• High Court snubs House JDF hearing

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    Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno

    Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno

    A clash between the legislative and judiciary looms after the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday snubbed a hearing set by the House on Representatives that aimed to scrutinize the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which some lawmakers tagged as the judiciary’s “pork barrel.”

    Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and Supreme Court justices did not show up at the hearing scheduled weeks ago by the House justice committee.

    Sereno’s decision to skip the hearing riled lawmakers, especially after they read the chief magistrate’s letter invoking judicial independence and lecturing the House that the SC is a co-equal branch of Congress.

    Representatives Niel Tupas of Iloilo, Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite and Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list, all members of the panel, said Sereno should have cooperated with Congress in the review of the JDF.

    “The tone [of her letter]is inappropriate. They always attend whenever there are bills concerning them so I am surprised they did not attend now. We always invite the head of agencies when we hear bills and she is the sole administrator of the JDF. She is the one collecting, allocating and disbursing it. The acts of the legislative and the executive are vested in one person,” Tupas, chairman of the justice panel, said in an interview.

    “There is really a need to review the JDF. They have no reason not to cooperate,” he added.

    Barzaga and Batocabe underscored that the refusal of the Supreme Court to come clean on the use of the JDF is “unfortunate” as they claimed that employees of the judiciary are not aware of how the judiciary spends the fund.

    “The committee hearing on the bills of Rep. [Rodolfo] Fariñas [of Ilocos Norte]and Niel Tupas [of Iloilo]would be a good venue for the Supreme Court to explain its disposition of the JDF. We invite the stakeholders in hearing the bills in compliance with our mandate to hear their side. That is their right to due process. Their absence could be considered as a waiver of their right,” Barzaga said.

    “It seems that the Supreme Court is not bent on helping us in passing this bill,” Batocabe said.

    Barzaga and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. clarified that the JDF bills are not meant to scrap the fund but reform the system.

    But Sereno, in explaining her absence, said her appearance at the committee hearing is “premature” because the House is not the proper venue for such investigation.

    In her letter dated August 4, the Chief Justice told Belmonte and Tupas that the Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of government.

    “As Speaker of the House, you would appreciate my position that asking the head of a co-equal branch of government to provide her ‘views, comments and recommendations’ on the two bills at this stage might be premature and considering the venue at which it is being proposed to be heard, inappropriate,” Sereno said.

    “As an additional matter, I am certain you are also contemplating the policy ramifications of the committee’s request on judicial independence,” she added.

    The Chief Justice said the JDF is “a special purpose fund established in 1984 under Presidential Decree 1949 for the benefit of the members and personnel of the judiciary to help ensure and guarantee the independence of the judiciary as mandated by the Constitution and public policy and required by the impartial administration of justice.”

    “JDF is not discretionary as the law also requires that 80 percent of the fund “shall be used for cost of living allowances” while not more than 20 percent “shall be used for office equipment and facilities of the courts,” she added.

    Sereno’s position was supported by the Commission on Audit (COA).

    COA chief Gracia Pulido-Tan told Tupas that there is no need for the agency to hold a special audit on the P1.7 billion JDF being administered by the SC.

    In a letter to Tupas, Tan said audit reports are furnished the House of Representatives as soon as they are transmitted to the Supreme Court, and are also posted on the COA’s website.

    The House hearing was held to conduct “initial deliberations” on two bills—one designed to “reform the administration” of the JDF and another to create a Judicial Support Fund (JSF).

    No fiscal autonomy
    But Fariñas said the SC cannot invoke fiscal autonomy in refusing to relinquish the Chief Justice’s discretion on the JDF because the JDF is not appropriated by Congress.

    The vice chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said the Constitution, in defining fiscal autonomy, provides that appropriations for the judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year and, after approval, will be automatically and regularly released.

    “The JDF is not included in the GAA as its proceeds do not go to the Treasury but kept and disbursed by the Supreme Court,” Fariñas pointed out, referring to the
    General Appropriations Act or the Budget law.

    The JDF is sourced from docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants, among other sources, to finance the cost of living allowance of court employees (80 percent) and purchase of office equipment and other facilities (20 percent). The JDF disbursement rests solely with the Chief Justice.

    Congress, on other hand, has the sole power of the purse and thus, appropriate funds under the Constitution.

    “They cannot invoke fiscal autonomy here in JDF, and they have said it themselves in their ruling on the DAP wherein they stated that no government money should be paid out without appropriation by Congress,” Fariñas said, referring to the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was recently outlawed by the Supreme Court.

    The DAP is a spending initiative that allowed the executive to realign unused budget of agencies to fund the priority programs of the Aquino administration.

    Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro, a lawyer like Fariñas, noted that the JDF is clearly a judicial pork barrel that should also be discontinued in accordance with the adverse High Court decisions on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel and the DAP.

    “How can they invoke fiscal autonomy on this when the JDF is not even appropriated by Congress? We should not allow the Supreme Court to keep their judicial pork barrel,” Umali said.

    In the end, members of the House justice panel agreed to subpoena the JDF disbursement records from 1999 to the present.

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    9 Comments

    1. The general system in the philippines aside from corruption are gratitude (pay back). When a person (employee, officer and others) receive favor from one in cash or in kind, there’s an automatic actions to consider, to do something beneficial or favorable to the giver. Even in some government offices there’s automatic re-actions to serve you when you are a gift giver. There’s a such similarity in the congress and senate that because most of them receive something in cash from the leader that be. Now they want to show to their benefactor an action to make somewhat retaliation on a shame that the president receive when the SC ruled that PDAF & DAP are unconstitutional. They want the JDF also in revenge. We hope you are not wasting official time in the performance of your duty.

    2. eltee mulawin on

      >>> Wrong timing and hypocrites legislators committee. They always saying “hearing for legislating aid”, but in actual proceeding they are like in a court demonizing and humiliating the person concerned in the public and media.
      If the DAP was declared legal, do they intend to have a hearing and investigate the SC JDF ??? Is the hearing that recently held is not a retaliatory in nature of purpose ??? VERY OBVIOUS !!!!! KAHIT SA MGA BATANG ELEMENTARYA ALAM KUNG BAKIT AT ANO ANG GAGAWIN NINYO..SIMPLE LANG …GAGANTI AT GAGANTI KAYO. MAGNANAKAW KAPAG NASUKOL AT NAHULI, DAIG PA ANG MGA PARE NA PARANG ANGHEL KUNG MAGSALITA. LAHAT NG SASABIHIN PURO PALUSOT..!!!

      >>> Mr. Tupaz, Mr. Farinas and Barzaga…are these losing sucks Representa-thieves had already disclosed to public their SALN? If they will tell it was in the website, then the same thing the SC had also website where they could find whatever they wanted to know. About the money from DAP Funds and PDAF Funds, how much they receive ? What, where, when started and completed, and how much the actual cost of such project, if any?

      >>>Mr. Tupaz, Mr. Farinas and Barzaga….why are you keeping your mouth shuts regarding the Malampaya Funds Scam ???

    3. Dick S. O'Rosary on

      Those lawmakers don’t know what they are talking about. They are claiming that JDF has nothing to do with fiscal autonomy when it is in fact all about fiscal autonomy. JDF does not go to the national treasury precisely so that congress cannot control its disbursement to the Judiciary, so that the Judiciary does not have to go and lobby to Congress for money. They say that there will be no fiscal autonomy implications if they scrap JDF, when there would be implications.

    4. another impeachment proceeding over the horizon, i guess … same actor as before … leading man Tupa(k)s ….. poor RP supreme court toothless against the executive & legislative …. madame sereno should be singing “Its my turn” by now.

    5. Daniel B. Laurente on

      I think congressional hearing for the Supreme Court JDF is not needed. Congress can just request the court and COA to provide the informations on it disbursements attested by the court and COA.
      CJ Sereno knows what will result in the hearing particularly under the Tupas Committee. Everybody knows Tupas during the trial of the former CJ Corona.
      If Atty. Roy has Tupas place MAYBE the the current CJ will be oblige to attend the hearing.

    6. Why is everything so complicated in the philippines. Now 1st of all no one person should have control over such a huge ammount of money, that in itself will lead to corruption, & if you dont understand that then you shouldnt be in an executive position. “nd why isnt the salaries & bonuses & expenses sorted out by government. Shouldnt there be pay scales & if there is then its so simple to budget salaries. It is a regular monthly government expense. A president shouldnt have control over how much is given to the supreme court that would be worked out by a special panel but in line with other salaries. Its really open to abuse right now. & it seems it was given like that to the supreme court chief justice could it be that the president who gave that wanted special consideration from the cj & so gave the cj total control. Remember thats how its always worked in the philippines, you scratch my back & i will scratch your back. No one likes change when they benefit more than they should.

    7. Manny F. Reyes on

      Can’t fault the lady chief justice for refusing the spotlight in a not-so-friendly environment like this one. She could have been more astute by cutting into the chase and urging the congressmen to scrap the JDF because it puts the Judiciary in a compromising position. The judiciary cannot be beholden to any of the other branches for some or all of its benefits or it loses its independence. The justices’ compensation must be fixed by law and limited only to salary, job security and retirement pension. The other financial needs of the judicial system can be requested, provided for and fixed into law via the annual budget or GAA. Hopefully, this will put an end to this drama. We’ll just have to look somewhere else for another national past time.

    8. Our Congress continues to waste our time and money. The President’s pork barrel needs to be eliminated, investigate the gas fund, where did 90 Billion that was saved and then not put into DAP end up? There are many funds that are hidden from view that need to be investigated. We do not need to have JDF investigated. There is a COA report on JDF every year that is reported and visible. Congress stop being the paid stooges of Pnoy. Try to break free and do what is right for the people.

    9. You cannot expect a fair and just deliberation on the JDF. How can you when the people composing the committee are tupas, farinas, barzaga, etc.? These are known palace lackeys. When CJ Sereno did not attend, the palace reacted as if they were the one involved in the committee.