No cuts, please: SC needs P200 million for ‘judiciary marshals’
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought the assistance of the Senate in reinstating P6.7 billion in planned allotments that Malacañang had slashed from the judiciary’s proposed P71.97-billion spending program for 2024.
During the budget deliberations presided over by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, the chair of the finance committee, Supreme Court Administrator Raul Villanueva also asked the senators to augment by at least P150 million the initial funding for the establishment of the Office of the Judiciary Marshals, which was created by Republic Act No. 11691 to protect judges, justices and other court personnel.
“Since we will proceed to engage, hire and appoint [security] personnel, we need to ask for an additional budget,” Villanueva told the senators. “With your permission, we may have to ask for P200 million instead of [the initial budget of] P50 million [as required by law],” he added.
“We will work together with the minority bloc [to augment your budget],” Angara assured him.
Villanueva said that under the P5.768-trillion National Expenditure Program, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had set aside P57.79 billion for the entire judiciary, P14.12 billion lower than its original budget request although nearly 5 percent higher than this year’s approved allotment of P54.9 billion.
As spelled out in the 1987 Constitution, Congress is mandated to provide a bigger amount than what the courts had received in the previous fiscal year.
According to Villanueva, the high tribunal is the primary casualty of the DBM-approved spending plan, with P12.2 billion of its fund request rejected by the government’s finance team.
He added that the proposed allotment of other third-level courts was also reduced—Court of Appeals (P1.19 billion), Sandiganbayan (P443 million), and Court of Tax Appeals (P287.87 million).
“Likewise, we are asking for funding for the hazard pay of our lower court judges… and for the creation of 46 family courts, pursuant to the law, in the amount of P536 million,” Villanueva said.
No hike in PDLs’ subsidy
The DBM also turned down a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to increase the subsidy for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), as well as funds to address jail congestion.
As Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla presented his agency’s proposed P34.486-billion budget for next year before the House appropriations committee, Deputy Minority Leader Rep. France Castro asked why the daily subsistence allowance of P70 and a P15 medical allowance for PDLs was the same as that approved in the 2023 budget.
“The [Bureau of Corrections] asked for P100 for food and P30 for medicine, but our request was denied. Actually, many of our urgent needs were not given funding by the DBM,” Remulla explained.
He added that the DOJ also sought P23 billion to build new jail facilities and decongest detention centers, noting that jail congestion was at 383 percent.
“We asked for [an] allocation to fix this problem, but our request was not granted,” Remulla said.
Impact of increase
Budget Assistant Secretary Mary Ann dela Vega, in response, explained during the House hearing that raising the daily subsidy for food and medicine of PDLs in BuCor would also entail a corresponding hike in the daily subsistence allocation of PDLs under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).
“Yes, we have maintained the rate for PDLs as far as their subsistence is concerned, which is P70 for food and P15 for medical. This is also the same for PDLs of the BJMP. It was maintained because the impact of the increase will amount to almost P3 billion, so the decision then during the budget deliberations was to maintain that level,” Dela Vega said.
“If we are going to give the P130 being asked by BuCor, we would also have to consider the daily subsistence for the uniformed personnel or the military which is only at P150 per day,” she added.
Under the proposed DOJ budget, the Office of the Secretary has the biggest share at P9.1 billion, slightly higher than its 2023 budget of P9.078 billion. Next is BuCor with P7.2 billion, followed by the Public Attorney’s Office at P5.27 billion.
BuCor wish list
But in a statement, BuCor pleaded its case for an additional P1.5 billion in its 2024 budget for its “wish list of projects” that it said were “badly needed” in its daily operations.
These included scanner machines worth P812 million to help its jail officers detect weapons, explosives and contraband items in vehicles entering and leaving its facilities.
Another item on its wish list was an advanced body-worn camera system costing P320.4 million for its officers “to demonstrate transparency to the public; to document statements, observations and other evidence; and to deter unprofessional, illegal and inappropriate behaviors by both correction officers and PDLs.”
BuCor Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr. also requested P154.6 million for a closed-circuit TV surveillance system to monitor the activities in BuCor’s seven prisons and penal farms, P169.1 million for the construction of a mess hall for inmates and P10 million for a K-9 team to prevent the smuggling of contraband inside prisons.