SC to decide on Corona's retirement benefits June 13
MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court will convene in a special en banc session on June 13 to decide if it will give dismissed chief justice Renato Corona his retirement benefits.
At stake is Corona's basic retirement pay of P6 million. Other benefits including the "highest monthly aggregate" of Corona's personnel and economic relief allowance, representation, transportation and other allowances could increase this figure to P10 million to P12 million, an official of the Department of Budget and Management said.
However, while the SC has yet to decide on the matter, previous rulings of the high court showed it voted for the forfeiture of benefits of government employees who were dismissed from service.
Corona was found guilty by the Senate impeachment court of violating the Constitution when he did not disclose P183 million worth of peso and dollar accounts in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). The verdict automatically removed him from his post.
Corona joined the government in 1992 as assistant executive secretary and head of the legal group in Malacañang. He later became chief of staff and spokesman of former President Gloria Arroyo, who then appointed him chief justice in 2010. He was supposed to retire in 2018.
Three cases are instructive as to the awarding of retirement benefits to dismissed or suspended government employees.
Norberto Doblada, a sheriff from a Pasig regional trial court, was stripped off his benefits after the SC found out that he failed to declare real properties in his SALNs in 1974, 1976, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1998.
He also did not declare ownership of a fish cage worth P3 million in his 1993 SALN. He included it in his assets, but the SC said he should have also declared it as part of his business interests. Doblada also did not include in his 1989 and 1991 SALNs his financial interests in the said fish pen, which was constructed in 1989.
Doblada obtained a P300,000 loan for the construction of the fish cage and executed a real estate mortgage for the security of the person who loaned him the money. The SC said he should have declared the amount of the real estate mortgage in his SALN.
He also failed to disclose his 1989, 1991 and 1993 SALNs that he was director of a company based in Australia.
The SC ordered Doblada's dismissal from service because of "discrepancies, inconsistencies and omissions" in his SALNs, and forfeited his benefits.
One of those who concurred in this case was Corona.
Everyone is familiar with the case of Delsa Flores, the Davao court interpreter who was sacked in 1997 for failing to indicate in her SALN that she owned a stall in a public market. Several senators cited her case as one of the reasons for convicting Corona.
Following her dismissal, Flores' retirement benefits were also scrapped by government.
In one case, however, the SC ordered the forfeiture of six months' worth of salary from a retired employee's benefits even if he was only suspended for simple negligence.
The high tribunal found Salvador Pleyto, a former undersecretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways, guilty of simple negligence in 2007 after he failed to disclose the details of his wife's business interests in his 2001 and 2002 SALNs.
The SC noted there was no clear intent to "mislead" the public because he did state in his SALNs that his wife was a businesswoman; he only did not specify her business interests.
There is one case when the SC though allowed the dismissed employee to get P50,000 out of his forfeited retirement benefits for "humanitarian and equity considerations."
In Dumduma v. Civil Service Commission, the SC upheld the ruling of the Civil Service Commission, which orderd the dismissal of police officer Cesar Dumduma for lying in his personal data sheet. Dumduma wrote that he passed the Career Service Professional Examination in 1991 even if he did not.
The SC ruled that since he used to be an "outstanding" member of the police force, he deserved a financial assistance of P50,000 to be taken out of his forfeited retirement benefits.
"While justice exhorts that petitioner suffer the full penalties imposed by law, temperance cries out that he be recognized for whatever good he has done prior to his mistake," the SC said.
Justice Arturo Brion dissented from the majority's decision, however, saying the SC decision will "unwittingly open the door to a new practice as yet unknown in Philippine jurisprudence on the grant of financial assistance to employees validly dismissed from the public service."
Brion said the SC wrongfully applied Section 53 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, which states that "in the determination of the penalties to be imposed, mitigating, aggravating and alternative circumstances attendant to the commission of the offense shall be considered."
The CSC has considered "length of service in the government" as one of these "circumstances."
Brion argued that Section 53 should only be invoked in ascertaining if the penalty to be imposed is the maximum one, not when it comes to applying an administrative disability, like forfeiture of retirement benefits, that the penalty of dismissal inherently carries.
Corona's case 'political'
Lawyers interviewed by Rappler said the case of Corona's dismissal is different because it is a "political conviction" and hence does not merit the forfeiture of his retirement benefits.
"It was a political conviction where there are no clear standards for the judicial determination of guilt," Roberto Cadiz, executive director of lawyers' group Libertas said.
"If there is room for discretion, I would give him one half, if only to distinguish his case from the regular retirees," he said.
Dean Antonio La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government also said Corona's retirement benefits should be given if there are "no legal obstacles." - Rappler.com