House JDF probe could lead to impeachment of justices

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Monday, December 23, 2013

A LAWMAKER allied with the administration admitted that the investigation of the House of Representatives into the Supreme Court's (SC) use of its Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) could lead to the filing of impeachment charges against justices.

"It could be an impeachable offense, most especially if there would be evidence showing graft," Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said in a press statement.

Barzaga, a member of the House committee on justice, was one of the public prosecutors in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona who was removed from office last year by the Senate impeachment tribunal.

The House probe comes after the SC declared as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel system of lawmakers.

Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) called the House probe a "bullying tactic" of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) as the administration's controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is being questioned before the SC. The oral arguments on DAP is set on January 28.

"Congress has long respected the fiscal autonomy of the Supreme Court; and all of a sudden they want to look into this. Why? In simple street parlance, this is called 'reskbak' of Congress after the PDAF ruling," Tiangco said.

But Barzaga said Congress is simply doing the SC a favor by showing that no one is above the law, and all branches of government are transparent in the use of government funds.

"In spite of the fact that the SC decision hurts most of our constituents, we gladly accepted it. In the same vein, if we shall conduct an investigation pursuant to our constitutional duty as provided for under the Constitution, I think the Supreme Court as the final interpreter of the Constitution, must also respect our mandate in making legislation," he added.

The JDF was created under Presidential Decree (PD) 1949 issued by former President Ferdinand Marcos on July 18, 1984. The fund shall be sourced from the docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants.

Under the decree, at least 80 percent of the funds shall be given to employees of the Judiciary by way of Cost of Living Allowances (Cola) and not more than 20 percent of the JDF shall be used for office equipment and other facilities.

Barzaga, however, pointed out that while 20 percent of the JDF was pegged at P1.7 billion as of June 30 this year, the SC has not spent the money amid complaints from court employees that they lack computers, and office supplies.

The lawmaker said that the House investigation could also lead to amendments to PD 1499.

"The SC cannot say that it's (PD) permanent and Congress could no longer touch this law or decree," Barzaga pointed out. (Sunnex)

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