MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday defended its Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) amid calls in Congress to scrutinize what some lawmakers branded as the high court’s pork barrel.
SC spokesman Theodore Te refuted the claims of some administration congressmen that JDF is similar to the pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the executive, which were both declared unconstitutional by the high court.
“There is no discretion on how to spend JDF funds – whether as to amount, percentage or purpose,” he said on Twitter.
Te explained that the nature of JDF, which was created through Presidential Decree 1949 issued by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1984, is different from that of the pork barrel.
Te made the statement following the reported plan of Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III to ask the committee on appropriations of the House of Representatives to examine the proposed budget for the judiciary and the JDF during the budget deliberation process expected to start next month.
Albano said the SC decision declaring DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional should also apply to the judiciary fund.
The lawmaker said he would ask the Commission on Audit to conduct a detailed examination of the JDF collections and disbursements.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas supported Albano’s call.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno had explained that JDF is not the same as the controversial pork barrel fund.
Sereno said JDF was created for the benefit of the members and personnel of the judiciary and to ensure its independence as mandated by the Constitution.
Unlike pork barrel, she said JDF is not discretionary, as the law requires that 80 percent of the fund shall be used for cost of living allowances and not more than 20 percent shall be used for office equipment and facilities of the courts.
While the chief justice is given the power to administer and allocate the fund and has the sole power to approve the authorized disbursement and expenditures of the fund, she is not given any discretion on how the funds will be used.
Sereno had denied reports that the JDF amounts to around P5 billion.
The SC said that 80 percent of the fund is released monthly to employees as cost of living allowances.
The 20 percent, on the other hand, has an accumulated balance of P1.435 billion as of Nov. 30, according to a report by the SC’s office of fiscal management and budget office.
Of this amount, P732.5 million has been earmarked for the construction of the Court of Appeals buildings in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro and consultancy services for the electrical system of the high court in Manila.
Another P620.7 million has been certified as available for various capital outlays of the court, including the procurement of computers and construction and repair of courts.
The SC chief lamented that the 20-percent component of JDF, which amounts to P200 million per annum, is “barely enough for the court to source its budget for renovations, repairs and construction of halls of justice and for the various equipment needed for court operations.”