During the Marcos administration, the president issued Presidential Decree (PD) No. 478 defining the Powers and Functions of the Office of the Solicitor General, authorizing the OSG to receive allowances and honoraria for the legal services they render to client agencies. In the absence of a Congress during the martial law years, President Marcos’ PDs served as the law of the land.
On April 25, 1985, the Commission on Audit (COA) issued Circular 8525-E limiting allowances in government to 50 percent of an employee’s salary.
On March 30, 2007, Congress enacted Republic Act (RA) 9417, An Act to Strengthen the Office of the Solicitor General, reiterating that OSG lawyers may receive allowances and honoraria for services rendered to client agencies.
On June 1, 2018, the COA issued an audit report on the Office of the Solicitor General, stating that Solicitor General Jose Calida and other lawyers of the OSG had received excessive allowances and honoraria in 2017 and ordered them to return a total of P10,774,283 to the government.
Of this total, the COA said, Calida received P8.37 million when he was entitled to only P913,950, which represents 50 percent of his salary for the year. The COA cited its Circular 8525-E which limits such allowances to 50 percent.
Fourteen other OSG lawyers received smaller amounts in the COA report. Their alleged excesses in 2017 ranged from P837,252 to P9,394.
Solicitor General Calida has disputed the COA claim, saying its administrative circular cannot prevail over the law.
This is a legal issue that will have to be resolved. The COA limitation is not found in the law, as Calida pointed out. But does it violate it?
As in any legal controversy, this matter may have to go to the Supreme Court to decide. It was in the Supreme Court in which Solicitor General Calida recently won a victory in the quo warranto case he filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Quite apart from the legal issue, some officials ask about the propriety of any government man receiving allowances in the millions of pesos – in this case, P8.37 million for 2017, over four times more than his annual salary.
But first, it is best to settle the legal controversy, as there may be other cases in the government that have not yet come to light. Both the COA and the OSG appear to be adamant in their stands. The Supreme Court must settle the issue.