The wealth of the ‘Gods of Faura’

SC justices among PH’s best paid,
allowances, bonuses not in SALNs

First of Four Parts

WHEN Congress impeached then Chief Justice Renato C. Corona on December 12, 2011 because he had allegedly filed an intentionally flawed Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), it was a signal for public servants that the document they submitted each year was not to be trifled with.

And when Corona was found guilty by the Senate impeachment court of excluding a substantial portion of his assets in his sworn SALN, transparency in the details of their income and wealth became a clear obligation — and strong public expectation — of all public officials, but especially of the justices of the Supreme Court.

Based on the contents of their 2011 SALNs, however, this seems to have been lost to Corona’s former colleagues at the high court. Indeed, not only have most of them apparently underdeclared the true amount of their income — in law, salaries plus allowances — in their SALNs, half of them declined to answer questions about these.

For this joint story project with Solar Network News, the PCIJ validated the data enrolled in the justices’ 2011 SALNs with corporate records and the SALNs that they had filed in prior years. PCIJ then wrote 14 of the justices separate letters to clarify the apparent disparities in the data enrolled in the various documents.

(As of this writing, PCIJ has yet to secure the SALN of former chief peace negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mario Victor F. Leonen, who recently became the 15th associate justice and President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III’s fourth appointee to the high court.)

Court split 7-7

The letters split the court right down in the middle: Seven responded to the PCIJ’s queries, seven others did not. Among those who declined to reply was Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno who wrote to PCIJ that only the Ombudsman and legally constituted authorities can inquire into the SALNs of the justices.

She also said that she was speaking for the “majority” of the justices, including two other Aquino appointees, Associate Justices Bienvenido L. Reyes and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, who also refused to be quizzed about their SALNs.

Yet when 10 of the justices declared only their basic pay — or just a fourth to a third of the total compensation that they collected in 2011 — while the remaining four did not even disclose a figure, questions beg to be answered.

Among them is why the justices leave out allowances, benefits, and bonuses as part of the annual income they have to declare in their SALN. This is even though about a dozen various allowances and honoraria, including that they receive from serving with the electoral tribunals, actually ramp up the justices’ income twice to thrice more than their basic salaries.

Indeed, a revolutionary disclosure report that the Commission on Audit (COA) released recently has revealed that “the gods of Padre Faura” are among the top 200 highest paid, by amount of income they received in 2011, out of 6,489 officials from 864 government agencies (including the Cabinet, the constitutional commissions, the judiciary, and government-owned and —controlled corporations and their subsidiaries) largely because of the fat allowances and bonuses they received.

Last Sept. 12, COA Chairperson Ma. Gracia M. Pulido-Tan transmitted the latest Report on Salaries and Allowances (ROSA) of senior public officials to President Aquino, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

Excess of extras

The 2011 ROSA reveals that seven of the 14 justices are receiving allowances of more than half a million pesos each, and the others, at least P312,000 each. In addition, four justices are being paid more than P2 million in other benefits, incentives, and bonuses.

Of the 10 justices who put a figure in the annual income column of their 2011 SALN form, six declared that they received only P1.08 million to P2.9 million.

Left out was a slew of allowances, bonuses, and benefits that apparently fattened the justices’ take-home pay by two to three times more, or from P2.22 million to as much as P4.63 million.

According to COA, five justices received more than P4 million last year: Lucas P. Bersamin, Arturo D. Brion, Antonio T. Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and Presbitero C. Velasco Jr.

Brion did not disclose his income in his 2011 SALN. Bersamin put his income as reaching P2.9 million, Carpio and Velasco’s figures were just more than P1.1 million each, while Leonardo-de Castro wrote down P1,211,736.70 as her income last year.

PCIJ actually queried the 14 justices on the allowances and other benefits they received in 2011 but most of the seven who replied declined to go into details, and amounts. Associate Justice Bersamin even pleaded for privacy. “How much have been my salaries and allowances is a matter of record,” he told PCIJ in a letter. “I leave the details unsaid here because of my concern for privacy.”

It could well be, however, that the justices simply do not consider allowances, bonuses, and other benefits as part of the income they have to declare. In response to PCIJ’s query, Associate Justice Leonardo-de Castro, in fact, readily listed the kinds of allowances she received last year.

She said that apart from her basic salary and longevity pay, she also received in 2011 various allowances” including “Special Allowance for Judges/Justices (SAJ) which is now equivalent to 100% of my basic pay under R. A. 9227; representation allowance; productivity, clothing, rice allowance, cost of living allowance; miscellaneous, extraordinary expense allowance; Christmas bonus; Presidential Electoral Tribunal allowances and other allowances from the Supreme Court; and allowances from the House Electoral Tribunal beginning December 2009 until May 2010, and after that and up to the present, allowances from the Senate Electoral Tribunal.”

These allowances, she wrote the PCIJ, are “over and above the P1,211,736.70” that she had declared to be her “salary and allowances” in her 2011 SALN.

CSC: Disclose all

In its Manual on SALN, though, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) specifies that under the “annual gross salary” column of the SALN form, filers must declare “all remuneration (cash only) from Government service, however designated, including salary, honoraria, bonuses, allowances, incentives, etc., expressed in Philippine pesos, actually received, for one calendar year.”

The Manual’s “Glossary of Terms” reiterates the concept: “In the SALN, salary refers to all remuneration (cash only) from Government service, however designated, including salary, honoraria, bonuses, allowances, incentives, etc., expressed in Philippine Pesos, actually received, for one calendar year, excluding per diem.”

The Manual serves notice that filers “are not required to attach any documents or vouch or substantiate the information disclosed” in their SALN but because “the SALN is made under oath, falsification of information or failure to file or report information required to be reported may subject (filer) to disciplinary/criminal action.”

“Knowing and willful falsification of information required to be reported may also subject you to criminal prosecution,” the CSC warned. The penalties under Republic Act No. 6713 (The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or The SALN Law) may be any of the following, according to the CSC: imprisonment of 5 years or less, fine of P5,000 or less, and/or dismissal from the service.

COA’s Pulido-Tan tells the PCIJ, however, that not all allowances may be classified as personal income of public officials. Extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses, for one, must be spent for the official’s agency or unit and liquidated with official receipts. Otherwise, the official may be deemed liable for malversation.

Bonuses are another thing altogether. An official must reflect all his bonuses as part of his compensation. But various agencies give their employees various amounts of bonuses, depending on how much savings they realize year on year. “Agencies with a lot of savings may give bigger bonuses,” says Pulido-Tan, “Those with just enough budgets may give just small bonuses.”

Too, some offices like government-owned and controlled corporations have their special charters and are thus not bound by the Salary Standardization Law, she says. Meanwhile, offices that enjoy fiscal autonomy like the judiciary are covered by the Salary Standardization Law, but they enjoy flexibility in using their respective budgets, as prescribed by the 1987 Constitution and other relevant laws.

Pulido-Tan says that COA has disallowed the payment of some allowances that went beyond what the law allows, as well as those that have not yet fully complied with the requirements for their implementation.

Court insiders say the top six most senior justices by tenure in the court — Carpio, Velasco, Leonardo-De Castro, Brion, Diosdado M. Peralta, and Bersamin — are by tradition the ones assigned to sit as chairs or members of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

The chief justice chairs the PET and manages its budget. All 14 associate justices are members. Carpio, chairs the SET, and Velasco, the HRET.

All these posts earn the justices hundreds of thousands of pesos more every year.

In 2012, the PET budget was P72.57 million, with P52.175 million going to personal services alone. Of the latter amount, P34.56 million was supposedly allotted for filling up vacancies in the PET. (If new hires are not brought in, agencies realize savings and it is the court’s practice to use savings to augment yearend bonuses for its personnel.)

Landed on top 10

The rest of the justices, however, also receive substantial allowances and other monetary benefits, bumping the entire Supreme Court into the top 10 agencies with the biggest salaries and allowances on average for their top officials in 2011, according to COA’s 2011 ROSA.

The high court ranks fifth on the top 10 list, with the 15 justices receiving an average of P3.58 million in salaries and allowances. That figure is easily a million pesos more than what the best-paid officials of the Senate get and almost twice more than the gross compensation of the Cabinet secretaries, based on the ROSA.

The Supreme Court and the Commission on Appointments are the only agencies in the list that might be considered cost centers. The rest are revenue agencies or financial institutions. Ranked one to four are the Development Bank of the Philippines, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Government Service Insurance System, and the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Filling up ranks 6 to 10 are the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp., Philippine Economic Zone Authority, Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corporation, and the Social Security System.

SC employee bares all

Aside from Leonardo-de Castro’s letter to the PCIJ and the COA report, one other document that reveals the justices’ allowances and other compensation came from the court’s payroll officer herself, Araceli C. Bayuga, who had testified before the Senate impeachment court during Corona’s trial.

Bayuga, chief judicial staff officer assigned to the Cash Collection and Disbursement Division of the high court, in a report to the Senate listed at least 15 various allowances that Corona was receiving as chief justice.

How Corona and the justices’ upped their salaries and allowances can be traced in part to a combination of self-serving en banc resolutions, executive orders by then President Gloria Arroyo, and a generally exclusivist approach that the high court has taken to how it spends its budget.

The former chief justice’s own court allowance and bonus history is also indicative of the kind of monies his ex-colleagues are now receiving but are not being reflected in their SALNs.

Corona had been blessed with over a dozen mostly redundant monetary benefits in his nearly 10-year stint in the high court — from April 9, 2002 to May 29, 2012 when the Senate impeachment court voted 20-3 to dismiss him.

On top of his salaries, he received longevity pay, PERA (Personnel Economic Relief Allowance), ADCOM (additional compensation), RATA (representation and transportation allowance), Extraordinary and Miscellaneous Expenses (EME) from the Supreme Court and from the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, Monthly Special Allowance from the Special Allowance for the Judiciary, Additional Cost of Living Allowance from the Judicial Development Fund, Productivity Incentive Benefit, Clothing Allowance, Year-end Bonus and Cash Gift, Loyalty Cash Award (Milestone Bonus), and Monthly Expense Allowance, also from the PET.

His RATA increased in 2007 and again in 2009, while his extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses rose in 2006, and again in 2009.

Converted to pay hike

Justices and judges of the courts receive what is called the SAJ (special allowance for the judiciary) by virtue of Republic Act No. 9227. But on strength of a series of executive orders issued by Arroyo, the SAJ “was fully converted to salary increases” effective July 1, 2007. Arroyo issued a new EO to achieve the same result — convert the SAJ to salary increases — year on year thereafter, until June 24, 2010.

Meanwhile, a resolution of the en banc dated June 7, 2010 “authorized the payment of Monthly Special Allowance equivalent to SAJ at 100 percent of BMS (basic monthly salary) as of June 30, 2007,” sourced from the Judiciary Development Fund or JDF. Bayuga, in documents she submitted to the Senate, said that this en banc resolution “was actually implemented on July 1, 2011.”

Presidential Decree No. 1949 created the JDF “to augment the allowances of the members and personnel of the judiciary and to finance the acquisition, maintenance and repair of office equipment and facilities.” It directed that 80 percent of the JDF should be used “for cost of living allowances” of the judiciary’s personnel, and 20 percent, for office equipment and facilities of the courts.

The SAJ and other allowances he drew from the Supreme Court accounted for the bulk of the growth in Corona’s gross compensation from 2002 to 2010. The amounts altogether came up to P964,238.92 in 2002, but rose to P2,933,725.01 in 2011. In 10 years, Corona received total allowances of P18,213,932.59, according to Bayuga’s report to the Senate.

This is apart from the fringe benefits and other allowances that Corona received that also charted a sharp spike in the same 10-year period — from only P40,212.50 in 2002 to P504,710.69 in 2011, for a composite total of P3,033,171.44.

In addition, Bayuga said Corona also received the following allowances: Emergency Economic Assistance, from P20,212.50 in 2002 to P179,210.69 in 2011; anniversary bonus, productivity enhancement bonus, Christmas cash gift, additional Christmas cash gift, yearend cash gift, fringe benefit (rice allowance), fringe benefit (groceries), additional fringe benefit end supplemental emergency economic assistance, SC Christmas allowance, and PET Christmas allowance.

Allowance for donation?

Corona’s “SC Christmas allowance” that started at P80,000 in 2003 and rose to P120,000 in 2011 was, according to Bayuga, meant “to augment representation expenses for subsidy of SC cash raffle and donation to charitable institutions.”

Meantime, his “PET Christmas allowance” that was reported to be P90,000 in 2003 and which rose to P120,000 in 2011 was meant “to augment representation expenses for donation to charitable institutions.”

Finally, as chairperson of the Judicial and Bar Council, the then chief justice was also paid “expense allowance” of P149,677.42 in 2010, and 240,000 in 2011.

And so in just 10 years, Corona more than tripled his annual gross compensation (salaries, allowances, bonuses, and other emoluments) from only P1,004,451.42 in 2002 to P3,678,435.70 in 2011. That redounds to an annual growth rate of 266 percent, or nearly 30 percent year on year.

Interestingly, there are two sitting justices whose disclosed 2011 “income” came close to the numbers listed in the COA report: Peralta and Jose C. Mendoza.

Mendoza reported in his SALN an income of P3.25 million, or only P198,725 less than the P3,452,405.80 income that COA said he received in 2011.

Peralta, for his part, declared his 2011 “income” at P4.77 million, including P450,000 from the sale of two guns. Using the same data in his SALN though, PCIJ’s computation of Peralta’s income comes up to only P4.3 million. Still, this was P326,487.66 more than the P3.99 million that COA said Peralta received as salaries and allowances in 2011.

Either the way math is taught in this country really has to be overhauled or COA somehow missed other monetary perks enjoyed by the justices.

The thornier numbers problem, however, is this: A year after Corona was impeached, nearly all the justices linger in the old, opaque ways of understating their incomes in their SALNs, while seven, including the new chief justice, do not want to be questioned about the details of their wealth. — With additional research by Rowena F. Caronan, PCIJ, December 2012

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