THE President’s allies in the House of Representatives immediately moved to carry out the threat against the Supreme Court that he delivered on Monday evening.
Two prominent Aquino allies have filed bills seeking the repeal of the Judiciary Development Fund law that grants the High Court a substantial budget of almost P2 billion to allow the justices, acting through the Chief Justice, to be financially independent of the Executive Branch. The fund is for the improvements in the Judicial Branch such as the salaries of employees, the supply and repair of facilities and such things.
The President ended his speech on Monday with these well-chosen menacing words: “My message to the Supreme Court: We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head, needing a third branch to step in to intervene. We find it difficult to understand your decision. You had done something similar in the past, and you tried to do it again; there are even those of the opinion that what you attempted to commit was graver, if we were to base it on your decision. Abiding by the principle of “presumption of regularity,” we assumed that you did the right thing; after all, you are the ones who should ostensibly have a better understanding of the law. And now, when we use the same mechanism—which, you yourselves have admitted, benefit our countrymen—why is it then that we are wrong?”
These words, together with those asking the Justices to reconsider their decision against the DAP, simply mean that if the Magistrates do not favor the motion for reconsideration, the President’s allies in Congress would punish them. The ultimate punishment, which only Congress has the power to inflict, is impeachment, with the House filing the charges and the Senate accepting these and deciding, after a trial, to convict. Meanwhile, the abolition of the JDF can be a reinforcement of the President’s message.
A Marcos Presidential Decree created the JDF. The fund comes from docket and other legal fees paid to the courts by parties in litigation.
Congressmen Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo and Rodolfo Farinas of Ilocos Norte filed separate bills for the repeal the JDF law. Passage of the bills makes all court fees and collections that get pooled into the JDF part of the National Treasury, to whom the Supreme Court must immediately and regularly remit the money. Then no allocation, disbursement or expenditure of any amount from the JDF will be paid unless covered by an appropriation as part of the budget for the Judiciary and spelled out in the annual General Appropriations Act passed by Congress.
Yesterday, three other congressmen, all lawyers–known to be leaders of blocs in the House, Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite and Rep. Silvestre Bello of 1-BAP party-list–manifested their support for the Tupas and Fariñas bills.
The congressmen’s thinking is that if, according to the SC justices, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are illegal because these are discretionary, then the P1.7 billion annual JDF—which some call the Judiciary’s “pork barrel”—should also be seen as illegal and therefore be abolished. The Chief Justice alone has the duty and power and duty to approve and authorize JDF disbursements and expenditures of the JDF.
We hope and pray that the Supremes uphold their admirable unity in being solidly behind the decision to declare the DAP unconstitutional and illegal.
And we also hope and pray that the people, many of whom have withdrawn their support for the Aquino administration, as manifested in the latest SWS and Pulse Asia surveys (albeit conducted before the High Court’s DAP ruling against President Aquino and Secretary Abad), will back the Supremes.