June 24, 2017, 3:03 am
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P8.5M excess allowances for SolGens disallowed

THE Commission on Audit has ordered Solicitor General Jose C. Calida and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay to refund excess honoraria and allowances paid to them in 2016 by government agencies for legal representation.

In the 2016 audit report on the Office of the Solicitor General, the COA said 17 OSG lawyers failed to comply with COA Circular NO. 85-25-E limiting allowances to not more than 50 percent of their annual salaries.

Notices of disallowance have been issued against the unauthorized cash stipends totaling P8,555,767.80 with a directive for all of those held liable to refund the excess amounts to be deposited at the OSG’s Trust Fund.

Calida, who was appointed Solgen in mid-2016, is required to return P1.124 million in excess allowances which he received on top of his six-month salary of P702,516 and authorized allowances of P351,258.

Hilbay, who held the post before Calida, will refund P4.66 million. As former SolGen, he received the same salary and authorized allowances as his successor.

The other OSG lawyers covered by the notice of disallowance were Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Renan Ramos (P705,842), state solicitor James Cundangan (P388,270.41), ASG Ma. Antonia Edita Dizon (P336,871.82), ASG Bernard Hernandez (P207,019.78), Solicitor John Dale Ballinan (P206,156.84), solicitor Melbourn Ziro Pana (P204,221.37), Liway Czarina Ruizo (P175,390.48), Danilo Leyva (P112,160.93), Raymund Rigodon (P98,412.94), Ma. Hazel Acantilado (P93,325.58), Sonny Von Ruaya (P93,161), Myrna Agno Canuto (P65,878.43), Herman Cimafranca (P46,376), Lilian Abenojar (P33,917.81), and Eric Remigio Panga (P2,876).

“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 P8,555,767.80. We recommended that management refund the excess amount received and deposit the same to OSG’s Trust Fund,” the COA said.

However, the OSG took exception to the audit findings claiming the limitations set in the COA Circular do not apply to its lawyers.

It invoked Presidential Decree No. 478 and Executive Order No. 292 both of which authorized OSG lawyers to receive allowances and honoraria for legal services rendered “without qualification as to the number of agreements for the payment of said allowances.”

The OSG has already filed its appeal to earlier notices of disallowance issued on the same matter dated February 2014 and August 2016. They are now pending before the COA Commission Proper.
 
UNTAXED ALLOWANCES

Aside from exceeding the cap on allowances, the COA also reported that other than Panga and Hernandez, the other 15 OSG lawyers also directly received their allowances from client agencies but failed to report them to the OSG-Financial Management Service for taxation purposes.

“The failure of the OSG employees to report the allowances directly given to them by client agencies provide no assurance that the correct taxes were indeed withheld or taxes were withheld at all,” the COA pointed out.

The OSG acknowledged that adverse finding and notified the COA that its lawyers “are willing to comply” with the OSG Office Order No. D-188 series of 2009 that required prompt reporting of all allowances to the FMS for proper monitoring that the correct taxes are collected. -- Peter J. G. Tabingo
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