Lawmakers to scrutinize SC's 'pork' anew

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 04 2014 03:50 AM | Updated as of Jul 04 2014 11:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Congressmen yesterday vowed to scrutinize the multibillion-peso Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which they labeled as the Supreme Court’s pork barrel.

The lawmakers made the promise two days after the high court declared parts of the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said he would ask the committee on appropriations of the House of Representatives to examine in detail the proposed budget for the judiciary and the JDF during the budget deliberation process expected to start next month.

“I myself will sit there to ask questions about the JDF, which is the Supreme Court’s pork barrel. They have billions in collections that are not audited and which they can spend the way they want to,” he said.

Albano recalled the House nearly impeached former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. on allegations that his office misused JDF collections.

Albano said the SC decisions declaring DAP and the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional should also apply to the judiciary fund.

“The JDF should also be deemed as unconstitutional because it is a pork barrel. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander,” he said.

Albano pointed out the JDF “is even worse than the DAP and the PDAF.”

“The DAP and PDAF were funds appropriated by the elected representatives of the people who, under the Constitution, have the exclusive power to determine the uses of public funds. The judiciary fund comes from taxpayers’ money, and yet, it does not pass through Congress. The SC has the exclusive say on it,” he stressed.

Albano said he would insist on a detailed examination by the Commission on Audit (COA) of JDF collections and disbursements.

“The SC should not resist a COA examination. All public funds are subject to COA audit,” he said.

Albano said he would ask for the COA report on the JDF before the proposed judiciary budget is tackled during the coming budget enactment process.

President Aquino is expected to submit to Congress the proposed 2015 budget on July 29, a day after his fifth State of the Nation Address. Hearings would start toward the latter part of next month.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, appropriations committee vice chairman, said he would support Albano’s proposal for a closer scrutiny of the JDF.

“JDF collections have reached at least P5 billion. The funds are used for additional allowances, vehicles, furniture and similar luxuries. No wonder SC justices are among the highest-paid public officials, getting as much as P5 million a year,” he said.

Evardone said he would like to find out if the Supreme Court is complying with the periodic reportorial requirement on the use of funds as contained in the 2014 budget law.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said aside from the budget deliberation process, the House could inquire into the uses of the JDF by reviewing the law creating the fund.

“The JDF was created and institutionalized through a presidential decree, which has the force and effect of a law. Being a law, Congress may repeal or amend it anytime. Congress should now review it,” he said.