Court employees in Metro Manila and in the provinces wore black and red shirts on Monday to protest against the “attacks” by President Benigno Aquino 3rd on the Supreme Court after it struck down the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) for being unconstitutional.
The Judiciary Employees Association (Judea) also denounced moves to abolish the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which some lawmakers called was the judiciary’s “pork barrel.”
The court employees said such moves can be considered as attack on judicial independence and the Constitution.
Employees of the Supreme Court (SC) joined the “Black Monday” protest.
“To take away the JDF is to take away the legitimate benefits from the more than 30,000 employees of the SC, Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals and the trial courts. We beg to disagree with President Aquino, JDF is not the same as the President’s Disbursement Acceleration Program. Eighty percent of the JDF are allotted for the employees’ benefits. Just like the rest of the government employees, court employees augment their meager pay with these benefits,” a statement issued by Judea said.
The Judiciary Employees Association of the Philippines (JEAP) said instead of bullying the judiciary, the President should disclose to the public how P100 billion in DAP funds was spent.
“The President and his henchmen responsible for the DAP should instead account for DAP [funds]. The people, including the government employees, deserve to know how [the funds were]spent, what projects [were funded]and who benefited from the projects, lay down the supporting documents and present the actual result of expenditures,” JEAP vice president Maurino Aguilar said.
“JDF is not pork barrel. There is monthly accounting on where the fund goes. We are a government of laws, not of men,” Amiel de Vera, president of the Court of Appeals Employees Association, said.
Several lawmakers last week said since the High Court has ruled that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the DAP are unconstitutional, the JDF should also be abolished because it is “discretionary.”
Representatives 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 measures were supported by Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite and Rep. Silvestre Bello of 1-BAP party-list.
The lawmakers said 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 said.
But Malacanang distanced itself from proposals to abolish the JDF, saying it had nothing to do with such moves.
Its allies in Congress, however, have actively pushed for the repeal of Presidential Decree (PD) 1949 or the law creating the JDF. They also called on the Commission on Audit to conduct a special audit of the JDF.
Under PD 1949, the exclusive power and duty to approve and authorize disbursements and expenditures of the JDF is vested in the Chief Justice. In that sense alone, the JDF is considered discretionary funds in nature, since it is administered by a particular public official and disbursed for public purposes.
The court employees said they will continue with their silent protest on July 28, when Aquino will deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona).
The JDF Law mandates, “The fund shall be used to augment the allowances of the members and personnel of the judiciary and to finance acquisition, maintenance and repair of office equipment and facilities, provided that at least 80 percent of the fund shall be used for cost of living allowances, and not more than 20 percent of the said fund shall be used for office equipment and facilities of the courts located wherever the legal fees are collected.”
The fund comes from docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants.