THAT the Commission on Audit (COA) has disallowed the huge salary increases in 2012 of the officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission is good news to taxpayers. Had it not, then it would have been remiss in its constitutional duty as the watchdog of government money.
But there is one thing that COA officials may have missed in their eagerness to divert the public obsession with the truth about the pork barrel issue away from the President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
The SEC is not what it used to be: a quasi-judicial, regulatory agency aside from overseeing the stock market and registering businesses either as stock corporations or partnerships. Having lost jurisdiction over intra-corporate wars to regular courts, the SEC has been virtually reduced to keeper of corporate files.
But with its shrinking role as corporate watchdog, the SEC remains the only agency that exercises regulatory power over the corporate sector and the Philippine Stock Exchange.
The COA should not have generalized in arriving at a conclusion that P100 million, which the SEC is allowed under the Securities Regulation Code, is not intended for salary increases.
Well, here is what the Securities Regulation Code says on the “Partial Use Of Income: To carry out the purposes of this Code, the Commission is hereby authorized, in addition to its annual budget, to retain and utilize an amount equal to P100 million from its income.,”
“The use of such additional amount shall be subject to the auditing requirements, standards and procedures under existing laws,” it added.
The SEC’s rank-and-file workers would probably welcome an interpretation of the conditions on the use of the P100 million their agency is allowed to retain every year of its annual earnings.
With the prohibition on salary increases by the COA, will the SEC be able to attract lawyers and certified public accountants (CPAs) to work for it? Will they work for P20,000 a month salary? No way!
Due Diligencer has been told a few months ago that a number of lawyers and CPAs have already left SEC, and many more are planning to follow. Who will replace them? Lawyers would prefer to practice their profession than join the SEC and suffer a starving wage.
Due Diligencer stands by the pay raises for SEC officials outside of the five-man commission and for the overworked ordinary workers, because they work harder than the chairman and the four commissioners.
Incidentally, SEC Chairperson Teresita Herbosa and the four commissioners are lucky, because they are enjoying the benefits of high pays and perks as a result of the passage into law of the Securities Regulation Act in 2001.
Has it not been to the new law, they would have been receiving today from P30,000 to P35,000 a month plus P500,000 a year in intelligence fund for the Office of the Chairman.
These were very low salaries for the officials of the SEC, which functioned both as a court and a register of corporations. As a quasi-judicial body, the rulings of its securities investigation and clearing department were appealable to the commission proper.
As judges in SEC’s “appeals” court, the chairman and the four commissioners had their hands full. They spent most—about 70 percent—of their time studying corporate cases without the assistance of a chief of staff. In fairness to SEC’s lower court, most of its decisions were upheld by the commission, which, in turn, used to boast of almost 100-percent batting average of affirmation when appealed cases reached the Supreme Court.
The last SEC chairman to experience heading the commission en banc was lawyer Perfecto Yasay Jr., who, however, did not benefit from the high pay when SEC was exempted from Salary Standardization Law.
Yasay’s successors crafted the present salary for the five members of the commission as follows: P350,000 a month for the chairman from P35,000; and P250,000 each for the four commissioners from P25,000.
With this salary scale, one would think that the rest of SEC personnel were very lucky when they were not. Unfortunately, COA failed to look into the big salary gap between the members of the five-man commission and the rank-and-file workers.
Next time, when it examines SEC’s payroll, will COA check how much the position next to commissioner has been getting? Its finding will justify the high salaries for SEC employees. This is also a way checking its unbalanced pay scale.