By Hannah Torregoza
The Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading a bill which seeks to increase the retirement benefits of the officials and employees of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Senate Bill No. 1762, sponsored by Sen. Richard Gordon, said the bill primarily aims to make the retirement benefits of the employees of the Office of the Ombudsman at par to that of the Judiciary, the National Prosecution Service and the Public Attorney’s office which had been upgraded in recent years in recognition of their contribution to the dispensation of justice in the country.
“The retirement benefits of officials and employees of the Office of the Ombudsman have not been upgraded, they were overlooked,” said Gordon, who chairs the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said in his sponsorship speech.
“Considering the indispensable role of the Office of the Ombudsman in the suppression of graft and corruption, it is only appropriate to provide them with a competitive retirement scheme at par with other government officials and employees performing equally vital functions,” the senator stressed.
Apart from Gordon, other senators who authored the bill include Senators Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Juan Edgardo Angara, Loren Legarda, Panfilo Lacson, and Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV.
According to Gordon, the low retirement benefits of the Office of the Ombudsman had resulted to an alarming exodus of investigators and prosecutors over the last 10 years.
“For instance, the Office of the Ombudsman had hired 180 officers in the past 10 years. Of that number, 178 officers left the service within the same period for other offices,” he said.
He said the bill would help guarantee and preserve the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman by giving qualified officers and employees the ability to earn sufficiently and dispensing with the compulsion to resort to dishonest and corrupt means.
Under the bill, those entitled to their retirement and other benefits are the Ombudsman, his or her deputies, the special prosecutor and all officials and employees of the Office Ombudsman from Salary Grades 26 to 29 who are performing legal, prosecution, investigation and corruption prevention functions and whose positions require membership in the Philippine Bar or a masters degree in a relevant field as a qualification.
The bill also grants the Ombudsman the same retirement and other benefits as those of the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals, provided that he or she shall have served for a full term of seven years.
On the other hand, the Ombudsman’s deputies and special prosecutor shall enjoy the same retirement and other benefits as those of an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals (CA), provided that he or she had also served for a full term of seven years.
The bill, likewise, grants to all other covered employees or officials and employees t the same retirement and other benefits as those enjoyed by the judges of the Regional Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trials Court or other trial courts with the same salary grades.
The measure also provides for an automatic increase in the salaries, allowances or retirement benefits or upgrading of salary grades or levels of the Ombudsman officials and employees when the same increases are provided to justices and judges.
The proposed law, Gordon said, also gives the same retirement or pension benefits being given to prosecutors of the National Prosecution Service to covered Ombudsman officials and employees.
The pension would be equal to the highest monthly salary, plus the highest monthly aggregate of transportation, living and representation allowances of the covered person, he said.