Salceda backs tax-free hazard pay for judges, but says ceiling is needed

Published August 3, 2020, 6:11 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

House Committee on Ways and Means chairman, Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Salceda is willing to support a feasible, tax-free hazard pay ceiling for judges, saying it could very well set the precedent for COVID-19 frontliners.

Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda (PCOO / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The panel approved in a virtual meeting Monday a substitute bill granting hazard pay to judges of the first and second-level trial courts, and appropriating funds therefor. The bill was sponsored to the panel by Committee on Justice chairman, Leyte 3rd district Rep. Vicente “Ching” Veloso III.

The unnumbered measure was endorsed to the Salceda panel due to its tax provision in Section 2, which says that the hazard pay for the judges would be tax-exempt. Veloso, a former magistrate at the Court of Appeals (CA), bared earlier in the proceedings that the proposed hazard pay is 25 percent of the subject judges’ basic salary worth P100,000 a month.

“That’s P25,000 per judge, first and second level, per month,” the Visayan solon said.

While Salceda supported the notion that hazard pay should be free from tax, he found the 25 percent proposal to be too steep. “I want to approve it but there must be certain limitations, conditions, and definitions…There should be a certain ceiling.”

“Yung mga frontliners sigurado ako susunod na sila dyan (The frontliners will be the next to ask for that benefit). I am really sure this will set a certain precedent,” the economist-lawmaker said, referring to future difficulties that the government might encounter in sustaining such benefit.

“Mr. Chair, this bill is so important to us in the [Justice] Committee lalo na sa mga authors (especially to the authors). If this will be the cause of delay, OK na rin sa akin na tanggalin itong Section 2, yung tax exemption (I would be OK with the removal of Section 2, on tax exemption),” Veloso said, offering a compromise to his fellow chairman.

It was at this point that Salceda highlighted the Ways and Means Committee’s penchant for innovation.

“This Committee will always be known for innovation…I will not let this go by simply just allowing Section 2 to go away. I’d rather spend more time and effort in getting this through.”

“We shouldn’t be afraid of setting a precedent. But the precedent should really be rational, reasonable and definitely feasible. Ibig sabihin kaya naman ng gobyerno (It means the government can afford it),” he said.

Salceda subsquently formed a technical working group (TWG) and named panel vice-chairperson AAMBIS-OWA Party-List Rep. Sharon Garin as head.

Garin then moved to have the substitute bill approved, but with the temporary withdrawal of Section 2 on the tax exemption pending the discussions of the TWG. The motion was swiftly carried by the chairman.

“The TWG would still meet and if we can get to a acceptable [solution]…then we will do it on the floor. Para di na siya ma-delay (So as not to delay the bill). We can propose an amendment on the floor [during plenary discussion],” noted Garin.

Baguio lone district Rep. Mark Go agreed with Salceda’s stance on approving a bill institutionalizing tax-free hazard pay for judges.

“I think we shouldn’t remove the tax exemption, that should be exempted just like the [hazard pay of] police. We should exclude the tax exemption provision,” Go said.