By Ben Rosario
The Commission on Audit has directed former and current officials and employees of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Corporate Office (CO) to return to government a total P8,173,730 in meal allowances they received in 2012 and 2013.
The three-man COA Commission Proper (CP) headed by COA Chairman Michael G.Aguinaldo issued the order in a decision handed down February 20, but released only last week.
The COA-CP turned down the petition for review filed by the MWSS-CO personnel on the four notices of disallowance (NDs) earlier issued by the state audit agency.
In junking the petition for the reversal of the NDs, the panel declared that the petitioners have already defaulted in the filing of the petition since 362 days have already passed from the date the notices of disallowance was issued.
Under audit rules, petition for review may only be entertained by the COA CP within 180 days after the issuance of the ND.
“Based on the foregoing, petitioners had already exhausted the reglementary period of six months or 180 days to file the Petition for Review. Petitioners did not offer any plausible explanation for the extended delay in filing this appeal. Thus, this Commission finds no compelling reason to justify the relaxation of its rules of procedures,” COA’s highest tribunal said.
Among those ordered to refund their meal allowances were former MWSS administrator Gerardo A.I. Esquivel, former senior deputy administrator Nathaniel C. Santos, deputy administrators Zoilo L. Andin Jr. and Leonor C. Cleofas, and Legal Services Department manager Darlina T. Uy.
Others implicated were Site Operation Management Department manager Jose D. Dorado, Jr., Policy, Planning, and Public Relations Department manager Ronald S. Abrigo, Operations Support Department manager Anabella S. Altuna, Property Department manager Vicente A. Elefante, Internal Audit Department manager Florendo B. Batasin, Jr., IAD assistant manager Bienvenido A. Sarmiento.Corporate secretary Ma. Lourdes R. Naz, Chief corporate attorney Benedicto R. Arellano, head technical assistant Maria Clarissa A. Laysa, technical assistants David Joseph B. Articulo, Rose Brigitte T. Layno, and Ryan James V. Ayson; executive assistant Cecille V. Bautista, project management officer Evangeline B. Dacanay, and agency officers Orlando F. Bautista, and Maria G. Mendoza.
The COA CP said the MWSS officials and employees failed to acknowledge the fact that there was a time frame within which to file the petition for withdraw.
For failing to contest the ND on time, the law resumed that the petitioners have “abandoned or declined to assert” their right to contest the ND.
“At any rate, even if the petition is decided on the merits, it would still be denied because the power of the MWSS Board of Trustees is not absolute and plenary, particularly in the grant of additional allowances to its personnel,” COA said.
Nevertheless, the three-man panel, in rejecting the petition for review, cite the Supreme Court ruling in the 1999 case of Intia vs. COA, the commission noted that jurisprudence required the governing board of all government-owned or controlled corporations to comply with the guidelines set under RA 6758 or the Salary Standardization Law.
The COA-CP stressed that under this law, it is presumed that the basic salary of government employees under the standardized salary rates have already incorporated all allowances and fringe benefits.
The panel also cited Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that provides for the exclusion of the provisions for meal allowance in the 2012 and 2014 Corporate Operating Budgets of MWSS based on the absence of lack of prior clearance from the OP.