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MANILA, Philippines – The House appropriations committee on Monday, August 7, approved a P34.7\-billion budget for the judiciary for 2018, up from its P32.7 billion budget for the current year.
The proposal will now move to the plenary stage, where the committee has to defend on the floor the P2-billion increase in the annual budget.
The P34.7 billion budget for 2018 , however, suffered a 26% cut from the original proposal of the judiciary. The branch originally wanted P46.85 billion for 2018, but only P34.7 billion hurdled past the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) when the latter drafted the National Expenditure Program (NEP).
NEP's proposal is ultimately what is submitted to Congress.
Comparing the judiciary's original proposal to the NEP allotment, P10 billion was slashed from the budget of the Supreme Court and Philippine Lower Courts (SCPLC).
Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva, who presented on behalf of the judiciary, said this will affect some of the infrastructure projects and judicial reform programs, such as the continuous trial of lower courts.
"Judges and court personnel have to be oriented about it, they have to be trained and be given further information, it requires some funding to go around. But we have some developmental partners to help us in this regard," Villanueva said.
A comparison of the 2017 allocation and the 2018 submitted NEP shows that everything increased, except the budget of anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
A total of P556.65 million was earmarked for Sandiganbayan in the 2018 NEP, which is a P103-million decrease from their P660.22 million actual budget in 2017.
Ironically, Surigao del Sur 1st District Representative Prospero Pichay Jr said Sandiganbayan should set up branches outside of Manila. Government officials with charges before the anti-graft court, as well as witnesses, have to come all the way to Metro Manila to attend hearings.
Pichay said he supports a budget increase for Sandiganbayan if only for that purpose. Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje Tang said divisions of the anti-graft court conduct hearings in places like Baguio City periodically.
Monday's budget hearing went smoothly, lasting a little over two hours with just a few questions from lawmakers, mostly from Kabayan Party List Representative Harry Roque.
Roque questioned Tang for Sandiganbayan's dismissal of cases due to inordinate delay. "Doesn't the court also play a role in that delay?" Roque asked.
Tang explained that the inordinate delay defense used by accused officials pertain to the delay in the Ombudsman level and not theirs. The presiding justice said the trial period at the anti-graft court has been significantly reduced over the years, and cases are now resolved in an average of 5 and a half years.
Roque also scored the judiciary for the still pending Malampaya gas fund misuse case and the cases related to the Maguindanao massacre.
He also the recent clash between the judiciary and the House of Representatives when the Court of Appeals (CA) granted provisional liberty to the Ilocos Norte officials who were then being detained in the lower chamber for not cooperating in an inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco funds.
Villanueva said they cannot comment as it is still pending before the CA. There is also a separate petition before the Supreme Court, on which Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas has been ordered to comment on the petition.
Fariñas was seen at the start of the hearing but he left immediately. – Rappler.com
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