Return meal allowance, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System execs, staff told

OFFICIALS and employees of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Corporate Office (MWSS-CO) were ordered by the Commission on Audit (CoA) to return to the government their 2012 and 2013 meal allowance worth P8,173,730.

The CoA Commission Proper denied the petition for review that MWSS-CO filed to lift the four notices of disallowance (NDs) issued on June 30, 2014 due to default.

In a recent three-page ruling where CoA chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose A. Fabia and Roland C. Pondoc pointed out that petitioners failed to submit their appeal within the reglementary period.

It said that petitioners have only 180 days to appeal, explaining that the petition was submitted only after 362 days from the receipt of the notices of disallowance.

“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,” the ruling said.

The petitioners were former MWSS administrator Gerardo A.I. Esquivel, former senior deputy admnistrator Nathaniel C. Santos, deputy administrators Zoilo L. Andin Jr. and Leonor C. Cleaofas, Legal Services Department manager Darlina T. Uy, 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 petitioners were reminded that when a party sleeps on his rights and allows laches to set in, the law admits a presumption that the same party has “abandoned or declined to assert” such right.

“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,” it said.

Invoking the Supreme Court (SC) 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 Republic Act (RA) No. 6758 or the Salary Standardization Law.

The said law provided that all allowances and fringe benefits on top of the basic salary are already deemed integrated into standardized salary rates. While additional compensation may be allowed, this was made conditional on the issuance of prior approval by the Office of the President.

CoA likewise noted that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) excluded 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.

“Given the DBM statements in the COBs as well as prior NDs on other benefits, the MWSS officials and employees cannot claim good faith as they have already been made aware of the limits of the authority of the MWSS officials to grant additional compensation, including meal allowance,” the order said.