Council close to agreement on controversial issue?:

Virac SB to pay P1.6-M in back wages to ‘stranded’ councilor

Five months after the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Regional Office No. V ruled in favor of former Councilor Ephraim Antonio Gianan, the Sangguniang Bayan of Virac is close to agreement on the restoration and payment of the “stranded” councilor’s salaries and leave credits amounting to over P1.6 million.

According to a source privy to the council’s discussions on the issue, most of the councilors are reportedly not keen on passing a resolution authorizing the payment as they were not members of the SB at the time the obligation to Gianan was incurred.

The SB presiding officer, Vice Mayor Arlynn Arcilla, is reportedly at odds with Mayor Samuel Laynes on the issue as she wanted the latter to execute the CSC ROV order.

Mayor Laynes has told the vice mayor that he will exercise extreme caution in disbursing public funds until the judgment becomes final and executory or until authorized by the SB.

He stated that despite the CSC ROV’s denial of the SB resolution requesting an extension of the filing of the motion for reconsideration, prudence dictates that the SB should exhaust all administrative and judicial remedies under the law to question the decision, which necessarily includes appealing the decision to a higher court or tribunal and/or filing an appropriate administrative case against Gianan.

“Being the incumbent Local Chief Executive, with no personal knowledge of the prior administration’s course of action against Councilor Gianan’s claim, prudence and caution dictates that I should be more circumspect in disbursing public funds, more so where the claim for salary and other emoluments involves a large amount which could adversely affect the programs, projects and financial standing of the LGU,” he declared.

A private lawyer, Atty. John Russel Briones, has told the mayor in a letter that the LGU has three options: restore the leave credits and pay the salaries of Gianan, considering that the CSC decision is already executory, based on a resolution of the SB allowing such payment; file a motion for reconsideration on the CSC ROV Order denying the Motion for Reconsideration; and 3) file a separate administrative casefor Gross Neglect of Duty against Gianan before the CSC ROV and/or the Office of the Ombudsman and recover what may have been paid to him and to determine accessory penalty which may include disqualification from holding public office.

On Oct. 14, 2022, more than two months after the decision was rendered in his favor, Gianan filed a petition before the SB for the execution of the CSC order.

He reminded the council that any further delay using the authority of the Vice Mayor’s office and majority pf the council members would amount to abuse of authority.

Six days later, Vice Mayor Arcilla earlier informed Gianan that she shall be endorsing to the local sanggunian on the next regular session for the approval of the authority for such payment as ordered by the CSC.

Pending the passage of the resolution, which is not supported by the new SB members, it would likely take some time, or a court case to be filed by the former councilor, to resolve the impasse.

It may be recalled that in August 2021, Gianan filed an appeal with the CSC after the vice mayor denied his request for the restoration of his back salaries that were withheld since October 2020 and leave credits which were deducted during the COVID-19 pandemic as he was declared on leave of absence without pay.

Arcilla reportedly cited the SB members’ decision not to amend the internal rules that would allow online platforms for any member caught outside his jurisdiction to join the sessions or work from home during the pandemic lockdowns.

She cited Gianan’s failure to return to work from June 2020 following the resumption of travel to and from the province as ground for the deductions from his leave credits.

Gianan only submitted online airline bookings as proof of his intention to return and did not submit any certification as to his health status at the time.

In considering only the issue of how Gianan’s absences should be treated, the CSC said that Gianan’s stranding in the National Capital Region and faced the challenge of returning to Virac, even when the travel restrictions ceased, due to repeated flight cancellations and his medical condition which was supported by a letter from a Dr. Isagani Rodriguez on his existing illnesses.

All the foregoing circumstances fall under Item 3.1 of CSC Memorandum Circular No. 23, s. 2020 and are thus treated as excused absences, the CSC stated.

In granting the appeal, CSC Director IV Atty, Daisy Punzalan Bragais ruled that the leave credits deducted against Gianan’s accumulated leave credits for those applied after March 16, 2020 and before February 14, 2022 be restored and the former councilor be paid of his salaries covering those when he was declared to have been on leave of absence without pay.

In his final demand letter dated Nov. 24, 2022, Gianan told Vice Mayor Arcilla that delaying the fulfilment of the CSC decision would only aggravate things.

“From the information I gathered, the amount to be given to me has been budgeted and is ready for your approval and signature on the check,” he said.

Appealing to the SB presiding officer’s sense of fair play, the former councilor stressed that in using her position and that of the council, she as well as the members of the council might be affected.

He said abuse of authority on two counts, misappropriation of funds and threat to the life of a senior citizen during the pandemic carry very serious consequences.

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