It is the responsibility of the government to give the benefits due to its employees including lawyers from the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO), outgoing Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said yesterday.
“I feel sorry for the poor PAO retirees.This is the least of my expectations in authoring (the PAO Law).The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) is clearly erroneously withholding their retirement benefits,” Enrile said, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Enrile, author of the PAO Law, testified before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 76 on the case filed by the retired PAO lawyers against Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Atty.
Candice Ruiz, Legal Service Head of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). The 40 retired PAO lawyers are appealing for the release of P139-million retirement benefits that the DBM has been withholding since 2010.
Used as basis for the computation of the P139-million total retirement gratuity package for the public defenders was Republic Act No.
9406 or the PAO Law in relation to RA 10071 or the National Prosecution Service Law (Napross Law).The DBM, in the opinion released by Atty.
Ruiz, said PAO lawyers are not entitled to the same retirement package as that of prosecutors and judges.
Section 5 of the PAO Law, meanwhile, states that a PAO lawyer “shall have the same qualifications for appointment, rank, salaries, allowances and retirement privileges” given to a public prosecutor.
The DBM, however, believed that it has been repealed following the passage of the Napross Law with its Section 16 providing that “the salaries, allowances and other emoluments herein fixed shall not apply to officers other than those of prosecutors in the National Prosecution Service, notwithstanding any provision of law assimilating the salaries of other officers to those herein mentioned.”
But Enrile said the interpretation of the DBM is unconstitutional.
“When they interpret the law, it should not become unconstitutional,” he said.
Enrile pointed out that DBM’s interpretation of the law already raised the issue of equal protection.
“People of the same classification must be treated equally,” he pointed out.
“They (DBM) cannot assume that Section 16 of (the Napross Law) excludes public attorneys from receiving the increased benefits… And as I already stated, the intention of Congress in enacting (PAO Law) as you may notice in our deliberations, was to equalise the standing of public attorneys and public prosecutors,” he added.
Enrile said the Supreme Court also already ruled that retirement laws, being social legislation should be liberally construed in favour of retirees.
He also questioned why PAO can’t enjoy the same benefits given to prosecutors.
“In all trial courts, whenever you see a public prosecutor handling a criminal case, a public attorney is most likely representing the accused.
In addition, public attorneys handle civil, labour, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases; they also have non-judicial services.
It is but right and fair to grant them the same or equal compensation packages, benefits and retirement privileges,” Enrile said.
Of the 40 retirees, PAO Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said two have already died while one recently suffered a stroke.
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