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Calida, Hilbay got millions of pesos in excess allowances —COA

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 5/19/2017 Bordadora, Norman
COA Commission on Audit thumbnail © Jannielyn Bigtas, GMA News COA Commission on Audit thumbnail

Solicitor General Jose Calida, his predecessor Florin Hilbay and 15 other officials of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) received excess honoraria and allowances totaling P8.5 million in 2016, the Commission on Audit (COA) has found.

In its annual audit report on the OSG, the COA noted that Calida and Hilbay received an extra allowance of P1.12 million and P4.66 million, respectively, during their term in 2016.

The COA said the excess honoraria and allowances were paid to the OSG officials "for legal services and advices rendered to client agencies."

It noted, however, that if even the OSG legal staff are allowed to receive these fees, as provided in Section of RA 9417, the amount should not exceed 50 percent of their annual salary, pursuant to COA Circular 85-25-E.

"For CY (calendar year) 2016, our audit disclosed that honoraria/allowances paid to the... OSG officials exceeded the 50 percent limit of the officers' annual basic salary," the COA said in its report.

The COA said that since the annual salary of Calida and Hilbay is P702,516, they were only allowed to receive only up to P351,258 worth of allowances.

"Laws, rules and regulations need to be harmonized in their implementation. While RA No. 9417 granted authority to OSG lawyers to receive honorarium, COA Circular No. 85-25-E puts limitation in the receipt thereof," the COA said.

The other OSG officials who received excess allowances over 50 percent of their annual salaries include:

  •     Myrna Canuto (P65,878.43)
  •     Herman Cimafranca (P46,376)
  •     James Candungan (P388,270.41)
  •     Renan Ramos (P705,842)
  •     Bernard Hernandez (P207,019.78)
  •     Eric Remegio Panga (P2,876)
  •     Ma. Antonia Edita Dizon (P336,871.82)
  •     Danilo Leyva (P112,160.93)
  •     Raymund Rigodon (P98,412.94)
  •     Liway Czarina Ruizo (P175,390.48)
  •     Sonny Von Ruaya (P93,161)
  •     Lilian Abenojar (P33,917.81)
  •     John Dale Ballinan (P206,156.84)
  •     Melbourn Ziro Pana (P204,221.37)
  •     Ma. Hazel Acantilado (P93,325.58)

The COA said it has already issue two notices of disallowance for the said amounts, which the OSG appealed. The COA commission proper has yet to resolve the appeals.

The COA also noted that some allowances were remitted directly to the OSG lawyers and were not reported to the Financial Management Service (FMS).

Eight client agencies confirmed directly remitting allowances to the account of OSG laywers: Aklan State University, DepEd Division of Rizal, Development Bank of the Philippines, Film Development Council of the Philippines, Land Transportation Office, Occidental Mindoro State College, Philippine National Railways and Central Bank Board of Liquidators.

"We confirmed with Accounting Division that the allowances were indeed not reported by the OSG lawyers to the FMS division, which is not in compliance with the OSG Office Order No. D-188 series of 2009," the COA said in its report.

The COA added that the failure of the employees of the OSG to report the allowances they received directly from client agencies "provides no assurance that the correct taxes were indeed withheld or no taxes were withheld at all."

The COA has reiterated its recommendation to the OSG to refund the excess amount they received and deposit them to the OSG's Trust Fund, limit the allowances their receive below 50 percent of their annual salary, instruct FMS personnel to process allowance claims up to only 50 percent of their annual salaries, and require handling lawyers to report all honoraria directly received from client agencies.

For its part, Atty. Erik Dy, OSG spokesperson, said there is nothing new in the issue of allowances between his office and the COA.

"Under the OSG Charter, OSG lawyers are authorized to receive allowances and honoraria for legal services rendered to client agencies. This is due to the government's intention to attract the best and the brightest lawyers to work and build a career at the OSG," Dy said in a statement.

"The OSG is steadfast in its position that a COA administrative circular cannot abrogate a substantive law such as the OSG Charter," he added. —NB, GMA News

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