STRESSING that an independent judiciary is the key that safeguards the people’s rights against the heavy hand of the State, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Sunday defended the Supreme Court’s stand to independently disburse and manage the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF).
The CBCP issued the official statement amid widening calls by Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, to probe the alleged misuse of the JDF by the high court.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and CBCP President Socrates Villegas said the government should respect the judiciary, since it does not have the means to defend itself.
He noted that the courtesies due to all heads of different branches of the Philippine government should be maintained at all times, and that the independence of the judiciary should also be preserved.
“We stand with the judiciary in its struggle to maintain its independence,” he said.
The prelate noted that observing independence in all branches of the government “is not only the letter of the Constitution,” but “it is the spirit as well.”
“The judiciary is a protective institution that is assailed when justices and judges are needlessly threatened with removal from office, when politicians are displeased by their decisions or did not consider the positions they take” Villegas pointed out.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and representatives of the SC opted not to attend a hearing of the House of Representatives over the alleged misuse of the JDF.
In a three-page letter sent to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Sereno said that apart from the House inquiry being premature and inappropriate, she also wanted to consult first the SC en banc about the matter.
Villegas, on the other hand defended the magistrates, saying that “the JDF, which was generated from docket fees and other sources, has, by law, been placed within the administrative control of the Chief Justice.”
“Let it be so. This is not to say that the fund can be used in whatever manner the Chief Justice or the Supreme Court may be pleased to use it. The Constitution has so wisely provided for a system by which all government offices, the judiciary included, are subject to audit,” he noted.
“But we consider it repugnant to the very idea of the autonomy that the judiciary should enjoy, for the Chief Justice to be asked to account to a congressional committee for the use of the funds,” the prelate stressed.
“Yes, the chief justice owes it to the people to give an accounting of the use of the funds, but through the office tasked by the Constitution to conduct such an audit,” he added.
He pointed out that the CBCP is standing with the high court in its battle in maintaining their independence.
“We stand with our legislators in so far as they endeavor to revisit the expenditure of public funds and as they take the moral high-ground of setting aside self-interest, by rejecting any scheme or device by which they gain access once more to funds, in ways already held in contravention of the fundamental law of the land,” he clarified.