Lawyer says Constitution guarantees fiscal autonomy to protect judiciary

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Sunday, July 20, 2014


A CALL to scrap the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) is an empty threat.

This is how lawyer Ethelbert Ouano described the recent move of the allies of President Benigno Aquino III in the House of Representives to abolish the JDF.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the judicial branch has fiscal autonomy, he said.

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“The situation now is exactly what the 1987 Constitution seeks to prevent from happening, a judiciary at the mercy of other two departments (executive and legislative),” he said.

Getting back

Regional Trial Court (RTC) First Vice Executive Judge Wilfredo Navarro said it is possible that Aquino is getting back at the SC through his allies in Congress, after the High Court declared some provisions of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

For retired RTC Judge Meinrado Paredes, he said Aquino’s criticism of the high court as “nanobra (way over the top).”

He said it was the first time a sitting president openly hit the SC for its unfavorable decision on DAP.

“Can the president do that? There’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “He can invoke check-and-balance (principle) or freedom of speech.”

Court employees in Cebu City will protest the planned abolition of JDF by wearing black today.

Employees of the High Court, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Tax Appeals and the Sandiganbayan have also agreed to wear red or black today, a national daily reported.

They are also questioning a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) ruling that their allowances would be subject to tax.

Last week, Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. (Iloilo) filed House Bill 4738 seeking to repeal Presidential Decree (PD) 1949, which created the JDF, a day after Aquino criticized the SC for declaring some provisions of DAP unconstitutional.

Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas (Ilocos Norte) also filed House Bill 4690, seeking accountability in the use of the JDF.

For Paredes, the conflict between the President and the SC over DAP displays their powers.

Check and balance

Under the check and balance principle, the executive, legislative and judicial branches are co-equals under the constitution and they limit the powers of each other.

Paredes said the SC can check the legislature and executive branches by invalidating the laws and executive orders that are unconstitutional.

The executive branch led by the president has two major checks on the judiciary: the power to appoint justices and judges and pardoning of convicts, while the legislative department has the power to impeach a president and justices of the high court.

The DJF was created under Presidential Decree 1949, which was passed under the term of the late president Ferdinand Marcos.

The law states that 80 percent of the fund is used for the employees’ cost of living allowances, while 20 percent is intended for the courts’ equipment and facilities.

As of November 30 last year, the 20 percent of the fund has an accumulated balance of P1.435 billion, as certified by the SC Chief of Office of the Fiscal Management and Budget Office, GMA News reported.

Of the amount, P732.5 million has been allocated for the halls of justice of the Courts of Appeals in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro and the consultancy services for the electrical system at the SC.

Another P620.7 million has been certified as available for various capital outlays of the court, including the procurement of computer sets, and the construction and repair of court houses.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 21, 2014.

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