COA: 5 gov’t corporate lawyers got P621,000 in ‘excess’ allowances
The Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged the receipt of P621,717.72 in “excess” allowances by five lawyers of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) from their client state firms, buttressing the allegations raised by the office’s chief Rudolf Jurado days before he was fired by President Duterte.
While government corporate lawyers could receive allowances from the state companies they work for, the COA said the amounts should not have exceeded 50 percent of their annual salaries, the threshold set by COA Circular No. 85-25-E.
In its 2017 annual audit report, the audit agency listed the five lawyers as Elpidio Vega, deputy government corporate counsel; Efren Gonzales, assistant government corporate counsel for litigation; Medardo Devera, Manuel Santos Jr. and Aniceto Calubaquib Jr.
They collectively received P3.72 million, even as the 50 percent threshold should have capped their allowances at P3.1 million.
On top of this issue, the COA noted that only P1.47 million of the allowances was remitted to the OGCC. A total of P2.26 million was directly paid by the government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) to the lawyers.
“The lawyers concerned should have remitted the allowances paid by the client GOCCs to OGCC for proper monitoring and withholding of taxes,” it said.
On May 24, four days before Mr. Duterte unceremoniously fired Jurado, the OGCC chief sent a letter to radio station dzMM claiming that certain lawyers were receiving “secret allowances” from the GOCCs that were not disclosed to the office.
Jurado cited this as the reason “these OGCC lawyers are trying to malign my reputation by alleging that I am supposedly incompetent and corrupt.”
He was reacting to a May 23 letter they also sent to dzMM, alleging that Jurado favored the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone in a legal opinion that approved a 75-year casino permit. This was ultimately cited by Mr. Duterte as the reason for firing Jurado.
The COA report, however, showed that Jurado initially defended the lawyers who received the excess allowances.
Auditors cited a March 26 reply by Jurado and Vega stating that the COA misapplied the circular that limited the allowances for government lawyers.
The OGCC argued that Executive Order (EO) No. 878—issued in 1983 or two years before the COA circular—authorized its lawyers to receive extra compensation for additional tasks done for client corporations.
It noted that the EO did not set any limit on the amount they may receive.
The OGCC also said Republic Act Nos. 9279 and 10071, as well as Memorandum Circular No. MC-RCC-33 issued in 2011 by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, set a threshold equivalent to 100 percent of the basic salary.
But the COA noted De Lima’s circular actually “contravenes” the COA circular and the EO could be applied subject to the limits it set.
It insisted that it had the mandate to promulgate the rules to prevent unnecessary spending of funds.
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