The Supreme Court cannot forever dodge a congressional inquiry on the use of its Judicial Development Fund (JDF), the Palace warned on Saturday.
Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte made the statement three days after Supreme Court Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva refused to answer queries on the JDF, citing a letter from Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno that the High Court will stay mum on the issue since Malacañang’s motion for reconsideration on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is still pending.
The JDF is sourced from the docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants, among other sources. It should finance the cost of living allowance of court employees (80 percent) and purchase of office equipment and other facilities (20 percent). Its disbursement is solely dependent on the Chief Justice.
“The Chief Justice already made her position, and we respect that, but we can’t avoid the questions on the JDF, especially that this is the budget season. When we go to Congress to defend our proposed budget, we don’t only get asked on our budget, but also on issues dealt by the agency, especially if it concerns public funds,” Valte said in an interview on Radyo ng Bayan.
During the hearing on the proposed P20 billion budget for the Judiciary, Villanueva did not disclose anything about the JDF or the Judiciary’s savings even when he was asked by the lawmakers.
Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, said he was not convinced of the merits of the proposed budget for the Judiciary without details on the JDF, savings and the funding for the Special Allowance for Judges.
“Well, if you include that [JDF], it [Judiciary’s budget] could reach P28 billion already. They should show us how much really is the budget of the Supreme Court,” he said.
“This JDF is not good. The guidelines are vague because it says that not less than 80 percent shall go to allowances and not more than 20 percent shall go to office equipment and supplies. What if the Chief Justice decides to spend 99.99 percent for allowances because the JDF law says it should not be less than 80 percent? Can you do anything about it?” the lawmaker added.
“She is given much leeway. If she is hot-headed for a certain day and she decides she don’t want to spend the JDF, what can you do about it? Is that fiscal autonomy.”