MALACAñANG on Thursday distanced itself from the issue of the Supreme Court’s (SC) Judicial Development Fund (JDF), which some allies of President Benigno Aquino 3rd in Congress want abolished.
In a news briefing, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the High Court must answer all allegations being hurled against it, including the questionable use of its own “savings.”
“Maybe we should just look into the [allegations]and if there’s anything that should be clarified, those concerned [justices]must do so. It’s all part of the job,” the official said.
Coloma stressed that it is not in the President’s vocabulary to be “vindictive” and the issues faced by the SC are not part of any effort by Malacanang to “get even” after the tribunal declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
“The executive has no participation whatsoever in this issue. We must understand that all expenditures must be within the national budget and the power of the purse under our tripartite system of government belongs to the legislature. That’s why all those pertaining to the creation and implementation of public funds are within their [congressmen]powers,” the Palace official explained.
Earlier, members of the House of Representatives said the judiciary’s own “pork barrel” should also be abolished in light of the junking of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the DAP.
Invoking the power of the purse vested in them by the Constitution, the lawmakers backed a bid to abolish the P1.7 billion annual JDF and take control of the fund from the judiciary.
Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite and Rep. Silvestre Bello of 1-BAP party-list, all lawyers, came a day after Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo and Rep. Rodolfo Farinas of Ilocos Norte filed their respective bills in the House of Representatives seeking to repeal the JDF law.
The lawmakers argued that in accordance with the SC’s declaration of the DAP and PDAF discretionary funds as illegal, the JDF should also be outlawed because it is discretionary.
“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, the House Deputy Speaker from the Nationalist People’s Coalition, told reporters.
But Coloma denied insinuations that the move to abolish the JDF and question the SC officials’ use of their past savings were part of an effort to get back at the judiciary.
“There is no agenda or intention to get back or retaliate. It is not in the administration’s vocabulary,” the Palace official pointed out.
Employees of the Supreme Court are set to hold a protest rally to condemn what they said were attacks against the Constitution.
Supreme Court Employees Association (SCEA) President Jojo Guerrero said the rally is their answer to calls that the JDF be abolished. He said court employees will wear red and black shirts to express their anger at the alleged harassment by the Aquino administration.
But Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th an ally of the President, said the proposal may be worth looking at even if it turns out that those behind it just want to get back at the SC because of its decision against the DAP.
The JDF was created through Presidential Decree 1949. The fund comes from docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants and is supposed to be used to finance the cost of living allowance of court employees (80 percent) and purchase of office equipment and other facilities (20 percent).
On Tuesday, or a day after Aquino defended the DAP, the Commission on Audit released a report pertaining to allegedly dubious use of the judiciary’s savings.