LBP execs, former employees clash

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THE management of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) has belied claims by former employees that the bank owes them billions in unpaid allowances, stressing that what is being claimed was “integrated” into the workers’ pay beginning in 1989.

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“We must stress that (David) Naval (Jr.) himself admitted in the (Manila Times) report that ‘In 1989, the employees’ COLA (cost of living allowance) was integrated into their basic salaries by virtue of an LBP Board resolution.’ So to order again the payment of COLA and BEP (bank equity pay) on top of what has already been paid, thru integration, will be considered as a double compensation, which is prohibited under the law,” explained Catherine Rowena B. Villanueva, LBP First Vice President, Corporate Affairs Department.

Villanueva called up the Times for her side and later sent an email to answer the allegations raised by Naval point by point.

Naval is the former LBP Employees Association president and lead petitioner in the case, representing some 4,000 former LBP employees.

The group cried foul over the “unjust” ruling issued by the Third Division of the Supreme Court (SC) regarding their back pay claims that amount to P11 billion which, he alleged, was a “bloated” computation by LBP.

“It is a great injustice that the Third Division has been denying our motions for reconsideration and plea to elevate the case to the court en banc for the simple reason that a second MR is a prohibited pleading and that the court en banc is not an appellate body despite the fact that in several cases, the SC has allowed even [a]fourth MR ‘for higher interest of justice’,” Naval added.

The employees won their multibillion-peso case in the lower court and in the Court of Appeals. However, they lost the legal battle when the case reached the SC Third Division.

The petitioners wanted the case to be tackled by the en banc through a letter sent to Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dated November 18, 2015 seeking, among others “an objective and equitable” resolution of the case by the SC as a whole.

The petitioners complained about the “continued denial” by the Division of their appeal to elevate the mater to the en banc, citing the “dubious similarity” between the LBP’s Omnibus Motion and the Third Division’s resolution that reversed the decisions of the lower courts.

“We have always maintained our faith in our justice system and we support your desire to reform the Judiciary,” they told Sereno. The signatories to the letter noted similarities on grammatical errors and even punctuation marks triggering suspicion that the SC resolution and the Omnibus Motion came from the same source.

But Villanueva quickly doused suspicion of a possible collusion between LBP executives and lawyers and magistrates of the High Court. Naval also clarified that his group never suspected a collusion but he admitted that the similarities made them wonder.

“It is most unfair and contemptuous to imply/allege that there was collusion between LBP officers and Supreme Court Officials,” the LBP executive said.

The incumbent LBP president, Gilda Pico, is the sister-in-law of SC clerk of court Zenaida Elepaño, according to the source but Villanueva clarified that the two are only “cousins-in-law.”

“Justice Nachura’s engagement with LBP as legal consultant for various cases was for six months from November 18, 2011 to May 18, 2012. While Antonio Zulueta was from October 2002 to March 2007,” she added.

Even former LBP president Jesli Lapus’s friendship with Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco had nothing to do with the SC decision, Villanueva stressed. She noted that Lapus had long severed his ties with LBP when he ran for congressman in 1998.

“So to link the name of Mr. Lapus is most unfair to him and to the bank. The President and CEO is the cousin-in-law of Zenaida Elepano who is not in any way connected with the division which rendered the decision. Even then, it is most unfair to even surmise that she had a hand in the favorable decision of the SC without presenting any evidence,” the bank official emphasized.

On the allegation that the LBP “bloated” the P11 billion claims, Villanueva explained that the pleading of the LBP is based on records and computation of the bank’s Human Resource Group “and thus there is no intention whatsoever to bloat the figures.”

The SC, in reversing the decisions of the lower courts, ruled that the allowances had already been integrated to the basic pay of the bank employees and that to order the payment of the COLA/BEP on top of what has already been paid by LBP — the basic pay with the COLA and BEP incorporated — will constitute a prohibited double compensation.

The ruling of the high court has been made final and executory.

With the other agencies, Villanueva stressed, there was no actual integration but just a complete withholding or deprivation of the payment of the supposed integrated allowances so that they won the case against their respective management.

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