Sen. Enrile testifies for PAO retirees

MANILA — Outgoing Senator Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday said that it is the responsibility of the government to give the benefits due to its employees, including lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

“I feel sorry for the poor PAO retirees. This is the least of my expectations in authoring [the PAO Law]. The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) is clearly erroneously withholding their retirement benefits,” Enrile said.

Enrile, author of the PAO Law, testified before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 76 on the case filed by the retired PAO lawyers against DBM Secretary Florencio Abad and Atty. Candice Ruiz, Legal Service Head of the DBM.

The 40 retired PAO lawyers are appealing for the release of Php139 million retirement benefits that the DBM has been withholding since 2010.

Used as basis for the computation of the Php139-million total retirement gratuity package for the public defenders was Republic Act No. 9406 or the PAO Law in relation to RA No. 10071 or the National Prosecution Service Law (Napross Law).

The DBM, in the opinion released by Atty. Ruiz, said that the PAO lawyers are not entitled to the same retirement package as that of prosecutors and judges.

Section 5 of the PAO Law, meanwhile, states that a PAO lawyer “shall have the same qualifications for appointment, rank, salaries, allowances and retirement privileges” given to a public prosecutor.

However, the DBM believes that it has been repealed following the passage of the Napross Law which Section 16 provides that “the salaries, allowances and other emoluments herein fixed shall not apply to officers other than those of prosecutors in the National Prosecution Service, notwithstanding any provision of law assimilating the salaries of other officers to those herein mentioned.”

However, Enrile said that the interpretation of the DBM is unconstitutional.

“Kailangan pag ininterpret nila yung batas dapat hindi maging (It is necessary that if they interpret that law, it should not be) unconstitutional,” he said.

Enrile added that the DBM’s interpretation of the law already raised the issue of equal protection.

“People of the same classification must be treated equally,” he said.

“They [DBM] cannot assume that Section 16 of [the Napross Law] excludes public attorneys from receiving the increased benefits…And as I already stated, the intention of Congress in enacting [PAO Law] as you may notice in our deliberations, was to equalize the standing of public attorneys and public prosecutors,” he added.

Enrile said that the Supreme Court (SC) also already ruled that retirement laws, being social legislation should be liberally construed in favor of retirees.

He also questioned why can’t the PAO enjoy the same benefits given to prosecutors.

“In all trial courts, whenever you see a public prosecutor handling a criminal case, a public attorney is most likely representing the accused. In addition, public attorneys handle civil, labor, administrative, and other quasi-judicial cases; they also have non-judicial services. It is but right and fair to grant them the same or equal compensation packages, benefits and retirement privileges,” Enrile said.

Of the 40 retirees, PAO Chief Atty. Persida V. Rueda-Acosta said that two have already died while one recently suffered a stroke. Perfecto Raymundo Jr/ PNA / northboundasia.com