Court of Appeals junks DBM challenge over PAO retirees’ benefits

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 01 2018 01:48 AM

The Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected the Department of Budget and Management’s petition questioning the payment of retirement benefits to retired employees of the Public Attorney’s Office, saying the payment was already a done deal. File/Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—The Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected the Department of Budget and Management’s petition questioning the payment of retirement benefits to retired employees of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), saying the payment was already a done deal.

What went before

The case stemmed from the DBM’s refusal to grant 39 retired PAO lawyers the differentials in their retirement benefits amounting to almost P140 million.

The DBM, headed by then Sec. Florencio Abad, said PAO lawyers were not entitled to the increase in benefits under Republic Act No. 10071, or the National Prosecution Service Law (NAPROSS Law), because the law limited its application only to prosecutors.

PAO filed a petition with the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to compel the DBM to pay the retirement differentials, citing an earlier Public Attorney’s Office Law (PAO Law) granting PAO lawyers the same benefits as those given to prosecutors.

The RTC ruled in favor of the PAO retirees, saying that the release of retirement benefits was a ministerial function on the part of the DBM and that the retirees have acquired a vested right over the retirement benefits under the PAO Law.

The DBM’s attempt to appeal the decision was met with several procedural issues. Its motion for reconsideration was denied because it failed to comply with the procedural rule requiring that hearings of motions should be set within 10 days from filing of the motion. Its notice of appeal was also eventually junked by the RTC for having been filed late.

The result was that the RTC decision became final.

The DBM questioned the RTC’s decision and orders before the CA.

CA Ruling

In a 14-page decision dated October 5, 2018, CA Justice Gabriel Robeniol brushed aside all the procedural issues raised by both camps.

But he dismissed DBM’s petition because the actual payment of the benefits to PAO retirees “mooted” the petition.

“Moot” in legal parlance means that the issue in the case no longer matters because subsequent events have rendered any decision without any practical value.

The CA also ruled that since the RTC decision in favor of the PAO retirees had long become final, it can no longer be disturbed.

“The subsequent compliance with the directive therein made through the release and payment of the gratuity differentials of [PAO retirees] rendered the said Decision fully executed,” the Court said.

It also said that there is no longer an actual case for the Court to rule on.

“It has no judicial bearing anymore to [PAO retirees] who no longer stand to benefit or be prejudiced by any ruling this court might hand down,” it explained, noting that it cannot even rule on the propriety of the DBM opinion denying the payment of retirement differentials since it would amount to an advisory opinion.

“Without the requisite actual case or controversy over which the Court may exercise its judicial power, this Court can do nothing further in this case than to dismiss it for want of jurisdiction,” the CA said.

The DBM still has an opportunity to ask the CA to reconsider its decision and to eventually appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.