COA the courageous

HOW much do taxpayers pay officials for their services in government? Except for general and lump figures provided in budget documents and relevant laws, little had been known about how much, say, a Supreme Court justice or a government corporation chief receive in benefits in a year.

It was not until the Commission on Audit (COA), the country’s supreme audit institution, came out with annual reports of senior officials’ salary and allowances. COA has actually been producing the report for nearly two decades now, but it seems that the document has only recently been given due notice.

COA chairperson Ma. Gracia M. Pulido-Tan tells PCIJ that the exercise is essentially all about transparency. “It is all about making the people know, making them aware that this is what your officials are getting,” she says. “And especially because this is the people’s money.”

Pulido-Tan adds that the report can also serve as a benchmark for government agencies so that they will be encouraged to use their money prudently.

COA’s latest Report on Salaries and Allowances or the 2011 ROSA covers 6,489 officials from 864 government offices. The officials are principal officers and members of governing boards of government-owned and/or -controlled corporations (GOCC) and their subsidiaries, secretaries, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries, and other officials of equivalent rank of national government agencies (NGA).

The 822-page report provides two major sets of information: one, a list of salary and allowances of officials arranged by agency or office, by rank, and by alphabetical order; and two, a breakdown of salaries and allowances per official.

To complete the report, field auditors from various government agencies submitted data on seven major items, namely: basic salary; personnel economic relief allowance/additional compensation; allowances; bonus, incentives and benefits; extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses; and other allowances. (Data from 37 government agencies and instrumentalities — 17 GOCCs, two water districts, and 18 NGAs — were not included in the report because the needed information were not submitted by the Aug. 14, 2012 deadline.)

Pulido-Tan points out key differences between salaries and allowances, which in the higher levels of government apparently can be quite substantial.

She explains that the salary or basic pay that officials and employees receive are set or fixed in the Salary Standardization Law. For instance, all cabinet secretaries whose position corresponds to Salary Grade 31, are paid by the same rate. She allows though that automatic salary adjustments can occur at a certain point in time, as provided again by the same law.

The total amounts assigned to officials of the same position differ due to other items such as allowances and bonuses. Pulido-Tan says allowances and bonuses are also prescribed by certain laws, but the release of such depends largely on the agency or office. Sometimes, she says, it also depends on the amount an agency is able to save from its budget. Too, an official’s salary and allowances may further increase if he or she holds various other positions in government other than his or her primary job.

The COA report states that “Allowances” may include those for clothing/uniform, communication or cell-phone, cost of living, economic relief allowance, educational assistance, medical matters, per diem, representation and transportation, subsistence, laundry and quarters, along with many others.

But Pulido-Tan takes care to note that certain allowances are not considered as income because these are spent in the performance of an officer’s duty. Among these would be the representation and transportation allowance or RATA.

“Bonus, Incentives and Benefits,” meanwhile, may refer to 13th month pay, additional benefits, bonus and cash gifts, cash gift, chairman incentive bonus, fringe benefit, mid-year bonus, milestone bonus, monetary incentive, non-revenue water reduction incentive, officers’ performance bonus, traditional year-end bonus, year-end bonus differential, year-end Christmas benefits, year-end performance incentive, anniversary bonus, birthday gift, Christmas bonus, car benefits, collective negotiation agreement incentive, honorarium, medical benefits, performance award, personnel welfare assistance, other incentives, pay and assistance, and other personnel benefits.

To understand the data in the ROSA further, the PCIJ copied the information on the COA’s list and converted it into open-data format to allow sorting. Using this dataset, the PCIJ was able review the top 2,738 officials (out of 6,489) who all earned P500,000 and above in salaries and allowances in 2011.

Yet while COA lists “Renato B. Padilla” as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, PCIJ research found no records of such as an official of the CA. PCIJ also reclassified five officers who were initially tagged as “CA” officers, because they are actually officers of the Commission on Appointments.

In any case, PCIJ found out that senior officials working in 15 GOCCs, two judiciary offices, and three agencies had the highest salaries and allowances on average in 2011.

PCIJ’s computation shows that senior officers at the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) received an average of P6.2 million, P4.8 million, P4.0 million, and P3.7 million, respectively in 2011. (See Table 1)

Meanwhile, 15 Supreme Court justices got an average of P3.5 million each in 2011 while 71 officers of the Court of Appeals earned P1.98 million each. No cabinet office, meanwhile, landed on the top 20.

Nearly all the Aquino Cabinet secretaries are receiving only P1.34 million to P2.9 million each in salary and allowances. Almost all of them also do not collect honoraria, bonuses, and other allowances from the boards of government corporations and agencies in which they sit as directors or chairpersons, based on the ROSA.

Pulido-Tan observes some ironies in the current compensation scheme. For instance, while Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima received P1.75 million in salary and allowances in 2011, some of the senior officials at the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) — over which he exercises oversight and supervision — earned more.

Pulido-Tan says that cabinet officials like Purisima are bound by the Salary Standardization Law, while GOCCs like the PDIC and LBP follow their own charter. “That’s how the law applies,” she says. “And that’s why you have all these disparities there.”

Offices that enjoy fiscal autonomy like the judiciary, Office of the Ombudsman, and constitutional commissions like the COA, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections, and the Commission on Human Rights are also covered by the Salary Standardization Law, but they enjoy more flexibility in using their respective budgets, as prescribed by the 1987 Constitution and other relevant laws. With additional research by Rowena Caronan, Rosemarie Corpin, Charmaine Manay, Kia Obang, and Kristian Ibarrola, PCIJ, December 2012

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