Palace: No to talks on SC budget
President Benigno Aquino III will not meet with leaders of Congress and the Supreme Court if the discussion would be about the judiciary’s budget for 2012, a Malacañang aide said on Saturday.
Undersecretary Abigail Valte, the deputy presidential spokesperson, made the remark in reaction to a call made by the House of Representatives for a Judicial, Executive and Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council to be convened in order to resolve contentious issues putting the three branches of government at odds with each other.
“I think there would be nothing wrong (with a council meeting) except that if it is to be called for the issue of the budget, then it is a settled issue. There’s no need to go around it and still talk about it,” Valte said over state-run radio dzRB.
Chief Justice Renato Corona last week lashed out at the executive branch and the legislature, saying that judicial independence was being undermined by budget cuts and threats of impeachment. He was referring to a P2-billion judiciary allocation that had been placed into a Palace-controlled fund.
Malacañang countered by saying that the issue was made moot since both the executive branch and Congress had already decided to recognize the fiscal autonomy of the judiciary and other institutions deemed autonomous under the Constitution.
It has been suggested that the allocations for unfilled posts would be released to the institution they came from on the condition that the institutions submit quarterly reports on the status of the funds to Malacañang and to Congress.
The verbal tussle between Malacañang and the Supreme Court continued into the weekend, after the Palace criticized the judiciary for recalling a decision reinstating 1,400 Philippine Airlines flight attendants that had been deemed to be “final.”
Iron out problems
Supreme Court spokesperson Midas Marquez had countered that the executive branch should first iron out problems with its own issuances before criticizing the tribunal.
Valte shot back: “Independence does not mean you are free from criticism as well. In the executive we take that to heart. Even if it is an independent and coequal branch of government we still get criticism and we take that in stride. We don’t see that as an attack on the President as well,” she added.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda last week said Corona was trying to sidestep the controversy spawned by the high court’s recall of a supposedly final and executory decision when he charged the executive branch and Congress with undermining judicial independence though budget cuts and threats of impeachment.
“You know on that point we are not alone in asking what happened (in the Philippine Airlines stewards’ case). Of course we were asked for reactions and Secretary Lacierda, being a lawyer, was also confused at what happened. Because when you say final decision … I have to reiterate, when is a final decision really final?” Valte said.
Sen. Joker Arroyo on Saturday said Malacañang was to blame for the raging word war. He said it could be traced to Malacañang’s decision to take away the judiciary’s P2-billion fund in the proposed national budget for next year.
Arroyo said President Aquino’s spokespersons should not have fanned the flames despite Chief Justice Renato Corona’s “unprecedented” move Thursday of lambasting both the Palace and Congress for “disrespect and lack of civility.”
Shame high court
“They really want to shame the Supreme Court,” the senator told the Inquirer in Filipino. “They didn’t expect the Chief Justice to openly retaliate. It’s unprecedented.”
“I don’t want to say this but ‘I told you so,’” he said, recalling his previous warning that the squabble could lead to a full-blown crisis among the three branches of government.
“It is the Supreme Court’s misfortune that it got embroiled in another controversy entirely unrelated to the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund,” he said. “But while it is the right of the public to complain about the recall, it was imprudent for Malacañang to join the fray.”
“It is sad when two coequal branches of government are at loggerheads. That’s lamentable. But when all three are fighting, that’s a crisis,” he added.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño on Saturday challenged the high court to send its spokesperson to next week’s public hearing of the House to explain the court’s “flip-flopping” on the Philippine Airlines v Flight Attendants and Stewards Association (Fasap) case. With reports from Christian Esguerra and Cynthia D. Balana
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