Abad, Sereno end budget warBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With the Supreme Court under a friendlier force, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Wednesday visited Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and her court to talk about the once thorny issue between the two branches of government: the judiciary’s P17.7-billion budget and the control of its special allowances.
It was the first time in a long while that the two branches of government made an effort to sit down and discuss the matter.
Except for Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Arturo Brion, who were absent, Sereno led the 12 other justices in an almost two-hour-long meeting with Abad at the Supreme Court.
The two branches had clashed before on the issue of the judiciary’s budget, particularly the return to the National Treasury of collected docket fees, which are used for special allowances and benefits of court personnel. Then Chief Justice Renato Corona opposed this, insisting on the judiciary’s financial independence.
Abad’s visit to the Supreme Court also came at a time when Sereno, barely two weeks into her new job, was reported to be having some problems with some of the senior justices.
Asked whether his presence there was somehow a statement of support of President Benigno Aquino for Sereno given her current dilemma with other justices, Abad merely said he was there upon the invitation of Sereno.
“There’s a new leadership and (Sereno) just wanted to be familiar with the budget process,” he told reporters, after the meeting.
Abad also said that the budget department makes visits “to every department that invites us.”
When pressed on the issues that were discussed at the meeting, Abad declined to reveal specifics.
“We agreed that they (the justices) are going to talk about this. This is really their concern,” said Abad of the judicial allowances.
Abad said the meeting was “a good opportunity” for the two branches of government to get together. He described their exchanges to be “cordial, open and frank.”
Senator Franklin Drilon, chairman of the finance committee, said he had finished the hearings of the judiciary’s budget and will submit a committee report to the plenary in the third week of November.
Drilon said that one of the issues that the committee needed to resolve involved the Special Allowances for the Judiciary (SAJ).
The Department of Budget and Management wants the SAJ, which are funds realized out of the collection of docket fees in courts, returned to the National Treasury, arguing that its original purpose, which was to serve as an advance on the salary benefits of court personnel, had been fulfilled. The judiciary opposed this position.