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MANILA, Philippines – Like clockwork, before the flag ceremony, Supreme Court employees clad in red lined up on the Court’s grounds on Monday, March 12.
They had done this many Mondays ago, but this flag ceremony is different. In a sea of SC employees stood a union leader from another government agency, the National Food Authority.
Larry Tan, vice president of the National Food Authority-Employees Association (NFA-EA)-Courage was also clad in red, the color of protest against the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. Courage stands for the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees.
Corona is being accused of betrayal of public trust and partiality toward former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who appointed him to the SC as associate justice in 2002 and chief justice in 2010.
Together with the SC employees and the Chief Justice himself, Tan recited the prayer, sang the national anthem, and watched as both the Philippine and SC flags were hoisted.
Tan would later be introduced by Jojo Guerrero, president of the SC Employees Association, as one of the employees from other government agencies supporting their call to “uphold the rule of law.”
In an interview with reporters, Tan said he went there because they face the same troubles as the SC employees. He said the executive branch, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), has adopted measures that allegedly put a limit on incentives for government personnel.
Tan complained that the DBM put a P25,000 cap on the contract negotiation agreement incentives (CNA incentive) they received through the issuance of Budget Circular 2011-15 in December 2011. Prior to this, DBM Secretary Florencio ‘Butch’ Abad told Rappler that the CNA incentive could go anywhere from “0 to P100,000.”
According to Budget Circular 2006-1, the CNA incentive is not fixed in the CNA or contract negotiation agreement, which is negotiated between an accredited employees’ organization and the employer.
The CNA incentive is dependent on the savings generated from cost-cutting measures and improvements in income in government agencies, state colleges and universities, local government units, government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions.
The CNA incentive is provided to rank-and-file employees who belong to employees’ organizations accredited by the Civil Service Commission in the above government bodies. The CNA incentive, according to Budget Circular 2006-1, is the consolidated form of all cash incentives such as food allowances, rice subsidy, transportation allowance and others.
By the end of the year, employees’ organizations determine the total amount of savings from cost-cutting measures agreed upon in the CNA and allot 50% of the apportioned amounts for such savings to CNA incentives. Another 30% is to be used for improvement in working conditions, or could be added to the CNA incentive.
Abad said, however, that the unrestrained grant of CNA “causes distortion in the benefits structure and may lead to demoralization,” adding that less than 40% of the bureaucracy receives CNA incentives because not all governmnent agencies have accredited employees’ organizations.
In the same circular, the DBM said the CNA incentive should only be granted when the agency has accomplished at least 90% of its performance targets and also asked government agencies to submit their accomplishment reports first as a requirement for the approval of the release of their CNA incentives.
The constitutionality of the Budget Circular 2011-5 is now being challenged before the SC by Courage, which filed a case at the SC in January. NFA-EA-Courage claims to have 4,000 members.
They said the circular infringed on the power of Congress to appropriate funds and that Abad overstepped his bounds when he issued it.
Members of Courage filed the petition after employees from the Department of Social Welfare and Development were ordered to refund the P5,000 excess of the CNA incentives they received in 2011. The refund was supposed to be taken from their salaries starting February until November through a P500-cut in their monthly salaries.
“Chief Justice, kami po ay umaasang papanig kayo sa amin, hindi lamang sa patuloy na pinakikinggan ang karaingan ng mga magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita, kundi para din sa mga nabanggit na karaingan ng mga manggagawa sa sektor publiko,” the NFA-EA Courage said in a statement distributed to the media after the flag ceremony. (We are hoping you will side with us, not only by continuously listening to the grievances of the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, but also to the aforementioned grievances of workers from the public sector.)
Prevent fund conversion
The question, however, is if Courage could speak for accredited government unions that were the parties to the contract negotiation agreement. Courage president Santiago Dasmariñas could not be reached to clarify this.
“That issue will have to be raised with the Court,” Abad said.
Meanwhile, Guerrero said he is also in talks with members of separate employees’ unions from the National Housing Authority and the Senate, who reportedly also have problems with the CNA cap. Guerrero said they have the same woes, as the DBM also moved to impound P2-B in SC savings in 2011.
The DBM would place this under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund and would only be released once vacancies are filled. Abad said this is to prevent the practice of fund conversion, which was a source of corruption in the military.
The SC personnel decried this, however, saying the SC enjoys fiscal autonomy.
“Hindi na masyadong natutugunan ang pangangailangan ng mga agency dahil ang executive masyadong nakatutok dito sa impeachment,” Guerrero said. (Because the executive is focused on the impeachment, the needs of other agencies are not adequately addressed.) – Rappler.com