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Judiciary defies Palace

Reasserts autonomy over money matters The Supreme Court on Wednesday asserted its independence from the Palace, and asked Congress to delete all “special provisions” in the 2014 national budget that impinge on the Judiciary’s fiscal autonomy. In a hearing of the Judiciary’s P18.4-billion budget for 2014, Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva, in the presence of Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, defended the Court’s control of the close to P1 billion Judiciary Development Fund, special allowances worth P527 million and an allotment of P2.5 billion for unfilled positions. “We request that these [special provisions] be removed from the 2014 budget as these impinge on the independence of the Judiciary,” Villanueva told the panel headed by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab. He said the Judiciary has been faithful in complying with Presidential Decree 1949 to use 80 percent of the JDF for cost of living allowances of justices and employees. “The expenditure of the JDF is audited by the Commission on Audit and the COA report is posted on the SC Web site,” Villanueva said. The special provisions provide that the JDF, the allowances and the appropriation for unfilled positions, if unused, should revert to the National Treasury. Villanueva said making them go to the Department of Budget and Management for the release of their budget was tantamount to giving up the Judiciary’s fiscal autonomy, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. Anticipating a heated debate on the fiscal autonomy, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., along with justice panel chairman Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., were present in the hearing. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, an appointee of President Benigno Aquino III, sent Leonen, also an Aquino appointee, to represent the Supreme Court. Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares immediately supported the Supreme Court’s position to have the special provisions removed. “Are you asking to introduce amendments?” asked Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, a member of the ruling Liberal Party. Tiangco said he was merely airing his support for the Supreme Court and that he was hoping his concerns would be taken into consideration by the panel. Tupas said he agreed that the Supreme Court should retain control of the JDF, but said he would not allow it to keep the P2.5 billion allocation for unfilled positions if the money is not used by the end of the year. “The anomaly [is that] by the end of the year, the Judiciary converts the funds into savings and the savings are converted into bonuses. The money should revert to the National Treasury,” Tupas said. The Supreme Court disagreed.
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