De Lima says GSIS can devise scheme to facilitate benefits of NPC workers

November 26, 2011 12:59 am 

MANILA, Nov. 25 – The Department of Justice (DOJ) said that the state pension fund Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) can properly devise a scheme that will facilitate either the refund of separate benefits under the Electric Power Reform Industry Act (EPIRA) law for the continuation of retirement benefits of its employees under GSIS Act, or the reimbursement or collection of separation benefits under the GSIS Act.

Earlier, GSIS said that it could not restore the monthly pensions of National Power Corp. (NPC) retirees as it would violate a Supreme Court (SC) ruling in 2009.

However, in an eight-page legal opinion, DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima gave hopes for the 9,000 NPC retirees, who have been legally battling for their benefits and separation package.

”It is well-settled doctrine that if doubts exist between the evidence presented by the employer and the employee, the scales of the justice must be tilted in favor of the employee,” De Lima said.

”Doubts reasonably arising from the evidence or in the interpretation of agreements and writings should be resolved in the former’s favor,” she said.

De Lima’s legal opinion came out due to the request of the NPC and GSIS asking her to render legal opinion on the matter.

De Lima said that the policy is to extend the applicability to a greater number of employees who can avail benefits under the law, which is in consonance with the avowed policy of the state to give maximum aid and protection to labor.

”It is our opinion that even at this late period of time, NPC employees could be made to choose which benefit or option to avail themselves, either separation package under EPIRA law or retirement benefits under the existing law, rules or regulations,” De Lima’s legal opinion said.

Otherwise, De Lima said, “NPC employees who received separation benefits under EPIRA law may still be allowed to refund the said separation benefits in order to receive full retirement benefits under GSIS Act, should he/she opt to do so.”

”Should the employee decide to avail of the retirement benefits under the existing laws, he/she must, however refund the separation plan he received under the EPIRA law,” De Lima said.

The state pension fund cited the Revised GSIS Act of 1997, which clearly stated the exclusiveness of benefits.

”Whenever other laws provide similar benefits for the same contingencies covered by this Act, the member who qualifies to the benefits shall have the option to choose which benefits will be paid to him. However, if the benefits provided by the law chosen are less than the benefits provided under this Act, the GSIS shall pay only the difference,” the provision of the GSIS Act of 1997 said.

The DOJ opinion said “the employees admittedly could hardly be faulted for receiving the separation package at the time the EPIRA law was implemented.”

”They were not informed of the option to choose, neither were they informed of the consequences of choosing one option. At the time of their retirement, they were all simply granted separation package under EPIRA law,” the opinion said.

Thus, De Lima said, “they cannot be prejudiced by the same. Their right to receive their monthly pension from the government (instead of the separation benefits they have received) cannot be jeopardized by a new interpretation of the law.” (PNA) RMA/PTR/utb

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