Law dean: JDF probe aimed at diverting DAP issue

CONGRESSIONAL allies of embattled President Benigno Aquino III are perhaps trying to take away the heat from him by launching an investigation on the use of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), a law dean said Thursday.

Father Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, said public discussion must focus on how the government spent funds released through the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC) on July 1.

The decision sparked protests and impeachment cases against the President.

"The more we engage in JDF talk, the more we allow the real issue to be ignored -- which is accounting for DAP and telling us exactly what the Palace's answer is to the charge that DAP was used to oust a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," referring to reports that senators who voted for the ouster of then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 got additional funds from the purported economic stimulus package as incentive.

The House of Representatives will soon hold a hearing to tackle bills seeking to repeal the Marcos-era Presidential Decree 1949, which created the JDF, amid allegations of lack of transparency in the accounting of the fund culled from filing fees that litigants pay whenever cases are filed in court.

The lawmakers said the probe should not be taken as Congress' retort to the SC for its decisions against the DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as they are only asserting their power of the purse under the Constitution.

Father Aquino disagreed, saying the JDF is not taxpayer's money that Congress is mandated to protect.

"While therefore post-audit may be proper, since the COA's (Commission on Audit) authority in this regard is, by constitutional grant, plenary, oversight by Congress is, to my mind, highly improper, if not illegal," he said.

He added that the SC can, on its own, disclose to the public how the JDF was used.

"The other consideration is that in respect to rule-making, the Supreme Court's authority is exclusive. It is my position that since the legal fees are incidental to the filing of pleadings in relation to court action, ruling on how these fees are applied also falls within the exclusive grant of rule-making power to the Supreme Court," the priest said.

Under the law, 80 percent of the collection goes to allowances of justices, judges and court personnel and 20 percent to the acquisition and maintenance of facilities and equipment.

Court employees have been protesting the planned abolition of the JDF, calling it an attack on the judiciary's independence.

The JDF was created to insulate the judiciary from outside pressure. (Sunnex)

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