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Palace, solons in clash of wills

Bone of contention: Judiciary’s fiscal autonomy Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco on Friday chided presidential deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte for making it appear that the Palace was clueless about the special provisions inserted into the 2014 national budget that the Supreme Court said impinged on its fiscal autonomy. “I suggest Valte consult the legal luminaries in the Palace. The Supreme Court is asking Congress to delete these special provisions,” Tiangco said. “The moment the Executive dictates on the Supreme Court where its money should go and how to spend it, that is already tantamount to impinging on its fiscal independence,” Tiangco said. “If Valte insists that the Executive does not impinge on the Judiciary’s fiscal autonomy, then there is no reason for them not to accede to the Supreme Court’s request to have these special provisions removed,” Tiangco added. During the Thursday hearing of the House committee on appropriations, Tiangco supported the call of the Supreme Court to have the special provisions removed. Court Deputy Administrator Raul Villanueva presented to the panel the Judiciary’s budget and position paper on special provisions. Invoking fiscal autonomy, Villanueva specifically asked that special provisions Nos. 1, 6 and 7 under Section 3 be deleted and that Congress reword special provision No. 2. Special Provision No. 1 pertains to the Judiciary Development Fund amounting to close to P1 billion, No. 2 deals with the special allowance of judges totaling to P541.42 million, No. 6 involves the funding requirement for the filling of unfilled positions amounting to P2.5 billion and No. 7 deals with the P1.22-billion allocation for the maintenance operating and other expenses of the lower courts. Under these special provisions, all funds must be remitted to the National Treasury and in the case of the unfilled position, funds will be automatically released upon the actual hiring of judges and personnel. If the funds are unused, these should revert to the National Treasury and be deposited in the General Fund, the special provisions say. At least 5,000, including 500 judges nationwide were needed to fill the vacancies, Villanueva said. Villanueva insisted that the Supreme Court has been complying with the law, such as having the funds audited by the Commission on Audit and having the expenditures posted online. Villanueva said some P978.4 million was collected from legal fees that went to JDF and P949.1 million was spent for the cost of living allowance of employees or 80 percent of the funds as mandated by law and 20 went to equipment. He said there was no need for the special provision since the Supreme Court has complied with the law on how to spend the fund. However, Villanueva said making the Supreme Court consult with the Department of Budget and Management every time it disburses the fund would compromise its fiscal independence, which is guaranteed under the Constitution.
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