City fiscals backtrack, won’t demand higher allowances

06/04/10 - The Cebu City prosecutors have changed their mind.

They would now wait for the city officials to increase their monthly allowances instead of demanding that it should be at least P30,000, instead of P5,000 to be at par with the monthly stipend received by judges.

“Andam mi maghuwat kon unsa ang action sa City Hall regarding sa allowance. (We are willing to wait for whatever action the City Hall will take on our allowance). We will not ask; we will just wait for the city government to likewise grant our office the same benefit it granted to judges. Ang City Hall dili dawo. (City Hall is not greedy),” said City Prosecutor Nicolas Sellon.

Sellon urged the assistant city prosecutors not to send any letter-request to the city government.

“Did judges demand for their additional allowance? They did not. The city voluntarily gave it to them. We will follow what the judges did. Anyway, the city government knows the actual situation of government employees especially with the present state of the economy,” Sellon said.

Even if the city prosecutors have not taken back their request, outgoing Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña is not about to grant it after seeing the face of Assistant Prosecutor Mary Ann Castro on the front page of CEBU DAILY NEWS yesterday.

“You know the moment I saw the picture of her face there (CDN’s front page yesterday). To me, that’s (an) automatic no,” he told reporters in a press conference yesterday.

Castro, vice president for the Visayas of the Prosecutors League of the Philippines, told CEBU DAILY NEWS on Wednesday that the Cebu City prosecutors would like to appeal to the Cebu City government to grant them the same increases in allowances given to the judges.

“If they use people like that, it’s up to the mayor of course, but as far as I am concerned, I wouldn’t touch her with a 10-foot pole, even if she paid me P30,000 a month. I will not accept,” Osmeña told reporters.

Asked why he singled out Castro, he replied: “Yes, but it shows their side of judgment. It shows their signs of values and they will pick someone like her to represent them. I don’t know. Ako mu-freak out gyud ko. It shows they are undeserving. So I won’t discuss it anymore. Just leave it to the incoming mayor.” He added.

Mayor-elect, Vice Mayor Michael Rama has said his decision would depend if the city could afford to give the allowances to the prosecutors since the city also had other priorities.

“Mary Ann(Castro) being the selected spokesperson(of City Prosecutors’ Office) is fatal to getting my support. No other reason needed,” said Osmeña in a text message.

Sellon said the prosecutors merely manifested their sentiments on the need to get an additional allowance.

“That (assistant prosecutors) was their personal sentiments. But we can't stop them from manifesting such ideas,” he said.

Castro declined to be interviewed yesterday.

“Much as I want to, but there is a gag order. Just ask Sellon,” Castro said.

Sellon admitted he asked the prosecutors not to issue any statement on the allegations since enough had been said.

But he clarified he didn’t issue any gag order. “Sentiments have been published. Those are sufficient already but I can't stop them from issuing further statements.”

Last Wednesday, some assistant city prosecutors have manifested their sentiments to seek an increase of their monthly stipend as provided under Republic Act 10071 or the Prosecution Service Act of 2010 which took effect last May 29.

Castro said they were entitled to receive the same allowances granted to judges by local government units (LGUs).

She cited section 16 of Republic Act 10071 which states that prosecutors “shall have the same qualification for appointment, rank, category, prerogatives, salary grade, and salaries, allowances, and emoluments and other privileges and shall enjoy the same retirement and other benefits” as those of associate justice of the Court of Appeals (CA) and judges—depending on the rank.

All 33 Cebu City prosecutors are receiving a P5,000 monthly stipend from the city government.

They also receive “special” allowances from the Department of Justice (DOJ) which has jurisdiction over them. The amount ranges from P10,000 to P15,000, which is released quaterly.

A prosecutor receives a basic salary ranging from P25,000 to P50,000 depending of their rank and length of service.

Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane said it would be inappropriate for prosecutors to demand an increase in their allowances from the city government or any other local government unit (LGU).

“We do not have the right to demand. We should show that we are worth an increase. Just work,” Gubalane said.

He added they would welcome any increase in allowance but even without an adjustment, the prosecutors would continue serving the public.

Although giving allowances to prosecutors, judges and even teachers by the LGUs was legal, lawyer Michael Yu, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter, such an act would still cause suspicion and affect the integrity of the government body.

“It is better that allowances (from LGUs) should be removed. Local governments should instead focus on basic community services. How many public trucks can be bought for an amount intended for judges' and fiscals' allowances?,” Yu said.

But Yu said he understands the sentiments of judges and prosecutors.

“There is a need for the next administration to restudy the pay scale of government employees. Incoming officials should study if the salary grades of government employees are sufficient for the needs of time. Why would a local government unit give allowances to judges and prosecutors if their salaries are enough,” Yu said.

Yu said giving of allowances to judges and prosecutors will have an effect on the public's perception of independence.

Human rights lawyer Democrito Barcenas, former IBP-Cebu City president, said it is up to the city government if the stipend would be adjusted.

“They (prosecutors) should refuse any allowances from the LGUs. But what can we do? They have meager compensation from the national government,” he added.

Guardo, an opposition stalwart, criticized the city prosecutors for continuing to accept their monthly stipends from the city.

“Whatever decision they make might be construed as impartial especially on lawsuits which the city is involved,” Guardo said.

Guardo had sought the inhibition of the City Prosecutor's office from handling the libel case filed against him by Osmeña on the ground that the fiscals would not be able to render fair judgment due to the monthly allowance they received from the city.

Osmeña filed the libel case against Guardo for accusing City Hall of blocking the delivery of relief goods to barangay Carreta residents recently.

Sellon granted Guardo's request but this was overturned by Gubalane for lack of merit. (Inquirer)

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