By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to issue a special allotment release order (SARO) for P23.02 million to pay the retirement gratuity differentials of 28 Court of Appeals (CA) justices who retired between 2005 and 2010.
In a decision written by the now retired Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the SC said the SARO from DBM should have a corresponding notice of cash allocation payable from the Pension and Gratuity Fund.
The decision granted the petition filed by the Association of Retired Court of Appeals Justices Inc. (ARCAJI) represented by its president Teodoro R. Regino against the DBM then headed by former Secretary Florencio Abad Jr.
ARCAJI elevated the issue before the SC after the DBM rejected its members’ request for the recomputation of their retirement gratuities and differentials in view of the salary increases between 2007 and 2011.
The members pointed out that since the retirement gratuity they received was computed solely on the basis of their salary at the time of their retirement, their retirement gratuities should be recomputed based on the increases given to incumbent CA justices during the five-year period after their retirement.
In denying their request, the DBM said the claims of the retired CA justices must be sourced from the Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ) and not from the government’s Pension and Gratuity Fund.
It said the General Appropriation Acts (GAAs) from 2007 to 2014 specifically, clearly and consistently provided that the SAJ component of the retirement benefits should be sourced from the SAJ fund, and not elsewhere.
In granting ARCAJI’s petition, the SC cited Section 10, Article VIII of the Constitution which provides that from the time a member of this SC or the CA retires and for the entire five-year period following said retirement and continuing on during the residue of his or her natural life, he or she should not receive an amount less than what an incumbent receives as salary and representation and transportation allowance (RATA).
The SC said that during the five-year span after their retirement, a series of salary increases were granted to all employees in the public sector, thereby increasing the salaries being received by incumbent CA Justices at the time of said adjustment.
It said these salary increases were brought about by the implementation of Salary Standardization Law 2 (SSL 2) and Salary Standardization Law 3 (SSL 3).
The first round of salary increase was implemented under Executive Order No. 611, effective July 1, 2007, which upped the salary by 10 percent, and the second round was implemented under Executive Order No. 719, effective July 1, 2008, which further increased the salary by another 10 percent, the SC said.
It debunked DBM’s position that ever there is basis for the claim, it should be sourced from the SAJ Fund.
“DBM’s position is confined solely to SAJ allowances, but the claim of the petitioners is mainly based on the adjustments to the salaries of justices by reason of SSL2 and SSL3 and not from the said SAJ allowances,” the SC stressed.
It pointed out that while the SAJ allowances were sourced from the SAJ Fund pursuant to Republic Act 9227 (An Act Granting Additional Compensation in the Form of Special Allowances for Justices, Judges And All Other Positions in the Judiciary With the Equivalent Rank of Justices of the Court of Appeals and Judges of the Regional Trial Court), said SAJ allowances were fully converted to basic monthly salary of the justices as of Jun 1, 2011.
Thus, it said, any increase that has been implemented after that date now forms part of the basic salary as there is no more SAJ component to speak of.
“Even assuming that there is a portion in the retirement gratuity that had not been fully converted to BMS (basic monthly salary), such component can still not be sourced from the SAJ Fund, owing to the nature of the SAJ Fund as a special fund,” it said.
At the same time, the SC said it had ruled that “the SAJ component of the retirement gratuity and other terminal leave benefits should not be sourced from the SAJ Fund, but from the Pension Gratuity Fund.”
“WHEREFORE… a writ of mandamus is hereby ISSUED against respondent Department of Budget and Management, directing it to immediately issue the necessary Special Allotment Release Order, with the corresponding Notice of Cash Allocation payable from the Pension and Gratuity Fund, to cover the funding requirements for the retirement gratuity differentials of the twenty-eight retired Court of Appeals Justices… with a total amount of Twenty-Three Million, Twenty-Five Thousand, Ninety-Three and 75/100 Pesos (P23,025,093.75). SO ORDERED,” the SC ruled.
Beneficiaries of the SC decision were CA retired Associate Justices Sixto C. Marella Jr., Arturo G. Tayag, Arcangelita duDy-Liacco Flores, Monina A. Zenarosa, Jose L. Sabio,Jr., Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal, Aurora Santiago-Lagman, Marina L. Buzon, Enrico A. Lanzanas, Lucenito N. Tagle, Agustin S. Dizon, Rodrigo V. Cosico, Roberto A. Barrios, Arsenio J. Magpale, Santiago J. Ranada, Eliezer R. Delos Santos, Vicente L. Yap, Delilah V. Magtolis, Eugenio S. Labitoria, Mercedes G. Dadole, Danilo P. Pine, Ruben C. Ayson, Conrado M. Vasquez, and Renato C. Dacudao.