SC voids cut in benefits of health workers
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - August 23, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has struck down government policies that lowered benefits of public health workers.

In a 19-page decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, the high court voided key provisions in the joint circulars issued by tbe Department of Health (DOH), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) for violating Republic Act 7305 (Magna Carta of Public Health Workers).

Specifically voided were provisions of DBM-DOH Joint Circular dated Nov. 29, 2012 and DBM-CSC Joint Circular issued on Sept. 3, 2012.

The SC granted the petition of officers and members of the Philippine Public Health Association Inc. (PPHAI).

The high court held that the DBM-DOH circular violated the law “insofar as it lowers hazard pay at rates below the minimum” prescribed under the RA 7305.

Section 21 of the law and Section 7.1.5 (a) of its revised implementing rules and regulations provide that public health workers (PHWS) shall be compensated hazard allowances equivalent to at least 25 percent of the monthly basic salary of health workers receiving salary grade 19 and below, and five percent for health workers with salary grade 20 and above.

Such benefits may be granted on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. 

The SC agreed with petitioners that the DBM-DOH circular should be voided as it made the hazard pay dependent on the actual days of exposure to the risk involved. 

“Thus, the rates embodied in Section 7.2 of DBM-DOH Joint Circular must be struck down as invalid for being contrary to the mandate of RA No. 7305 and its Revised IRR (implementing rules and regulations),” it explained.

Despite these findings, the SC did not declare the circular void in full. It upheld the validity of the DBM-DOH circular as to the qualification of actual exposure to danger for the PHWs’ entitlement to hazard pay, the rates of P50 and P25 subsistence allowance, and the entitlement to longevity pay on the basis of the workers’ status in the plantilla.

The high tribunal ruled that the DOH-CSC circular, on the other hand, was “unenforceable” insofar as it provides that an official or employee authorized to be granted longevity pay under an existing law is not eligible for the grant of a one-step increment due to length of service. 

The SC stressed that RA 7305 and its RIRR clearly do not impose a condition on the grant of longevity pay to PHWs.

“As such, the DBM-CSC Joint Circular effectively created a new imposition which was not otherwise stipulated in the law it sought to interpret,” the Court ruled. 

In their petition, the PPHAI argued that respondents DOH, DBM and CSC acted with grave abuse of discretion when they issued the assailed circulars which prescribe certain requirements on the grant of benefits that are not otherwise required by RA 7305. 

Nine other magistrates concurred in the ruling: Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama, Jose Portugal Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen dissented while Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza took no part in the voting due to his previous role as solicitor general. 

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo and Bienvenido Reyes were on leave when the case was promulgated.

ACIRC ARTURO BRION ASSOCIATE JUSTICE DIOSDADO PERALTA ASSOCIATE JUSTICE FRANCIS JARDELEZA ASSOCIATE JUSTICE MARIANO ASSOCIATE JUSTICE MARVIC LEONEN CIRCULAR DBM DOH JOINT CIRCULAR NBSP
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