More senators on Thursday called on Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno not to suspend payment of government employees’ salary increases because of the delay in the approval of the 2019 budget bill, saying this was not a valid reason.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Executive Order No. 201 issued by former President Benigno Aquino III and Joint Resolution No. 1 signed by President Duterte provided the legal basis for the payment of the salary increases.
P100B for raise in 2018 budget
Moreover, Lacson said there was nearly P100 billion in the 2018 budget to fund the raise.
“Mr. [Budget] Secretary, implement the salary increase now. It is not unconstitutional. It has basis in law and there is P99.446 billion under the MPBF (Miscellaneous and Personnel Benefit Fund) in the 2018 budget,” he said.
The MPBF allows the government to deal with the personnel requirements of public institutions, Lacson said.
In the 2018 budget, the MPBF has P62.8 billion for compensation adjustment and P12.36 billion for staffing modification upgrading of salaries, he said.
“Obviously, there is legal basis as there are funds to implement the salary hike, especially for the first quarter of 2019,” Lacson said.
Benefiting from the raise that began to be paid in 2016 under the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) are the government’s 1.3 million employees.
The funds in the 2018 budget allowed payment of the third tranche of the raise.
The fourth and last tranche is supposed to be paid from the 2019 budget, which did not clear Congress before the close of 2018 due to controversies about pork and alleged “insertions” in the infrastructure spending for the benefit of favored contractors.
Diokno said on Tuesday that without the passage of the 2019 budget bill, there would be no legal basis for paying the fourth tranche of the raise because what the reenacted 2018 budget provided for was the third tranche.
Citing Section 11 of EO 201, Diokno said payment of the increases was “subject to appropriations of Congress.”
He said Section 15 authorized the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to identify sources of funds “corresponding to the appropriations provided in the GAA (General Appropriations Act).”
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the failure of the 2019 budget bill to pass on time was not a reason to delay payment of the fourth tranche.
Drilon said the DBM could use the MPBF to pay the raise.
Congress could also pass a supplemental budget to cover the pay hike, he said.
High prices of basic goods
Sen. Bam Aquino on Thursday said the administration should not delay payment of the raise as the workers needed this to cope with the high prices of basic goods.
Aquino said he was particularly concerned about public school teachers.
“[O]ur teachers very much need assistance to cope with the hard times,” he said in a statement.
Like Lacson, Aquino pointed out that the government could tap the MPBF for the salary increases of government workers this month.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said a month’s delay in the salary increases may “not be too painful.”
Sotto said the Senate would do its best to approve the 2019 budget bill on third reading.
Raise authorized by SSL
His plan is to have it ratified by both houses of Congress by Jan. 27 and send it to Malacañang to be signed by the President.
In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. also disputed Diokno’s assertion that the 2019 budget was needed to pay the fourth tranche of the government pay increase.
In a statement, Andaya, who served as budget secretary in the Arroyo administration, said the fourth tranche was authorized by the SSL and not dependent on the GAA.
He said the annual increases were “multiyear commitments” under the law and “cannot be suspended by the whims of one man.”
It would be inconsistent for Diokno to withhold the salary increases but continue to allocate funds for the payment of foreign debt, Andaya said.
Diokno, he said, could only defer the release of personnel services funds set aside in the GAA for the hiring of new employees.
“He should stop using our civil servants as pawns in his bid to avoid answering questions of public interest,” Andaya said. —WITH A REPORT FROM VINCE F. NONATO
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