Monday, December 23, 2013

‘SC can’t invoke fiscal autonomy’ | Headlines, News, The Philippine Star |

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MANILA, Philippines - A senior administration lawmaker yesterday warned members of the Supreme Court (SC) against invoking fiscal autonomy in resisting moves by the House of Representatives to scrutinize the use of the multibillion-peso Judiciary Development Fund (JDF).
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said even before the House committee on justice starts its investigation next year, he already saw some allegedly questionable disbursements made from the JDF – earlier described as the pork barrel of the high court – based on its website.
According to Barzaga, fiscal autonomy must be subservient to fiscal accountability and responsibility.
He said under Presidential Decree No. 1949 signed by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1984, 80 percent of the JDF should be spent for the cost of living allowance (COLA) of employees in the judiciary while the remainder should be used for the purchase of office equipment and other facilities.
“What is questionable is that the cumulative balance of 20 percent of the JDF for office equipment and other facilities as of June 30, 2013 is P1.775 billion, and yet the SC is not spending this 20 percent, although judges and court employees have been complaining that they lack computers, stationeries, and their courts are dilapidated,” Barzaga said.
He said for 2012, the SC collected P33,241,383.21 from cases brought before it, and yet it spent P65,674,615.79 for employees’ COLA and P108,787,950.47 for office equipment, expenditures way above the high court’s total collection.
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The lawmaker said he also saw a similar thing in the accounts of the Court of Appeals (CA), which collected only P5 million but disbursed P42 million that same year for expenses that were not identified.
“The Supreme Court must inform the public and the COA (Commission on Audit) the specific amount of COLA coming from JDF to clerks, interpreters, clerk of courts, sheriffs, judges and justices. The SC cannot evade the issue by invoking fiscal autonomy,” Barzaga said.
“We might later be surprised to find out that their COLA could be like those directors in government corporations who receive very high allowances,” he told radio dzBB in a separate interview, adding SC officials complain of lack of funds during the annual budget hearings in Congress.
He said the House also wants to find out the result of the COA audit on the JDF, if there was one.
Barzaga said under PD 1949, the COA is mandated to audit the JDF, adding that government appropriations should be spent so that public service would not suffer.
He dismissed the warning of Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco that the pro-administration bloc in the House was trying to intimidate the SC justices so they would declare the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) legal and constitutional.
“I think a separate department in the government cannot instill fear in a coequal branch,” he said.
Palace backs Congress
Meanwhile, Malacañang yesterday gave Congress the go-signal to check corruption in the judiciary by scrutinizing the JDF.
Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said there are provisions in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) regarding the oversight functions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“It has been stated in the GAA which has been enacted into law recently, where the oversight process on what we call off-budget funds like the JDF will continue,” he said over dzRB.
Coloma also confirmed The STAR’s report that such has always been the mandate of the legislature – to ensure all funds are spent judiciously.
“That is what the law states and that is what we will be implementing strictly,” he said.
In approving the P2.2-trillion national budget for 2014, Aquino retained the special provision inserted by the Senate and the House in the budget subjecting all off-budget funds to congressional monitoring and examination.
‘Lawmakers want revenge’
Sources have alleged that the scrutiny of the JDF was one way where both the executive department and the legislature can take vengeance on the judiciary for nullifying the pork barrel of senators and congressmen.
“They are now focusing on the vulnerability of the justices,” an insider said.
Other insiders also said congressmen wanted to get back at the SC for its inconsistent ruling on the case of Marinduque Rep. Regina Reyes.
The SC has ruled with finality on her disqualification case, and favored her opponent, Lord Allan Velasco, son of Justice Presbitero Velasco, the lone abstainer from the SC’s unanimous ruling that declared the pork barrel funds unconstitutional. – Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla
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