Kulea’s precedent


By Cha Monforte

july 21

The petition for declaratory relief and mandamus against the Davao del Norte provincial board is another precedent-setting case which, if the court rules favorably to the complainants, could certainly trigger a nationwide petition for the back-claims of the cost of living allowance (COLA) for local government employees who were already employed during the contended five-year period of July 1, 1989 to May 3, 2004.

Even as the Regional Trial Court-Branch 31 Judge Danilo Belo has still to rule on the petition that seeks to compel the current provincial board to reverse its own legislative fiat that effectively blocked the release of the contended COLA, at this onset it is to the credit to the of the Kapalong United Employees Association (Kulea), the town local sanggunian and officialdom led by Mayor Edgardo Timbol that they continuously question legal matters that have national implications and which could potentially shake the ivory towers of national agencies.

Kulea was first challenged when the provincial board thumbed down its P1.8 million back claim by a unilateral assertion anchored on one contentious Department of Budget and Management Circular No. 2001-03 which the legislative body invoked that what the COLA Kulea wanted was already integrated in the standardized salary rates and thus its release had to be disallowed. The association or the town for this matter was pained and crying justice for what it has seen to be the true, and so it haled the province to court.

Kulea said otherwise that the Kapalong employees are entitled to be paid of the COLA from July 1, 1989 up to May 3, 2004 asserting that it was not so clear in this period that the COLA was particularly specified and integrated based on various pertinent DBM circulars and contravening Supreme Court rulings. The association further boasts of the favorable local court ruling on the same issue secured by Bislig employees against their city government. There was such legal limbo even in ensuing DBM circulars, and fortiori argumentum as in the Bislig case. Like the Bisliganon employees, the Kapalong employees can have a slice of the cake, too.

If Judge Belo rules favorably to Kulea, the province is expected to appeal on question of law, which is well within the domain of the Supreme Court. Or Kulea itself goes to the latter in case of a contrary ruling.

On the other hand, it is also inquisitive and critical act of the Davnor’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan when it dared not confirm completely Kapalong’s supplemental budget by slicing off the COLA back-claim provision. In this case it empowered itself: that the provincial board is not limited in its legal review powers over municipal legislations. In that, Davnor’s  SP rose up while Comval SP, nay its “majority” voluntarily disempowered itself very recently in giving acquiescence to the narrow reasoning of its finance committee chair Boardmember Atty. Ruwel Peter Gonzaga, who advanced that the SP has “limited legal review powers to question the wisdom” of Nabunturan flotation. What hell or heaven of wisdom you could take from this evidently exorbitant and expensive P90-million Nabunturan bond flotation pushed by a last-termer mayor?

Still, Davnor’s COLA protagonists are giving further clarity and rest to a national issue when it is being debated right at our own backyard. When they try to define whether grey areas of law belong either to black or white, both are actually giving due service to their province and to all other local government employees throughout the country on this COLA matter.(For online edition, visit my blog at: https://cha4t.wordpress.com)

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