MANILA, Philippines – Embattled Chief Justice Renato Corona claimed Ombudsman and former colleague Conchita Carpio-Morales conspired with the Aquino government in removing him from the Supreme Court because there was bad blood between them — Morales allegedly didn’t take it well when Corona refused to “double” the budget for her retirment rites.
On Day 41 of his impeachment trial, Corona returned to the witness stand and accused Morales, who disclosed an Anti-Money Laundering Council report on his dollar accounts, of being “used” by Malacanang in a plot against him.
He narrated the circumstances that led Morales to turn against him: Morales is the cousin of Justice Antonio Carpio, Corona’s nemesis who challenged the chief justice’s ruling in a number of cases; Morales was against an SC ruling exempting the judiciary from the appointment ban ahead of elections; and Corona declined Morales’ request on her retirement ceremony budget.
The first two have been comprehensively reported on, with legal observers saying the contrasting votes of Carpio and Corona gave a peek on how much the alleged influence of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has polarized the SC. Corona was a so-called midnight appointee of Arroyo. Carpio, who was also an Arroyo appointee, dissented in highly political cases involving the former president; so did Morales.
The last allegation, which personally invovled Morales, however, raised some eyebrows and led some to question Morales’ motive in testifying on Corona’s bank accounts before the impeachment court.
But did Morales really ask her rites budget be doubled?
The retirement funds for the SC covers two things: the budget for the retirement ceremonies, and the retirement pay which covers the justice’s benefits.
Originally, under the time of then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, a P1.3-million budget was earmarked for the retirement ceremony for each SC magistrate. This budget was spent on hotel, food and other expenses related to the ceremony per se.
Abs-cbnnews.com reported though that Corona decided to cut this to P650,000 after the Commission on Audit said that the P1.3 million was excessive.
An official from the Department of Budget and Management, who asked not to be named because she is not authorized to speak on this matter, said that even if Malacanang said that retirement funds were too big, the SC could have invoked fiscal autonomy and stuck with its budget. It was therefore the call of the High Court whether or not to retain the funds for the retirement ceremony.
Corona cut the funds in 2010, 4 years after the COA made its observation. Morales, who retired as SC magistrate in June 2011, was the first SC retiree affected by Corona’s decision to decrease the funds.
Corona said Morales asked to “double” the funds through the clerk of court, which Morales denied. Morales said it was the commitee handling the rites that inquired about the funds. Besides, she said the committe didn’t ask for an increase, but only clarified why the budget was cut to P650,000 from the usual P1.3 million.
Recomputation of benefits
Questioning funds relating to retirement is not an irregular practice in the SC. A look at resolutions concerning administrative matters in the court shows that retirees have sought recomputations even of their retirement pays.
In 2008, retired Chief Justice Andres Narvasa asked for a recomputation of his retirement benefits, saying his retirement pay should include his personnel emergency relief allowance and additional compensation as well as the step increments in his basic salary that he has accrued as based on the Salary Standardization law. He asked for the assistance of retired Justice Bernardo Pardo. His request was referred to the deputy clerk of court and the Financial and Budget Management Office (FMBO).
The FMBO later found out that Narvasa was still entitled to P250,198.74 in additional retirement pay. The SC issued a resolution ordering that Narvasa be paid the said amount — the ponente or writer of the said resolution was no less than Morales herself.
In 1999, meanwhile, Court of Appeals clerk of court Tessie Gatmaitan requested then court administrator Alfredo Benipayo to compute the retirement pay of CA Justice Jorge Imperial based on the salary of a presiding justice after he served as one — but in an acting capacity — following the retirement of Justice Arturo Buena in 1999. The SC granted Gatmaitan’s request. – Rappler.com