The Commission on Audit has junked a petition for review filed by former officials of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan asking for the lifting of the notice of disallowance (ND) issued against the P89.67 million additional retirement benefits paid out in 2011 and 2012.
The COA swept aside all the arguments raised by the officials for lack of merit as it affirmed its original ruling that the incentive was without any legal basis and upheld its order for all recipients to reimburse the disallowed amount.
Those who were held liable and ordered to refund the monetary benefit were former city mayors Edward Hagedorn and Lucilo Bayron, former city administrator Agustin Rocamora, vice mayor Luis Marcaida III, former city treasurers Armando Abrea and Maria Corazon Abayari, former assistant city treasurer Belen Larrosa, former city budget officers Ruben Francisco and Regina Cantillo, and former secretary to the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) Samson Negosa.
Also included were former city legal officer Shirley Daganta, former city accountant Nanette Dario and Aida Dusong (acting) and acting assistant city accountant Rosalia Ortiz, city personnel officer Expedito Anigan, former human resource officer Felimon Sabas, administrative officer Mylene Atienza, senior bookkeeper Aquilino Cariño Jr., supervising administrative officer Roberto Herrera, and local treasury operations officer Norma Dacuan.
Likewise held to task were former SP members Jimmy Carbonnel, Rebecca Labit, Vicky de Guzman, Henry Gadiano, Marivic Javarez, Rogelio Castro, Mark David Hagedorn, Rafaelita Oliveros, Miguel Cuaderno IV, and Eleutherius Edualino; former Sangguniang Kabataan Federation presidents Trisha Mae Asuncion and Fernnie May Asuncion, former Liga ng mga Barangay president Douglas Hagedorn and Patrick Alex Hagedorn, city engineer Sergio Tapalla, and employee-recipients.
Government auditors ruled the grant of the incentive benefit under the Early and Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (EVSIP) was bereft of any legal basis, therefore, it was considered an illegal expenditure.
Likewise, the audit team held that it was a duplication of the retirement package offered to all government personnel under the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Law and is therefore tantamount to double compensation.
In their appeal, the petitioner city officials claimed that granting the EVSIP was within the authority of the SP as provided in the Local Government Code. They said only the courts have proper jurisdiction to declare the benefit invalid.
They likewise invoked good faith borne of honest belief that the fund disbursement did not violate any law, which they said is a valid justification to exempt them from having to refund the disallowed sum.
The COA dismissed all the arguments for lack of merit.
It cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of City of General Santos vs. COA that sustained the commission’s position that any insurance or retirement plan for government officers and employees outside of what is provided by the GSIS is barred by law.
“Clearly, the [EVSIP] provides for supplemental retirement benefits that augment existing retirement laws. Consequently, this provision falls under the definition of retirement benefit which is proscribed by law,” the COA pointed out.