Assailed in this petition for certiorari
1 is the March 5, 2002 decision of the respondent Commission on Audit (COA) in COA Decision No. 2002-044, 2 which disallowed the grant of Staple Food Incentive (SFI) in 1998 to the officers and employees of petitioner Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC).chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The undisputed facts show that in accordance with Department Order No. 79 (D.O. No. 79) of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), dated December 1, 1998, then Secretary Jose Trinidad Pardo granted, subject to the availability of savings of the respective bureaus/offices/GOCCs, a Staple Food Incentive (SFI) in the maximum amount of P7,200.00 each to the officials and employees of DTI bureaus, attached agencies and government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs). This was in accordance with Rule X of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules. D.O. No. 79 further provided that in case of disallowance, the employee shall refund the incentive through salary deduction. 3
Pursuant to D.O. No. 79, petitioner PITC, a government owned and controlled corporation attached to the DTI, issued Resolution No. 98-12-07 dated December 9, 1998, approving the grant of SFI to its officers and employees. 4 Consequently, PITC released the total amount of P1,094,400.00 as SFI for the year 1998.
On April 29, 1999, the Resident Auditor of PITC issued a Notice of Suspension 5 disallowing the grant of the SFI and requiring the PITC to submit the approval of such grant by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), in accordance with Section 12 of Republic Act No. 6758, or the Salary Standardization Law. 6 PITC appealed to the Director, Corporate Audit Office II, who sustained the disallowance of the SFI. 7 PITC elevated the matter to the COA which, on March 5, 2002, affirmed the questioned disallowance. It ruled that the grant of SFI by PITC was an illegal disbursement of public funds under Section 12 of R.A. No. 6758. The dispositive portion of the COA decision, reads —
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition for reversal of CAO II Decision dated November 9, 2000 cannot be given due course. Accordingly, the disallowance in question amounting to P1,094,400.00 is hereby affirmed. The Auditor, PITC, is hereby directed to enforce and monitor the settlement of the disallowance and to advise the Commission of the proper implementation of this decision. 8
Hence, PITC filed the instant petition for certiorari
, contending that —
RESPONDENT COA COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR IN DECIDING A QUESTION OF LAW IN A WAY PROBABLY NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW OR JURISPRUDENCE WHEN IT AFFIRMED THE COA-CAO II’s 1st INDORSEMENT DISALLOWING THE GRANT OF SFI FOR CY 1998 TO PITC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES DUE TO THE ABSENCE OF SPECIFIC APPROVAL FROM THE DBM PURSUANT TO SEC. 12 OF R.A. NO. 6758 (SALARY STANDARDIZATION LAW) DESPITE THE INEFFECTIVENESS AND UNENFORCEABILITY OF DBM-CCC NO. 10 WHICH COMPRISED THE IMPLEMENTING RULES AND REGULATIONS (IRR) OF R.A. 6758.
RESPONDENT COA COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR IN DECIDING A QUESTION OF LAW IN A WAY PROBABLY NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW OR JURISPRUDENCE WHEN IT AFFIRMED THE COA-CAO II’s 1st INDORSEMENT DISALLOWING THE GRANT OF SFI FOR CY 1998 TO PITC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES WHILE OTHER RESIDENT AUDITORS OF THE DTI AND OF ITS ATTACHED BUREAUS, AGENCIES AND GOCCs ALLOWED THE SAME IN AUDIT, IN CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE RIGHT TO EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS GUARANTEED UNDER THE 1987 CONSTITUTION. 9
On August 29, 2002, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) manifested that it cannot represent and maintain a stand consistent with COA because in November 1998, the officials and employees of the OSG likewise received the same Staple Food Incentive in the amount of P7,200.00 each. The OSG prayed that it be excused from filing a comment and that the COA be given a new period within which to file its comment. 10 On September 17, 2002, the Court issued a Resolution granting the prayer of the OSG. 11
We first address the failure of the PITC to file a motion for reconsideration of the assailed decision.
As a general rule, a petition for certiorari
before a higher court will not prosper unless the inferior court has been given, through a motion for reconsideration, a chance to correct the errors imputed to it. This rule, though, has certain exceptions: (1) when the issue raised is purely of law, (2) when public interest is involved, or (3) in case of urgency. As a fourth exception, it was also held that the filing of a motion for reconsideration before availment of the remedy of certiorari
is not a condition sine qua non, when the questions raised are the same as those that have already been squarely argued and exhaustively passed upon by the lower court. 12
In the case at bar, a motion for reconsideration may be dispensed with not only because the issue presented is purely of law, but also because the question raised has already been extensively discussed in the decisions of the Director, Corporate Audit Office II and the COA.
The resolution of the question of law in the case at bar hinges on the interpretation of Section 12 of R.A. No. 6758, which was the basis of the COA in denying the grant of SFI to the officers and employees of PITC. It provides —
Sec. 12. Consolidation of Allowances and Compensation. — Allowances, except for representation and transportation allowances; clothing and laundry allowances; subsistence allowance of marine officers and crew on board government vessels and hospital personnel; hazard pay; allowances of foreign services personnel stationed abroad; and such other additional compensation not otherwise specified herein as may be determined by the DBM, shall be deemed included in the standardized salary rates herein prescribed. Such other additional compensation, whether in cash or in kind, being received by incumbents as of July 1, 1989 not integrated into the standardized salary rates shall continue to be authorized.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
In construing the above provision, the Court in National Tobacco Administration v. Commission on Audit, 13 held that under the first sentence of Section 12, the benefits excluded from the standardized salary rates are the "allowances" or those which are usually granted to officials and employees of the government to defray or reimburse the expenses incurred in the performance of their official functions. It further ruled that the phrase "and such other additional compensation not otherwise specified [in Section 12] as may be determined by the DBM," in the first sentence of Section 12, is a "catch-all-proviso" for benefits in the nature of "allowances" similar to those enumerated. Thus —
Under the first sentence of Section 12, all allowances are integrated into the prescribed salary rates, except:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(1) representation and transportation allowances (RATA);
(2) clothing and laundry allowances;
(3) subsistence allowances of marine officers and crew on board government vessels;
(4) subsistence allowance of hospital personnel;
(5) hazard pay;
(6) allowance of foreign service personnel stationed abroad; and
(7) such other additional compensation not otherwise specified in Section 12 as may be determined by the DBM.
Analyzing No. 7, which is the last clause of the first sentence of Section 12, in relation to the other benefits therein enumerated, it can be gleaned unerringly that it is a "catch-all proviso." Further reflection on the nature of subject fringe benefits indicates that all of them have one thing in common — they belong to one category of privilege called allowances which are usually granted to officials and employees of the government to defray or reimburse the expenses incurred in the performance of their official functions. In Philippine Ports Authority v. Commission on Audit, this Court rationalized that if these allowances are consolidated with the standardized rate, then the government official or employee will be compelled to spend his personal funds in attending to his duties.
The conclusion [is] that the enumerated fringe benefits are in the nature of allowance . . . 14
Also in National Tobacco Administration, the second sentence of Section 12, which provides that —
Such other additional compensation, whether in cash or in kind, being received by incumbents as of July 1, 1989 not integrated into the standardized salary rates shall continue to be authorized.
was interpreted as referring to benefits in the nature of "financial assistance," or "a bonus or other payment made to employees in addition to guaranteed hourly wages," as contradistinguished from the "allowance" if the first sentence, which cannot, strictly speaking, be reckoned with as a bonus or additional income. In "financial assistance," reimbursement is not necessary, while in the case of "allowance," reimbursement is required. 15
The foregoing interpretation is supported by the deliberations of the representatives of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the contradictory provisions of House Bill No. 10054 and Senate Bill No. 862, which became R.A. No. 6758, also known as the Salary Standardization Law. The House Bill’s sponsor, Representative Rolando Andaya, explained that the second sentence of Section 12, R.A. No. 6758, refers to rice allowance and dependent’s allowance. These benefits therefore comprise the category of "financial assistance," or "a bonus or other payment made to employees in addition to guaranteed hourly wages," and not the "allowance" referred to in the first sentence of Section 12, R.A. No. 6758 which, to repeat, are granted to defray or reimburse the expenses incurred in the performance of their official functions. Thus —
MR. LAGMAN. I would like to refer to No. 26, page 3 of the report, where it says:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
On page 15, line 13 after period (.) add the sentence "Such other additional compensation whether in cash or in kind, being received by incumbents as of July 1, 1989 not integrated into the standardized salary rates shall continue to be authorized."cralaw virtua1aw library
Is this the particular provision which guarantees that these additional benefits being paid by local government units shall henceforth be assumed by the national government?
MR. ANDAYA. No, it is not. The provision applies to government corporations, because government corporations now have rice allowance and dependents allowance. The principle here is that nobody will suffer diminution in pay; these will continue to be authorized whether what he is receiving is in kind or in cash. This applies to government corporations. 16
Entitlement to the "financial assistance" under the second sentence of Section 12 is conditioned upon the following requisites — (1) the recipients were incumbents when R.A. No. 6758 took effect on July 1, 1989; (2) they were in fact, receiving the same, at the time; and (3) such additional compensation is distinct and separate from the specific allowances enumerated in the first sentence of Section 12 of R.A. No. 6758. 17 This is in relation to the non-diminution of pay under Section 17 of R.A. No. 6758, which states:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
SEC. 17. Salaries of Incumbents. — Incumbents of positions presently receiving salaries and additional compensation/fringe benefits including those absorbed from local government units and other emoluments, the aggregate of which exceeds the standardized salary rate as herein prescribed, shall continue to receive such excess compensation, which shall be referred to as transition allowance. The transition allowance shall be reduced by the amount of salary adjustment that the incumbent shall receive in the future.
Thus, in National Tobacco Administration (NTA) v. Commission on Audit, the Court ruled that the "social amelioration or educational assistance benefit" granted by the NTA is of a species belonging to the genus of "financial assistance" under the second sentence of Section 12. Since the employees of the NTA have been receiving said benefit before July 1, 1989, when R.A. No. 6758 took effect, it was held therein that the same benefit was not integrated into their standardized salary rate, and should therefore be continued to be authorized. 18
In the instant case, the Staple Food Incentives was granted under D.O. No. 79 to "help the DTI employees cope with the present economic difficulties, boost their morale and deepen their commitment and dedication to public service." Clearly therefore, the SFI is a financial assistance or a bonus falling under the second sentence of Section 12 and not a payment in consideration of the performance of an official duty. It is not a benefit within the ambit of the first sentence because it was not granted to defray or reimburse the expenses incurred in the performance of their official functions, like representation and transportation allowances, and other benefits of similar nature. Accordingly, in order that the SFI may be allowed, the requisites for the entitlement of benefits falling under the second sentence of Section 12 must be established. Unfortunately, there is no evidence on record that the recipients of the SFI were incumbents when R.A. No. 6758 took effect on July 1, 1989 and that they were in fact receiving the same at the time. Hence, no abuse of discretion was committed by COA in disallowing the disbursement of funds for the SFI of PITC.
There is no merit in the claim of PITC that R.A. No. 6758, particularly Section 12 thereof is void because DBM-Corporate Compensation Circular No. 10, its implementing rules, was nullified in the case of De Jesus v. Commission on Audit, 19 for lack of publication. 20 The basis of COA in disallowing the grant of SFI was Section 12 of R.A. No. 6758 and not DBM-CCC No. 10. Moreover, the nullity of DBM-CCC No. 10, will not affect the validity of R.A. No. 6758. It is a cardinal rule in statutory construction that statutory provisions control the rules and regulations which may be issued pursuant thereto. Such rules and regulations must be consistent with and must not defeat the purpose of the statute. 21 The validity of R.A. No. 6758 should not be made to depend on the validity of its implementing rules.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Likewise, PITC failed to substantiate its allegation that it was singled out by the COA, which act therefore violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The alleged violation by the COA of PITC’s right to equal protection cannot bind the Court to an erroneous interpretation of R.A. No. 6758. No vested right can be acquired on a wrong construction of the law by administrative officials and such erroneous interpretation does not place the government in estoppel to correct or overrule the same. 22
Notwithstanding the validity of the disallowance by the COA, however, the officers and employees of PITC can not be obliged to refund the SFI received by them in good faith. In the recent case of De Jesus v. Commission on Audit, 23 it was held that the Members of the Board of the Catbalogan Water District cannot be ordered to refund the bonuses received by them because they were of the honest belief that they were authorized to approve and receive said payment. At the time they received the said benefits, the case of Baybay Water District v. Commission on Audit, 24 which categorically denied the grant of additional compensation to the Members of the Board of water districts, was not yet decided. It was held that the language of Section 13 of P.D. No. 198, (the Provincial Water District Act of 1973, as amended) is clear enough that it needs no interpretation. Local Water District Utilities Administration Resolution No. 131, series of 1995, cannot justify the disbursement of additional allowances because Section 13 of P.D. No. 198, expressly prohibits the members of the board of water districts from receiving compensation other than payment of per diem.
Accordingly, the officers and employees of PITC need not refund the questioned SFI received by them in 1998. This is so because National Tobacco Administration v. Commission on Audit which made a definitive interpretation of Section 12 of R.A. No. 6758 was promulgated only on August 5, 1999. Prior thereto, PITC is presumed to be without knowledge that, absent the requisites under the second sentence of R.A. No. 6758, the disbursement of funds for the SFI is without legal basis.
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the March 5, 2002 decision of the Commission on Audit in COA Decision No. 2002-044, which disallowed the grant of Staple Food Incentive in 1998 to the officers and employees of the Philippine International Trading Corporation, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. The officers and employees of the Philippine International Trading Corporation need not refund the Staple Food Incentive they received per Resolution No. 98-12-07 dated December 9, 1998.
SO ORDERED.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna and Tinga, JJ.
1. Under Rule 64 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure.
2. Rollo, p. 32.
3. Annex "F", Rollo, p. 59.
4. Annex "F", Rollo, p. 62.
5. Annex "G", Rollo, p. 68.
6. An Act Prescribing a Revised Compensation and Position Classification in the Government and for Other Purposes.
7. Decision, dated November 9, 2000, Annex "C", Rollo, p. 42.
8. Rollo, p. 34.
9. Petition, Rollo, pp. 12-13.
10. Rollo, p. 82.
11. Rollo, p. 92.
12. Government of the United States of America, G.R. No. 148571, 24 September 2002, citing Progressive Development Corporation, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 361 Phil. 566 (1999).
13. 370 Phil. 793 (1999).
14. Id., pp. 804-805, citing Philippine Ports Authority v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 100773, 16 October 1992, 214 SCRA 653.
15. Id., p. 807.
16. Transcript of deliberations of the Conference Committee Report on the Disagreeing Provisions of H.B. No. 10054 and S.B. No. 862, p. 460, August 9, 1989.
17. Id., pp. 808-809.
18. Id., pp. 808-809.
19. 355 Phil. 584 (1998).
20. DBM-CCC No. 10 was re-issued in its entirety on February 15, 1999 and was published in the Official Gazette on March 1, 1999 (Retirement Authority v. Buñag, G.R. No. 143784, 5 February 2003).
21. Conte v. Palma, 332 Phil. 20, 36 (1996), citing De Leon and De Leon, Jr., Administrative Law: Text and Cases, 1989 Edition, p. 65; 73 C.J.S. 413-414, 416-417.
22. De Leon, Administrative Law: Text and Cases, 1989 ed., pp. 69-70, citing Tan Guan v. Court of Appeals, 126 Phil. 271, 275 (1967); Compaña General de Tabacos de Filipinas v. City of Manila, 118 Phil. 380, 385 (1963).
23. G.R. No. 149154, 10 June 2003.
24. G.R. Nos. 147248-49, 22 January 2002, 374 SCRA 482.