Ex-Peza members ordered to return P5M in allowances-A A +A
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
THE Supreme Court upheld a Commission on Audit (COA) ruling ordering former members of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) to return some P5.45 million worth of "illegally disbursed" allowances they received from the government in 2006.
In a 13-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr., the Court en banc dismissed the petition filed by Peza assailing the decision of COA chair Reynaldo Villar dated September 15, 2009, affirming the notice of disallowance for payment of P5,451,500 worth of per diems to ex-officio members of the Peza board.
The Court said Peza cannot claim to be unaware of circumstances pointing to the possible illegality of the disbursements of per diems to the ex-officio members of the board.
"It would have been more prudent for Peza, if it honestly believed that there is a clear legal basis for the per diems and there was a chance that this Court might rule in their favor. Peza's actual knowledge that the disbursements are being questioned by virtue of the notices of disallowance issued to them by the COA and knowledge of the pronouncements of the Court in certain cases where ex-officio members of several government agencies were prohibited from receiving additional compensation, militate against its claim of good faith," the SC said.
The Peza board is composed of 13 members, which include the undersecretaries of the Departments of Labor and Employment (Dole), Interior (DILG), Environment (DENR), Agriculture (DA), Public Works (DPWH), Science and Technology (DOST), and Energy (DOE). They received compensation for every attendance in a board meeting.
Those who received allowances were: former Labor Secretary (now SC Justice) Arturo Brion who received P177,000; Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, (P45,000); Environment Secretary Ramon Paje (P159,000); former Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong (P448,000); Agriculture undersecretary Cesar Drilon (P811,000); former Interior undersecretary Eduardo Soliman Jr., (P632,000); former PDEA chair Anselmo Avenido (P162,000); former NLRC chairman Benedicto Ernesto Bitonio Jr., (P56,000); former DPWH undersecretary Manuel Bonoan, (P112,000); former DENR undersecretary Armando de Castro, (P144,000); former DOST undersecretary Fortunato dela Pena, (P904,000); former DENR undersecretary Roseller dela Pena, (P36,000); former Napocor chief Cyril del Callar, (P762,000); former DENR undersecretary Renato de Rueda, (P48,000); former Labor undersecretary Josephus Jimenez, (P336,000); former DOST undersecretary Rufino LIrag Jr., (P63,000); former Finance undersecretary Gaudencio Mendoza Jr., (P16,000); former DENR undersecretary Rolando Metin, (P256,000); former DPWH undersecretary Edmundo Mir, (P124,500); former Energy undersecretary Melinda Ocampo, (P104,000); and former Labor attaché Luzviminda Padilla, (P159,000).
The disallowance was based on the SC's April 4, 2006, en banc resolution dismissing the petition in the case of Cyril del Callar et al, vs members of the Peza Board and Guillermo Carague, COA chairman, which likewise disallowed the payment of per diems to ex-officio members of the Peza board of directors.
In a letter dated November 16, 2007, Peza Auditor Corazon Espano said the payment of per diems after duly notifying the board was in violation of Section 13, Article 7 of the Constitution, which states that government officials "shall not hold any other office or employment during their tenure, or directly or indirectly, practice any other profession, participate in any business, or be financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries. They shall strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of their office."
Espano dismissed the board's claim that the payment of allowance was done in good faith since the del Callar petition was then still pending.
All SC magistrates concurred with Villarama's ponencia, except Brion, who took no part, being one of the parties, and Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin who was on leave. (JCV/Sunnex)