MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Retired lawyers from the Public Attoney's Office (PAO) filed a complaint against Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for allegedly blocking the release of their retirement pay.
In their extremely urgent petition for certiorari and mandamus filed before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, the retired government lawyers accused Abad and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) of serious neglect of duty when it did not acknowledge and apply Republic Act 9406 or the PAO law.
Named respondents in the petition were the DBM, Abad, and the agency's legal head, Rowena Candice Ruiz.
The petitioners hit Abad for his agency's legal opinion that said PAO lawyers are not entitled to retirement benefits granted to prosecutors of the National Prosecution Service (NPS).
In its legal bulletin, the DBM said: "R.A. No. 10071 was later enacted, providing under Section 166 that the Prosecutors of the NPS shall enjoy the same rank, salaries, allowances, and retirement benefits of justices and judges, as the case may be."
The last paragraph of Section 16 of RA 10071, however, states that 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."
But the petitioners, citing the PAO law, said that a PAO lawyer should receive the same benefits accorded to public prosecutors. (READ: PAO retirees: 'We're not second-class lawyers, citizens')
They also pointed out that Abad, in a letter dated June 2012, had previously recognized that PAO lawyers were entitled to the same retirement pay of public prosecutors. Abad had also signed Budget Circular No. 2013-1, where PAO was mentioned as having special retirement laws.
"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," the petitioners said.
They added that blocking their retirement pay "unduly deprives 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."
It's up to DOJ
In statement quoting Abad, the DBM said it is not withholding the benefits of the PAO retirees.
"We referred this case to the DOJ (Department of Justice) for their legal opinion because of conflicting interpretations of the provision of the National Prosecution Service Law pertaining to coverage of their retirement benefits. Let us wait for the DOJ opinion on the matter," Department of Budget and Management," Abad said.
“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,” said.
The petitioners asked the court to order the respondents to pay the retirees P400,000 in exemplary damages and P400,000 in moral damages, and to pay the costs of the suit.
They also sought a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction to enjoin DBM to maintain the status quo. – Rappler.com