Budget Secretary Florencio Abad has denied allegations that he was blocking the retirement benefits of retired government lawyers, saying that he was just awaiting the legal opinion of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the matter.
In a statement, Abad said his office is “not withholding” the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) retirees’ benefits amounting to P139 million.
“We referred this case to the DOJ for their legal opinion because of conflicting interpretations of the provision of the National Prosecution Service [Napros] Law pertaining to coverage of their retirement benefits. Let us wait for the DOJ opinion on the matter,” Abad said.
Abad made the statement after PAO retirees filed charges against him for allegedly stopping the release of the retirement gratuity differential for public defenders in violation of the PAO Law and Napros Law.
The PAO retirees filed the petition before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Monday, accusing Abad and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) of gross neglect of duty for refusing to honor the PAO Law.
But the Budget chief said the DBM will release the total retirement benefits due to the PAO retirees once the DOJ renders an opinion that they are entitled to the same retirement package as that of prosecutors and judges under the Napros Law.
“I would like to reiterate that the DBM elevated the matter to the DOJ without any intention to withhold the benefits of the PAO retirees but because of conflicting interpretations on the implementation of the Napros Law,” Abad said.
The wording of the Napros Law says that the benefits are “exclusive” to those in the National Prosecution Service. It reads: “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.”
The PAO retirees say otherwise.
Wanting to get an authoritative position, Abad said the DBM referred the case to the DOJ, which has yet to issue its opinion.
“We acknowledge the invaluable contribution of PAO lawyers in ensuring the rule of law, truth and social justice as public defenders. PAO lawyers are our fellow public servants and we act with no malice or ill-motive towards their right to receive in full the retirement benefits due them,” he said.
CATHERINE S. VALENTE