CEBU CITY -- Saying it is his way of strengthening the judiciary and helping “underpaid” court officials deal with financial burdens, Mayor Tomas Osmeña will increase the monthly allowances of judges and justicesassigned in the city.

From only P5,000 a month, they will be getting as allowance the equivalent of their monthly basic salaries, or at least P30,000.

Osmeña announced the increase Friday. The allowances are given to 27 Regional Trial Court (RTC) and Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) judges, some of whom are handling cases the City Government filed or is facing.

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Six justices of the Court of Appeals Cebu station will also start to receive monthly allowances equivalent to their basic pay.

“The allowance will be equivalent to their salaries. If the monthly salary is P60,000, his allowance from the City is also P60,000. We will match their basic pay,” Osmeña said.

The city prosecutors, who recently drew criticisms from the mayor, are not as lucky. Their P5,000 monthly allowance will not be increased.

Councilor Jose Daluz III, chairman of the City Council committee on budget and finance, inquired about the salary of judges and learned that it starts at P30,000.

The appropriation will be included in the P1.4-billion supplemental budget the executive department will propose next week.

But while some judges welcome the move, others said they will not accept the allowance.

Palace of Justice spokesperson Judge Gabriel Ingles said Friday he will stand firm on his decision not to accept any stipend from any government unit.

“My position in declining to receive (financial assistance) is a permanent one,” Ingles told reporters. “(It) is based on a principle that I believe in. I can best preserve not only the actual but, also equally important, the perception of independence and impartiality in my court.”

Judges at the RTC receive a gross salary of P70,000 monthly, including allowances from the Supreme Court.

Ingles, presiding judge of the RTC Branch 58 and who has been a judge for about nine years, said a judge would normally receive P25,000 as starting salary, excluding allowances.

RTC Judge Olegario Sarmiento, for his part, welcomed the mayor’s move. However, he is worried that this might cause City Hall to run afoul with the Commission on Audit.

“But if they can find a way to make it so, we would all welcome it,” he said.

RTC judges, like Sarmiento, who are categorized as salary grade 29 and are exempt from the Salary Standardization Law, receive up to P40,000, depending on seniority.

Judges presiding the Municipal Trial Courts, MTCC and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts belong to lower salary grades.

However, being exempted from the Salary Standardization Law too, they also receive higher wages than other government workers belonging to the same pay grade.

Judges also receive the equivalent of their pay from the Special Allowances for Judges Fund and, at a much smaller rate, money from the Judicial Development Fund.

Sarmiento, in an interview Friday, said the Cebu City Government gives judges P5,000 as financial assistance, while the Capitol gives them P6,000 a month.

When asked if the allowance increase would be misconstrued as an attempt to bribe or influence the judges handling the city’s cases, the Mayor Osmeña said it is not his style to control them through the allowances.

“I don’t like to react. I’m just doing what I think is right,” he said.

While the amount to be appropriated for the allowances is considered large at P25 million per year, Osmeña said it will not strain the finances of the city that stands to have a P2.4-billion surplus this year.

“Yes, (the amount) it’s big. But what I want to do is I want to strengthen the institution, reduce the financial pressure on the judges and let them think clearly, dispense justice efficiently and improve the sense of professionalism. So, in effect, we will double their salary,” he said.

Osmeña believes that increasing the take-home pay of the judges would minimize corruption and keep them away from the temptation to accept money from some parties.

He had intended to announce the increase during the Charter Day celebration on Wednesday, but disclosed the information when prodded by reporters Friday.

Based on records of the City Accounting Office, eight MTCC judges and 19 RTC judges are receiving the P5,000 monthly allowance from the city.

Aside from cash allowances, the city also provided some judges mobile phone allowances, vehicles and laptops, upon their request.

Daluz said Friday that the allowance will be limited to the judges assigned in the city.

A total of P25 million will be appropriated for it each year.

“We are talking of some P2 million a month here, or around P24 million to P25 million for the whole year. We can afford to fund the increase,” said Daluz.

The increase will take effect immediately after the supplemental funds are approved, and will be retroactive January 2010.    

“This is our way of helping the National Government, and helping the poor, in my simple mind. So this will relieve the judges of financial pressure, temptation to corruption, whatever. I really think that judges are underpaid,” he continued.

City Accountant Arlene Rentuza said that 27 judges received P5,000 a month from the city, including MTCC Judges Monalila Tecson, Anatalio Necessario, Edgemelo Rosales, Rosabella Tormis, Gil Acosta, Josephine Teves, Francisco Seville and Oscar Andrino.

Those in the list of RTC judges with allowances are Judges Eric Menchavez, Macaundas Hadjirasul, Meinrado Paredes, Sylva Paderanga, Bienvenido R. Saniel, Silvestre A. Maamo Jr., Simeon Dumdum Jr., Geraldine Faith Econg, Ester Veloso, Ramon Daomilas, Olegario Sarmiento Jr., Raphael Yrastorza, Gilbert Moises, Douglas Marigomen, Manuel Patalingjug, Soliver Peras, Generosa Labra, Estela Alma Cinco and Enriqueta Loquillano-Belarmino.

The city prosecutors, however, will not be given the same treatment.

“I was going to, but when they started reacting that they might not prosecute the case because they’re getting allowances, samot. But we will not remove their existing allowances,” the mayor added.

Aside from the allowance for judges and justices, the P500-million loan payment for the South Road Properties, P100 million for the college scholarship of high school graduates, and P3 million for road concreting for each north district mountain barangay will also be included in the budget. (LCR/With GMD and KNR/Sun.Star Cebu)