Case Digest: MIAA v. COA

G.R. No. 194710 : February 14, 2012

MANILA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AUTHORITY, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON AUDIT, Respondent.

REYES, J.:

FACTS:

On July 30, 2003, the Board of Directors of MIAA issued Resolution No. 2003-067, which approved the Collective Negotiation Agreement (CNA) between MIAA and Samahang Manggagawa sa Paliparan ng Pilipinas (SMPP) and authorized the grant of P30,000.00 to all MIAA officials and employees as "contract signing bonus".

On post-audit, Mr. Ireneo B. Manalo, the then Corporate Auditor, issued Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) No. JPA 03-35 stating that the payment of the said contract-signing bonus had been previously declared improper by this Court in Social Security System v. Commission on Audit. The payment of signing bonus made by MIAA, therefore, was improper and has no legal basis.

In a Notice of Disallowance dated August 31, 2006, Director IV Janet D. Nacion disallowed the subject disbursement in the total amount of P44,790,000.00 for being contrary to Section 1 of Public Sector Labor Management Council (PSLMC) Resolution No. 2, Series of 2003 and the May 2, 2002 letter of Emilia T. Boncodin (Boncodin), the former Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), to Guillermo N. Carague (Carague), the former Chairman of the COA.

MIAA, through its Assistant General Manager for Finance and Administration, Herminia D. Castillo appealed N.D. No. MIAA-2006-01 stating that: (a) the CNA Incentive was granted to all officers and employees of MIAA, including those who do not occupy rank-and-file positions, since the achievement of MIAA performance targets and the success of its fiscal reforms is a collaborative effort; and (b) MIAA performance in 2003 justified the grant of the CNA Incentive.

In its Decision dated February 18, 2008, the LAO-Corporate, thru Director Nacion, denied MIAA appeal.

According to Director Nacion, the President decision to disallow the grant of signing bonus is clear from former DBM Secretary Boncodin May 15, 2002 letter to former COA Chairman Carague. Contrary to MIAA claim, the grant is actually a signing bonus and cannot be considered a CNA Incentive since it was released on August and October, or immediately after the approval of the CNA between MIAA and SMPP and before MIAA had determined its savings from Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). Under DBM Budget Circular No. 2006-01 dated February 1, 2006, the CNA Incentive is a one-time benefit, the payment of which is subject to the successful implementation of projects and achievement of performance targets, and should be exclusively sourced from the MOOE based on the cost-cutting measures specified in the CNA.

Consequently, the MIAA filed with the COA a petition for review, which was denied on the following grounds: (a) the subject grant is not a CNA Incentive but a signing bonus as it was paid on August 1, 2003 or immediately after the CNA between MIAA and SMPP was approved on July 30, 2003 and it was paid before any savings from MOOE could be generated from the programs, projects and activities under the CNA; (b) the signing bonus is prohibited under Administrative Order (A.O.) No. 135 and Section 5.6.2 of DBM Budget Circular No. 2006-1; (c) assuming that the grant is a CNA Incentive, still, it is invalid as it was paid upon renewal of the CNA, which is contrary to the provisions of Section 1 of PSLMC Resolution No. 2; (d) payment of the CNA Incentive to MIAA officers, Board of Directors, Board Secretariat and Executive Committee (ExeCom) violated PSLMC Resolution No. 2, Section 2 of A.O. No. 135 and DBM Budget Circular No. 2006-01; and (e) the grant was without the prior approval of the OP and/or the DBM.

ISSUE: Whether or not the COA was correct in holding the beneficiaries of this disallowed benefit liable for a refund and for attributing bad faith on the part of the members of MIAA Board of Director who authorized the same?

HELD:

There is no dispute that the grant of a signing bonus had been previously disallowed by the express mandate of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Shortly thereafter, on July 22, 2002, this Court declared in SSS v. COA that Social Services Commission authority to fix the compensation of its employees under its charter, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 1161 as amended, is subject to the provisions of R.A. No. 6758, which provides for the consolidation of allowances and compensation in the prescribed standardized salary rates. While there are exceptions provided under Sections 12 and 17 of R.A. No. 6758 in observance of the policy on non-diminution of pay, the signing bonus is not one of the benefits contemplated. This Court also ruled that the signing bonus is "not a truly reasonable compensation" since conduct of peaceful collective negotiations "should not come with a price tag".

We have no doubt that RA 6758 modified, if not repealed, Sec. 3, par. (c), of RA 1161 as amended, at least insofar as it concerned the authority of SSC to fix the compensation of SSS employees and officers. This means that whatever salaries and other financial and non-financial inducements that the SSC was minded to fix for them, the compensation must comply with the terms of RA 6758. Consequently, only the remuneration which was being offered as of 1 July 1989, and which was then being enjoyed by incumbent SSS employees and officers, could be availed of exclusively by the same employees and officers separate from and independent of the prescribed standardized salary rates. Unfortunately, however, the signing bonus in question did not qualify under Secs. 12 and 17 of RA 6758. It was non-existent as of 1 July 1989 as it accrued only in 1996 when the CNA was entered into by and between SSC and ACCESS. The signing bonus could not have been included in the salutary provisions of the statute nor would it be legal to disburse to the intended recipients.

x x x x

On the basis of the foregoing pronouncement, the signing bonus is found to be a truly reasonable compensation. The gratuity was of course the SSC gesture of good will and benevolence for the conclusion of collective negotiations between SSC and ACCESS, as the CNA would itself state, but for what objective? Agitation and propaganda which are so commonly practiced in private sector labor-management relations have no place in the bureaucracy and that only a peaceful collective negotiation which is concluded within a reasonable time must be the standard for interaction in the public sector. This desired conduct among civil servants should not come, we must stress, with a price tag which is what the signing bonus appears to be.

With the abolition of the signing bonus, the PSLMC issued Resolution No. 2, Series of 2003, authorizing the grant of the CNA Incentive, the primary purpose of which is to recognize the joint efforts of labor and management in the achievement of planned targets, programs and services approved in the budgets of government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs) at lesser cost. The clear objective is to encourage, promote and reward productivity, efficiency and use of austerity measures as specified in the CNA.

Subsequently, on December 27, 2005, former President Arroyo issued A.O. No. 135, which confirmed the grant of the CNA to rank-and-file employees under PSLMC Resolution No. 2, Series of 2003.Grants of the CNA Incentive authorized after PSLMC Resolution No. 2 took effect and in strict compliance with its provisions prior to the effectivity of A.O. No. 135 were likewise confirmed. A.O. No. 135 also required that the frugality schemes be identified in the CNA and that the CNA Incentive be exclusively sourced from the savings that may be generated during the term of the CNA.

Essentially, the conclusion reached by this Court is anchored on the following: (a) the benefit in question is, in fact, a signing bonus, which is an illegal disbursement; (b) even assuming that the subject benefit is a CNA Incentive, MIAA non-compliance with the requirements under PSLMC Resolution No. 2 and DBM Budget Circular No. 2006-1 rendered the same illegal; and (c) MIAA Board of Directorsdecision to authorize the grant of a signing bonus and its officersact of approving the release thereof and certifying its validity notwithstanding former President Arroyo mandate, PSLMC Resolution No. 2, and this Court ruling in SSS v. COA is an error so gross that is tantamount to bad faith, thus, rendering them personally liable.

Facts indubitably demonstrate that the grant in question is a signing bonus.

MIAA claim that the amount of P30,000.00 given to each employee, rank-and-file or otherwise, and member of the Board of Directors, Board Secretariat and ExeCom is a CNA Incentive and not a signing bonus, deserves scant consideration. MIAA claim that its Board of Directors labelled the subject benefit as a signing bonus by mistake or inadvertence in good faith fails to convince. Indeed, claims of well-meaning negligence, blunder or oversight can be self-serving and easily contrived.

That MIAA Board of Directors did not make a mistake and their real intention was to reward the successful conclusion of collective negotiations by some pecuniary means is belied by simultaneous approval of the grant and the CNA between SMPP and MIAA betrays their real intention. Moreover, prior to the issuance of AOM No. JPA 03-35 declaring the subject benefit illegal, there was no effort on the part of its Board of Directors to rectify the alleged mistake in nomenclature. It was only after then Corporate Auditor Manalo and Director Nacion called MIAA attention as to the illegality of a signing bonus that MIAA alleged that the subject benefit is a CNA Incentive. Easily, such is a mere afterthought.

The grant of a signing bonus, of course, is contrary to this Court ruling in SSS v. COA, which effectively illegalized the signing bonus for being inconsistent with the objectives of R.A. No. 6758 of standardizing the salaries and compensation of civil servants. Moreover, the signing bonus is inherently unnecessary since orderly behavior and conciliatory approach to collective negotiations are expected of members of the public sector, the performance of which is not subject to their whims or conditioned on their receipt of a monetary award. Similarly, this contravened then President Arroyo order to discontinue the grant of signing bonus and PSLMC Resolution No. 2, which was issued to provide a reasonable substitute for the signing bonus.

Apparently, the members of MIAA Board of Directors were either oblivious of the foregoing or they simply had the temerity to believe that their authority to approve the salaries and compensation of MIAA officers and employees under MIAA charter is plenary to the point of being unbridled. However, as will be discussed below, departure from prevailing rules and regulations, whether by reason of ignorance or audacity, is inexcusable.

This Court finds no reason to deviate from prevailing jurisprudence, stating that disallowed benefits received in good faith need not be refunded. As stated in Lumayna v. Commission on Audit:

While we sustain the disallowance of the above benefits by respondent COA, however, we find that the MCWDaffected personnel who received the above mentioned benefits and privileges acted in good faith under the honest belief that the CBA authorized such payment. Consequently, they need not refund them.

In Querubin vs. Regional Cluster Director, Legal and Adjudication Office, COA Regional Office VI, Pavia, Iloilo City, citing, De Jesus vs. Commission on Audit, this Court held:

"Considering, however, that all the parties here acted in good faith, we cannot countenance the refund of subject incentive benefits for the year 1992, which amounts the petitioners have already received. Indeed, noindicia of bad faith can be detected under the attendant facts and circumstances. The officials and chiefs of offices concerned disbursed such incentive benefits in the honest belief that the amounts given were due to the recipients and the latter accept the same with gratitude, confident that they richly deserve such benefits.

Petitioners here received the additional allowances and bonuses in good faith under the honest belief that the LWUA Board Resolution No. 313 authorized such payment. At the time petitioners received the additional allowances and bonuses, the Court had not yet decided Baybay Water District. Petitioners had no knowledge that such payment was without legal basis. Thus, being in good faith, petitioners need not refund the allowances and bonuses they received but disallowed by the COA."

Clearly, good faith is anchored on an honest belief that one is legally entitled to the benefit. In this case, the MIAA employees who had no participation in the approval and release of the disallowed benefit accepted the same on the assumption that Resolution No. 2003-067 was issued in the valid exercise of the power vested in the Board of Directors under the MIAA charter. As they were not privy as to reason and motivation of the Board of Directors, they can properly rely on the presumption that the former acted regularly in the performance of their official duties in accepting the subject benefit. Furthermore, their acceptance of the disallowed grant, in the absence of any competent proof of bad faith on their part, will not suffice to render liable for a refund.

The same is not true as far as the Board of Directors. Their authority under Section 8 of the MIAA charter is not absolute as their exercise thereof is "subject to existing laws, rules and regulations" and they cannot deny knowledge of SSS v. COA and the various issuances of the Executive Department prohibiting the grant of the signing bonus. In fact, they are duty-bound to understand and know the law that they are tasked to implement and their unexplained failure to do so barred them from claiming that they were acting in good faith in the performance of their duty. The presumptions of "good faith" or "regular performance of official duty" are disputable and may be contradicted and overcome by other evidence.

Granting that the benefit in question is a CNA Incentive, MIAA Board of Directors has no authority to include its members, the members of the Board Secretariat, ExeCom and other employees not occupying rank-and-file positions in the grant. Indeed, this is an open and contumacious violation of PSLMC Resolution No. 2 and A.O. No. 135, which were unequivocal in stating that only rank-and-file employees are entitled to the CNA Incentive. Given their repeated invocation of these rules to justify the disallowed benefit, they cannot feign ignorance of these rules. That they deliberately ignored provisions of PSLMC Resolution No. 2 and A.O. No. 135 that they failed to observe bolsters the finding of bad faith against them.

The same is true as far as the concerned officers of MIAA are concerned. They cannot approve the release of funds and certify as to the legality of the subject disbursement knowing that it is a signing bonus. Alternatively, if they acted on the belief that the benefit is a CNA Incentive, they were in no position to approve its funding without assuring themselves that the conditions imposed by PSLMC Resolution No. 2 are complied with. They were also not in the position to release payment to the members of the Board of Directors, ExeCom and employees who do not occupy rank-and-file positions considering the express language of PSLMC Resolution No. 2.

Simply put, these individuals cannot honestly claim that they have no knowledge of the illegality of their acts. Thus, this Court finds that a refund of the amount of P30,000.00 received by each of the responsible officers and members of MIAA Board of Directors is in order.

PARTIALLY GRANTED.

Popular Posts