Lawmakers file proposed measure in House
SINCE the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are unconstitutional, the judiciary’s own “pork barrel” should also be abolished, some lawmakers said in a proposed bill on Wednesday.
Invoking the power of the purse vested in them by the Constitution, the lawmakers backed a bid to abolish the P1.7 billion annual Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and wrest control of appropriating the fund from the judicial branch.
The support from Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite and Rep. Silvestre Bello of 1-BAP party-list, all lawyers, came a day after their colleagues Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo and Rodolfo Farinas of Ilocos Norte filed their respective bills in the House of Representatives seeking to repeal the JDF law.
The lawmakers argued that in accordance with the SC’s declaration of the DAP and PDAF discretionary funds as illegal, the JDF should also be outlawed on the basis of its being discretionary —the Chief Justice has the exclusive power and duty to approve and authorize JDF disbursements and expenditures.
“It is about time that we repeal the JDF Law. It is only the Supreme Court, among all other departments, that enjoys the benefit of a special purpose fund. The legislature, which is the constitutional holder of the purse string, cannot even look into it with the Supreme Court invoking fiscal autonomy,” Aggabao, the House Deputy Speaker from the Nationalist People’s Coalition, said in a text message.
The JDF was created through Presidential Decree 1949. The fund comes from docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants and is supposed to be used to finance the cost of living allowance of court employees (80 percent) and purchase of office equipment and other facilities (20 percent).
Under Tupas’ and Fariñas’ proposals, all fees and collections constituting the JDF will be immediately and regularly remitted by the Supreme Court to the National Treasury and that no allocation, disbursement or expenditure of the JDF will be paid out, except pursuant to an appropriation by Congress as part of the budget of the judiciary, as provided for in the General Appropriations Act.
“The clarion call of the people now is accountability and transparency. It would be desirable that all funds collected from the people are placed in the general fund, to be disposed [of]in the manner that Congress may see fit,” said Aggabao, who is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
Barzaga, executive vice president of the National Unity Party that is allied with the Aquino administration, bolstered Aggabao’s argument by stressing that even judges of the Regional Trial Court and Metropolitan Trial Court do not know what portion of their allowances and/or salaries comes from the JDF.
“The spokesman of the Supreme Court merely stated that the public can view it on the Supreme Court website, but all you will see [there]are merely lump sum figures without detailed specifications regarding their disbursement. Should the Supreme Court still refuse to heed the call, Congress would be exercising the powers granted to it by the Constitution such as amendment, modification or even repeal of the law if warranted,” Barzaga said.
“The people need to know how their money is spent. The JDF is people’s money.
Hence, the Supreme Court must account for its use. It’s about time Congress asserted its power of the purse,” Bello, who served as Justice secretary during the administration of then-President Gloria Arroyo, said.
Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, expressed serious concern over the Commission on Audit’s (COA) move questioning the High Court’s use of its savings, saying it could be part of Malacanang’s retaliation for the SC’s decision declaring DAP unconstitutional.
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said the timing of the issuance of COA’s statement questioning the SC savings is suspicious, considering that it was done on the same day that President Benigno Aquino 3rd delivered his speech defending the acceleration program.
“It is very obvious. The timing is so bad,” Ejercito said, referring to the release of a COA report questioning the tribunal’s handling of its P3.19 billion savings in 2012.
He welcomed the ruling that declared DAP unconstitutional, saying that although the controversial disbursement program is different from PDAF, both violated the Constitution.
“It is unfortunate that President Aquino is now challenging the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision against DAP,” the opposition senator added.
He said it would have been better if the President showed respect to the SC decision.
The lawmaker is worried that the COA’s move may be part of an attempt to pressure the SC and force it to reverse its decision on the controversial program.
Sen. Nancy Binay said the audit agency’s action could be perceived as Malacanang’s way of getting back at the SC justices.
“I hope this is not in retaliation for the DAP decision because if that is the case, the move can be seen as petty and vindictive,” Binay added in a statement.
The senator expressed hope that the DAP controversy will not lead to a feud between the executive and the judiciary because it would be counter-productive.
Binay said the government should accept the High Court’s ruling on the acceleration program and focus on resolving problems such as the dwindling power supply, rising prices of goods, lack of jobs, chronic poverty and worsening peace and order.