Hernandez – P207,019.78
6. Eric Panga – P2,876.00
7. Ma Antonio Edita Dizon – P336,871.82
8. Danilo Leyva – P112,160.93
9. Raymund Rigodon – P98,412.94
10. Liway Czarina Ruizo – P175,390.48
11. Sonny Von Ruaya – P93,161
12. Lilian Abenojar – P33,917.81
13. John Dale Ballinan – P206,156.84
14. Melbourn Ziro Pana – P 204,221.37
15. Ma Hazel Acantilado – P 93,325.58
Excess allowances of OSG lawyers in 2016 amounted to P8.55 million, according to COA. – Rappler.com