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Retired members of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) on Monday filed a damage suit against Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad over the alleged unlawful withholding of their retirement benefits.
In a 52-page “extremely urgent motion” filed with the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), 16 PAO retirees asked for a temporary restraining order (RTO) on the implementation of a March 2016 legal opinion issued by DBM Legal Service chief Rowena Candice Ruiz and approved by Abad.
Citing Section 16 of Republic Act 10071 or the National Prosecution Service Law of 2010 (NAPROSS), the legal opinion submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on March 11 stated that retirement benefits must only be granted to the prosecutors of the National Prosecution Service (NPS), which is under the DOJ, and not to PAO lawyers.
However, in their suit, PAO retirees said Section 16 of the NAPROSS Act only made general enumerations on the ranks of the prosecutors and the corresponding benefits that they must receive and does not expressly state that prosecutors from PAO are exempted from such benefits.
The complainants maintained that there is no provision in the NAPROSS Act that expressly or impliedly repeal Section 5 of RA 9406 or the PAO Law, which states that PAO lawyers and government prosecutors must be provided with equal retirement benefits.
“Republic Act No 9406 entitled ‘An Act Reorganizing and Strengthening the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO)’…aimed to strengthen the PAO, its officials, lawyers and employees. As a form of social legislation, it granted PAO retirees with a well-deserved retirement package,” the petitioners said in their suit.
“Yet, the PAO Law has been repeatedly made the subject of constant belittling by other personalities and entities – sadly part of the government bureaucracy itself. One such instance is the present controversy,” they added.
Aside from a TRO, the petitioners also called for a ruling “anulling and setting aside” the DBM legal opinion.
The petitioners also prayed that “a Writ of Mandamus be issued commanding respondents to immediately release to all PAO retirees [their] retirement benefits” based on the PAO and NAPROSS laws.
“With no more income from any form of employment, we are relying on our retirement package to support our needs for sustenance – utilities, food and most of all, medicines,” the petitioners said.
“Most of us are nearing the end of our days, and slowly, our bodies are beginning to succumb to various forms of illness; yet, we refuse to accept even the remote possibility that we will be abandoned by this government, our former employer, in a hapless state,” they added.
Lastly, the petitioners called on the court to order Abad and Ruiz to pay the PAO retirees P400,000 as exemplary damages and another P400,000 as moral damages for continuously withholding their retirement benefits which, they said, should have been released to them as early as 2010.
“The DBM, Secretary Abad and Atty. Ruiz’s refusal to release the PAO retirees’ claim is tantamount to neglect in the performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins as a duty…unduly depriving the PAO retirees of their sustenance and comfort, at a time when they badly need the same because they no longer have the capability to earn a livelihood – an irreparable damage,” the petitioners said.
Abad withholds comment
In a text message to GMA News Online, Abad said he has not yet received a copy of the suit, but maintained that his office elevated the matter to the DOJ without any intention to withhold the benefits of the PAO retirees but because of the conflicting interpretations on the implementation of the NAPROSS Law.
"It's hard to comment as I have not seen a copy of the suit filed. We referred this case to the DOJ for their legal opinion because of conflicting interpretations of the provision of the National Prosecution Service Law pertaining to coverage of retirement benefit," Abad said.
Abad said it is now up to the DOJ to decide on the matter.
"If the DOJ tells us that they are covered, we will waste no time in paying their retirement benefits. But if we pay them now and the DOJ subsequently tells us that they are not entitled, do you think it will be easy to recover what has been paid out?" Abad said.
"The wording of the [NAPROSS] Law says that the benefits are 'exclusive' to those in the National Prosecution Service. The PAO retirees say otherwise. Wanting to get an authoritative position, the DBM referred the case to the DOJ," he added. — VVP/KBK, GMA News
- See more at: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/568970/news/nation/16-retired-public-lawyers-file-damage-suit-vs-budget-secretary-abad#sthash.e2zxIqfi.dpuf
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