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SC asked to compel release of gov’t salary hike

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Supreme Court

HOUSE Majority Leader Rolando G. Andaya, Jr. asked the Supreme Court to compel Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno to release the fourth round of government salary increases even ahead of the approval of the 2019 Budget.

Mr. Andaya, of the first district of Camarines Sur, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus before the Supreme Court along with 50 other signatories from various government agencies.

The 2019 Budget, which remains unapproved with the re-enacted 2018 budget currently in force, was to have authorized the fourth round of salary increases for civil servants, though Mr. Andaya and his co-petitioners claim that the appropriate mechanism for releasing the salary increase is to fund it for the time being using the P99-billion miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (MPBF) of the re-enacted 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“The use of the MPBF is not merely a novel or theoretical idea crafted by herein petitioners. In fact, Section 46 of the 2018 GAA allows the use of MPBF since the law instructs the executive department that it may use funds appropriated for Personnel Services for the payment of appropriate benefits,” they said in the petition.

The petitioners also argued that funds in the re-enacted budget originally appropriated to projects that were completed in 2018 may be augmented as “there is a high probability for funds or savings that will not be utilized and will simply be sitting dormant.”

“It boggles the mind as to the (Budget) Secretary’s staunch opposition to pursue other alternative solutions when these solutions are not even novel and have been pursued by past administrations,” they said, adding that the 2018 GAA provides that savings be first used as payment of personal compensation and benefits.

The fourth salary increase, which should have taken effect on Jan. 1, is the final tranche of the salary standardization law which started in 2016 through Executive Order No. 201.

However, Mr. Diokno has said that the salary hike will not be implemented unless the General Appropriation Bill for 2019, still pending at the Senate, is approved. He added that government employees can expect to receive their salary increases in February when the 2019 national budget is expected to be signed into law.

For his part, Mr. Andaya said it is Mr. Diokno’s “legal duty” to release the salary increase of the government workers.

“It is his duty to release it by Jan. 15. He cannot hold it hostage to force approval of the 2019 budget,” he told reporters.

“We call on the magistrates to, if possible, set this immediately for oral arguments and decide on it because by Jan. 15, government employees should receive their increase,” he added.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo, in a briefing, said the national budget needs to be enacted for the release of the fourth salary hike.’

“Where will you get the money for the fourth (tranche). But as soon as the budget is enacted, that’s precisely why we were urging graciously the House of Representatives to finish as well as the Senate to approve the budget,” he said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas