THE Government Service Insurance System may have opened a debate over its opinion on consultants that differs from the definition of the Supreme Court.
In a decision issued on April 30, 2015, the GSIS’ board of trustees said that “contractuals who have no employer and employee relationship with the agencies they serve are excluded from compulsory coverage of GSIS…”
This was the decision that denied the request of Edison A. Villasis for the re-computation of his retirement benefits to include his “post-retirement consultancy service in the NFA (National Food Authority) from 6 November 1995 to 30 June 1998.”
In his request, Villasis cited the ruling of the Supreme Court which credited former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban with an additional four years during which he was a consultant to Education Secretary Alejandro Roces.
Panganiban did not serve the consultancy period with the judiciary but with the Department of Education. Nevertheless, it enabled him to complete 15 years of government service to qualify him for monthly pension benefits.
Panganiban’s previous requests had been rejected twice by the high court.
Did the SC’s 8-6 decision recognizing Panganiban’s prolonged government service also apply to retirees of government workers who are GSIS members?
It did not, ruled the GSIS board of trustees, which said government consultancy is not part of government service. It explained that Villasis “was never re-employed by the government” and that “consultancy service is not considered government service since there was no employer-employee relationship between him and NFA.”
Really? If GSIS does not recognize consultancy as government service, what does this make of the SC’s favorable ruling in Panganiban’s case? Whose definition of consultancy should apply to Villasis—that of the GSIS’ or the Supreme Court?
This could be a test case for resolution by the SC. Villasis would be fighting not only for himself but for all other government retirees who remain in government service as consultants.
By the way, Panganiban did not get a unanimous ruling from the high court when he had successfully sought a re-computation of his government service. The voting among the justices was close, with eight going in his favor and six against him.
Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe penned the majority decision. Those who agreed with her were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, Jose Portugal Perez, Bienvenido Reyes and Marvic Mario Victor Leonen.
Dissenting from the majority ruling were Justices Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Disdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr. and Jose Catral Mendoza.
Will Villasis pursue his case to the very end so that the SC’s final ruling would tell him who is right and who is wrong? In other words, if the SC recognizes consultancy as part of government service, why can’t GSIS do the same? Will Villasis succeed in getting the same favorable decision from the high court?
These are questions that only the SC could answer. Otherwise, the fate of the retirement benefits of government consultants would remain uncertain. Should government consultants, as ruled by the SC in the case of Panganiban, also be entitled to GSIS benefits despite them not paying the required contributions?
Again, to the point of exaggeration, I have to raise this litany of questions. So many more may be coming from those affected by the non-recognition of their service by GSIS. Villasis is not alone in his agony over retirement benefits. What fate awaits those who serve on a contractual basis without the benefit of GSIS membership?
Go to court?
I know how difficult it would be for Villasis to go to court and engage GSIS in a legal battle that he may not be able to afford, what with the prohibitive cost of litigation in this country. I can only extend to him my sympathy, which may not cost me anything at all but it is the only thing I can contribute to his cause.
Even Roberto Vergara, GSIS general manager, can’t do anything except to commiserate with Villasis in his one-man fight for the recognition of his NFA consultancy service, which should also be included in his government service record. If SC did this favor for Panganiban, why couldn’t the GSIS board of trustees do the same?
At this point, Villasis could only consider the non-recognition of his consultancy service in government by GSIS as a risk of public service he, and others like him, had to contend with. Will persistence pay off in the long run?
As Justice Brion wrote in a dissenting opinion, “Former Chief Justice Panganiban’s request to include his four-year service as consultant of BNE (Board of National Education) and as legal counsel to Secretary Roces as creditable government service has already been rejected by this Court several times. The present letter-request dated Sept. 27, 2010 is effectively the third request that Chief Justice Panganiban has made for the inclusion of the same consultancy services.” What could have made a divided court change its decision? I am not sorry for asking.