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Corona’s Compensation

(Article published in the Mar 21,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

Last week’s revelation at the Impeachment Trial by the defense team of Renato C. Corona of the amounts he had received in the form of salaries and allowances for the period 09 April 2002 to 31 December 2011 was an eye-opener.  Not so much because of the amounts, total or itemized, which can arguably be defended as reflecting the honour attached to his office; but more due to the way the payments were structured and denominated.   

From where I sit, what appears to be the intent behind the way the payments were classified and named is to set apart the Supreme Court justices into a separate class, and thereby reduce for them the pain of taxation that the rest of us, ordinary mortals, are heirs to.  That the scheme was primarily designed not by law but concocted by the Supreme Court itself adds insult to our injury.

Defense exhibits marked as “Exhibits 114 to 117-A” constitute the certification issued on 08 March 2012 by Araceli C. Bayuga, the Supreme Court’s Chief Judicial Staff Officer of the Cash, Collection and Disbursement Division of the high court’s Fiscal Management and Budget Office (FMBO).  It was duly “noted” by her boss, Corazon G. Ferrer-Flores, Deputy Clerk of Court and chief of FMBO. 










     

“Noted” is bureau-speak for the superior’s official cognizance of a subordinate’s submission of the subject document, and affirms the latter’s existence and execution, but nothing more. The certification was issued purportedly “for whatever purpose it may serve His Honor”, but it was clearly generated for the specific purpose of it being offered as evidence in Corona’s defense. 

The payments came under three headings: (a) Salaries and Other Emoluments; (b) Fringe Benefits and Other Allowances; and (c) Expense Allowance.  Of these three, the least innocuous is the third, i.e. the expense allowance received by Corona only in 2010 and 2011 in the amounts of Php 149,677.42 and Php 240,000.00, respectively, in his capacity as Chairman of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC).  Presumably, the amounts are intended to fund the chief justice’s expenses in ensuring that he, as chair, makes the right evaluation of the qualifications of the aspirants to the judiciary.  How he spent the Php20,000.00 monthly in doing so remains to be seen.

Also arguably passable as “standard” are a few of the items that are included under the first heading, i.e. “Salaries and Other Emoluments”.  In addition to his basic monthly salary, Corona, as a government official, is also paid “longevity pay” which, in accordance with R.A. No. 6758, is for sheer staying power in the service; Personal Equity and Retirement Account (“PERA”) authorized by R.A. No. 9505; the “Additional Compensation or ADCOM which was incorporated in the PERA in 2009; and Representation and Transportation Allowance (RATA), presumably because his job requires him to entertain people and travel around.    Who he entertains and travels with also remains to be seen. 

But from thence, items listed by Bayuga get icky.  Corona is said to have received “Extraordinary and Miscellaneous Expenses” of Php 19,166.67 per month from 2002 to 2006, increased to Php24,333.33 effective 01 January 2009.  One wonders what make expenses  that keeping getting incurred year after year since 2002 “extraordinary”.  Then comes “Montly Special Allowance” that raises the question, what is the difference between “extraordinary” and “special”? Regardless, this payment is to be sourced, as mandated by R.A. No. 9227, from legal fees paid by litigants for their access to the courts.

The “extraordinary” and the “special” items are followed by “Additional Cost of Living Allowance” which is to come from the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF). The JDF was established by Martial Law President Ferdinand E. Marcos through his Presidential Decree No. 1949.  It is sourced also from legal fees paid by litigants who go to court. Under PD 1949, no more than 20% is be spent for the acquisition, repairs and maintenance of court equipment, and at least 80% are to “augment” the allowances of the personnel of the Judiciary.  Why “additional” is needed remains to be seen. 

Then there is a procession of Productivity Incentive Benefit, Clothing Allowance, Year-End Bonus and Cash Gift, Loyalty Cash Award (Milestone Bonus) and two payments from the Presidential Electoral Tribunal as known as Extraordinary & Miscellaneous Expense and Monthly Expense allowance. 

Undoubtedly, some of the payments under “Salaries and Other Emoluments” are, individually considered, de minimis.   For example, the Productivity Incentive Benefit amounts only to Php2,000.00 a month.   Strangely, Corona did not receive that in 2011.  Why?  Because he was not “productive” that year?  Maybe not, became Corona received Productivity Enhancement Benefit, that same year. 

Another de minimis is the Clothing Allowance of just Php 4,000/year.  That is acceptable since, indeed, like the Emperor, the chief justice   needs be clothed.

But two payments, i.e. those from the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, are not de minimis at all.  In the year 2011, Corona received Php192,000.00 for for “Extraordinary and Miscellaneous Expense” and Php156,000.00 as Monthly Expense Allowance.  In any case, the items whether de minimis or not, paid from 2002 to 2011 as “Salaries and Other Emoluments” added up to a whooping Php18,213,932.59. 

“Salaries and Other Emoluments” this is followed by “Fringe Benefits and Other Allowances” where the icky turns to gross.  Payments under this second category include (1) “Emergency Economic Assistance; (2) Anniversary Bonus; (3) Productivity Enhancement Benefit; (4) Christmas Cash Gift; (5) ADDITIONAL Christmas Cash Gift; (6) Year-End Cash Gift; (7) Rice Allowance; and (8) Grocery Allowance.  Also part of this group is ADDITIONAL Fringe Benefit and Supplemental Economic Allowance.  What may I ask justifies all these “ADDITIONAL” benefits?

When all the amounts received by Corona are added up, what becomes very obvious is that his salary constitutes only 27% of all payments to him.  This is anomalous.  The disparity between the way the salaries and allowances received by Renato C. Corona were structured and the way compensation granted to mere mortals is paid out demand carefully scrutiny. 

Specifically, is there a tax evasion angle in Corona’s compensation structure?  Or for that matter, in all of the Supreme Court justices’ compensation scheme?  Are the payment so split-up in various categories to enable the items to go under the tax radar screen? 

The Commissioner of Internal Revenue is thus completely justified in seeking to determine whether or not each and/or all of these payments to the chief justice, and to the other members of the high court for that matter, have been correctly are subjected, if they are indeed subject, to tax.  For this investigation by the BIR Corona of himself and possibly also of his colleagues, Corona has only himself to blame.

     

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