• Lawmakers rule out pork, DAP retaliation

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    Ill motives or retaliatory moves on the part of Congress will have no room when it begins hearing today measures seeking to scrap the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF).

    The assurance was given on Monday by Niel Tupas of Iloilo, House justice committee chairman; Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, committee vice chairman; Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list; and Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro in light of insistence by the Supreme Court (SC) that the JDF is not a discretionary fund even if its disbursement depends on the Chief Justice alone.

    The JDF is sourced from docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants to finance the cost of living allowance of court employees (80 percent) and purchase of office equipment and other facilities (20 percent).

    Tupas and Fariñas, both administration lawmakers, have filed separate measures providing that the JDF should be regularly remitted by the High Court to the National Treasury and that no allocation, disbursement or expenditure of the fund will be paid out except pursuant to an appropriation by Congress.

    “As presiding officer, I will make sure that the committee will be fair and objective in the initial hearing of the JDF bills,” Tupas said in a text message.

    “There is no retaliation in the performance of one’s functions and duties. We did not take the [SC] decisions on the PDAF and DAP as its retaliation for the impeachment and conviction of its Chief Justice [Renato Corona] as it is its constitutional duty to interpret the laws. In the same manner, no one should claim that when we perform our constitutional duty to pass, amend or repeal laws, we are doing it to retaliate,” Fariñas said.

    Fariñas was referring to the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel, the discretionary fund of lawmakers for their constituents, and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was implemented by the executive by realigning unused appropriations of agencies to fund the priority projects of the administration but was recently declared unconstitutional by the SC.

    “The JDF is a legislative creation, albeit by a presidential decree. There is no immutability of laws. Even the Constitution may be revised and amended. What more a law?” Fariñas, a Bar topnotcher, said.

    For Tuesday’s hearing, the House justice panel has invited Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, SC Administrator Midas Marquez, Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad, Chairman Gracia Pulido-Tan of Commission on Audit, among others.

    Batocabe and Umali said the judiciary should not be agitated by Congress’ move to review the JDF because such action is meant for transparency and accountability.

    “The judiciary should be gratified that we are reviewing the JDF. If we let the JDF be as it is now, it will be prone to abuse and a continuing magnet for corruption.

    We might just as well stop this temptation to avert future controversy and scandals in the judiciary,” Batocabe, a member of the justice panel, said in a separate text message.

    “As recognized by the Supreme Court in the DAP case, Congress has the power of the purse. Hence, the Supreme Court cannot practice double standard of justice,” Umali said.

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