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OSG: No basis for COA’s finding on ‘excessive honoraria, allowances’

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Friday said the Commission on Audit's (COA) finding that chief government lawyer Jose Calida and 15 other OSG officials received "excessive allowances and honoraria" has no basis.

Reiterating the OSG's argument before the COA that was included in the 2017 audit report, a statement from agency spokesperson Hector Calilung said the COA relied upon a circular that limits an OSG lawyer to receiving honoraria and allowances to 50 percent of his or her salary.

The statement said this circular, No. 85-25-E, cannot prevail over laws, such as Republic Act No. 9417, or the law strengthening the OSG, which states that OSG lawyers may receive honoraria and allowances without a cap to the amount.

"There is therefore no basis for the reported COA finding of alleged payment of “excessive honoraria and allowances," it said.

The statement comes on the heels of the publication of a COA report finding that Calida got more than P7.46 million in excess allowances last year. This amount is said to cover 70 percent of the P10.77 million in honoraria given to 15 OSG officials for their legal services.

Calida, who earns P1.827 million annually, was reported to have received P8.376 million in honoraria and allowances last year. Given his salary, he was only provided under the circular a maximum allowable allowance of P913,950.

State auditors had flagged Calida over the same issue in 2016.

"It is a settled rule that an administrative circular cannot amend or repeal a provision of law. Moreover, COA Circular No. 85-25-E was issued on April 25, 1985. R.A. No. 9417, which does not limit the authority  the agencies to pay OSG lawyers for their services, was passed on March 30, 2007," the OSG statement said.

"The client agencies of the OSG executed contracts for the payment of OSG allowances. COA certainly cannot render these contracts ineffective by a mere administrative circular. To allow COA Circular No. 85-25-E to prevail would violate the constitutional prohibition against impairment of contracts," it added.

The statement also said there is no final ruling yet on the OSG's appeal on the disallowances caused by the "unlawful implementation" of the COA circular. —Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas/KBK, GMA News