Friday, March 09, 2012

Bitonio vs. COA

Facts: In 1994, petitioner Benedicto Ernesto R. Bitonio, Jr. was appointed Director IV of the Bureau of Labor Relations in the Department of Labor and Employment. As representative of the Secretary of Labor to the PEZA Board, he was receiving a per diem for every board meeting he attended during the years 1995 to 1997. 

After a post audit of the PEZA’s disbursement transactions, the COA disallowed the payment of per diems to Mr. Bitonio pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling declaring unconstitutional the holding of other offices by the cabinet members, their deputies and assistants in addition to their primary office and the receipt of compensation therefore, and, to COA Memorandum No. 97-038 dated September 19, 1997, implementing Senate Committee Reports No. 509. 

In his motion for reconsideration to the COA, he contended that the Supreme Court modified its earlier ruling in the Civil Liberties Union case which limits the prohibition to Cabinet Secretaries, Undersecretaries and their Assistants. Officials given the rank equivalent to a Secretary, Undersecretary or Assistant Secretary and other appointive officials below the rank of Assistant Secretary are not covered by the prohibition. 

He further stated that the PEZA Charter (RA 7916), enacted four years after the Civil Liberties Union case became final, authorized the payment of per diems; in expressly authorizing per diems, Congress should be conclusively presumed to have been aware of the parameters of the constitutional prohibition as interpreted in the Civil Liberties Union case. 

COA rendered the assailed decision denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration. 

Issue: Whether COA correctly disallowed the per diems received by the petitioner for his attendance in the PEZA Board of Directors’ meetings as representative of the Secretary of Labor. 

Held: The assailed decision of the COA is affirmed. 

The petitioner is, indeed, not entitled to receive per diem for his board meetings sitting as representative of the Secretary of Labor in the Board of Directors of the PEZA. 

The petitioner’s presence in the PEZA Board meetings is solely by virtue of his capacity as representative of the Secretary of Labor. Since the Secretary of Labor is prohibited from receiving compensation for his additional office or employment, such prohibition likewise applies to the petitioner who sat in the Board only in behalf of the Secretary of Labor. The Supreme Court cannot allow the petitioner who sat as representative of the Secretary of Labor in the PEZA Board to have a better right than his principal. 

Moreover, it is a basic tenet that any legislative enactment must not be repugnant to the Constitution. No law can render it nugatory because the Constitution is more superior to a statute. The framers of R.A. No. 7916 must have realized the flaw in the law which is the reason why the law was later amended by R.A. No. 8748 to cure such defect. The option of designating representative to the Board by the different Cabinet Secretaries was deleted. Likewise, the paragraph as to payment of per diems to the members of the Board of Directors was also deleted, considering that such stipulation was clearly in conflict with the proscription set by the Constitution.

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