Palace House allies to SC: We are also supreme
MANILA, Philippines–“We’re also supreme.”
This was the position stated by an administration stalwart as two bills were filed seeking to abolish or reform the Supreme Court’s multibillion-peso Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) ahead of President Aquino’s warning on Monday night of a clash between the executive and the judiciary, and the possibility that the third branch of government, the legislature, might have to step in.
However, the filing of the bills was neither a case of “tit for tat” nor of the executive and legislature ganging up on the judiciary, said Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. “I don’t think so. With all funds under question, it is expected that JDF will also be under scrutiny,” he said in a text message.
One of the bills was introduced earlier on Monday by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., the House justice committee chair, proposing the repeal of a Marcos-era law creating the JDF, described as the judicial version of the pork barrel.
In line with SC decision
Another bill was submitted last week by Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, the House justice committee vice chair, who moved to transfer the administration of the fund from the Supreme Court to the Bureau of Treasury.
Tupas told a news forum Tuesday his bill was “not a message” to the Supreme Court. “This is a system at work, of constitutional processes at work. It’s a system of checks and balances. In line with the Supreme Court’s decision that some discretionary funds are unconstitutional, we have to look at the JDF.”
“The Supreme Court checked the legislature by declaring the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) unconstitutional; it also checked the executive by declaring the DAP unconstitutional,” Tupas said.
Tupas said that in interpreting laws, “the Supreme Court is supreme.”
“I do not agree with its decision on the PDAF, but we are accepting it because the SC is superior within its own sphere,” he said. But within Congress, “we’re also supreme within our own sphere,” he said, referring to its power of the purse.
Info very general
The JDF was created under Presidential Decree No. 1949 some 30 years ago authorizing the judiciary to generate its own funds and to help augment its budgetary requirements for the benefit of personnel, and to help ensure its independence.
The Supreme Court earlier said the JDF was open to public scrutiny and already accessible on its website.
But Tupas said the information on the website was “very general.”
“It does not even itemize the entire fund,” he said.
In 1984, for instance, he said the judiciary could only source its funds from the increase of legal fees.
“But in 1999, the Supreme Court, by judicial legislation, expanded the coverage of the JDF, through an en banc resolution, by including sales of equipment, records, rentals, fees collected from bar candidates, interest from deposits of income… interest of money paid to clerks of court, confiscated cash bonds, satisfaction of budget against cash bonds,” he said.
“This is in the billions of pesos,” Tupas claimed.
He said public accountability should trump the judiciary’s so-called fiscal autonomy. He added that the judiciary’s fiscal autonomy only referred to its regular budget, not “fringe benefits” like the JDF.
JDF abolition sought
In his bill, Tupas proposed the abolition of the JDF and the creation of a “Judicial Special Fund,” which would only be released upon the submission by the Supreme Court of an “itemized special budget,” and subject to a quarterly audit by the Commission on Audit.
On the other hand, Fariñas’ bill sought only an amendment to PD 1949, and, similar to Tupas’ proposal, the remittance of all fees and collections in the judiciary to the national treasury.
The United Nationalist Alliance secretary general, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, said the move to investigate the JDF clearly had the intent of pressuring the high tribunal.
“Even the Supreme Court is now being bullied and threatened by the heavy hand of the state,” Tiangco said in a statement.
“What will happen to checks and balances if the President wants his way? What will happen to the high court when it becomes impotent? When the rule of law is given the cold shoulder by the President who is supposed to defend it, can we still find refuge in the law? This is a dangerous precedent,” Tiangco said.
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