COA says OSG lawyers got excessive allowances

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2017 11:42 PM

MANILA – Lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) received excessive honoraria and allowances, according to a Commission on Audit (COA) report.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, as well as other lawyers of the OSG were named by the COA. 

"The honoraria/allowances paid to some OSG officials for legal services and advices rendered to client agencies had exceeded the 50 percent of the annual basic salary with excess totaling ₱8,555,767.80," the COA report said.

The COA noted that according to the Revised Administrative Code of 1987, legal staff members of the OSG are allowed to receive honoraria and allowances from client offices of the government, but COA Circular 85-25-E dated April 25, 1985 mandated that the honoraria to be received shall not exceed 50 percent of the annual salary.

In a statement, the OSG maintained that the issue is “nothing new.” However, it is “steadfast in its position that a COA administrative circular cannot abrogate a substantive law such as the OSG Charter.”

“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 the brightest lawyers to work and build a career at the OSG,” said OSG spokesperson Erik Dy.

The COA report also said that the officials did not report to the Financial Management Service (FMS) of the OSG the honoraria and allowances that they received.

According to the COA report for 2016, honoraria and allowances paid to Calida through the OSG FMS was P1,132,500, and honoraria and allowances he directly received was ₱342,500. His annual salary of P702,516 means that the honoraria and allowances he may receive should not be more than P351,258. His total excess was computed at ₱1,123,742.

Hilbay’s total honoraria and allowances received through FMS was P4,547,402.41, and the honoraria and allowances he received directly was ₱ 466,000. His total excess was thus computed at ₱4,662,144.41.

Other OSG lawyers who were found to have received excessive honoraria and allowances are: 

  • Myrna Agno Canuto,
  • Herman Cimafranca, 
  • James Cundangan, 
  • Renan Ramos, 
  • Bernard Hernandez, 
  • Eric Panga, 
  • Ma. Antonia Edita Dizon, 
  • Danilo Leyva, 
  • Raymund Rigodon, 
  • Liway Czarina Ruizo, 
  • Sonny Von Ruaya, 
  • Lilian Abenojar, 
  • John Dale Ballinan, 
  • Melbourn Ziro Pana, and 
  • Ma. Hazel Acantilado.

The COA issued Notices of Disallowance dated February 21, 2014 and August 12, 2016, on which the OSG filed an appeal. The appeals are now with the commission for resolution.

The COA also recommended the following to the OSG Management:

  • Refund the excess amount received and deposit the same to the OSGs Trust Fund; 
  • limit the receipt of allowances to not more than 50 percent of their annual salary until such time that a decision on the Notice of Disallowance be resolved, become final and executory; and
  • instruct the concerned personnel of the FMS to process claims for allowances up to 50 percent only of their annual salary.

The COA report also said that Calida, Hilbay and other officials of the OSG were overpaid by the Central Bank Board of Liquidators, in violation of a Memorandum of Agreement on the allowable rates for them. 

"The Central Bank Board of Liquidators (CB-BOL) did not comply with the provisions stipulated in the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) as to the allowable rates of allowances/honoraria the OSG lawyers are entitled thereto; and inability of OSG management to properly monitor payment of the same, resulting in overpayment amounting to ₱647,887.50," the report said.

Calida received P84,150, despite the authorized allowance of P15,000, with a difference of P69,150. 

Hilbay received P147,900 despite the authorized allowance of P18,000 with a difference of P129,000.

The COA also recommended the remittance of the overpayment of P647,887.50 to OSG's trust fund; a careful review of the MOA with CB-BOL and request the latter to submit data and information on the computation of the allowances paid; and comply with the provisions stipulated in the MOA.