House may scrap judiciary's development fund

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 21 2014 10:08 AM | Updated as of Jul 21 2014 06:08 PM

MANILA - The House of Representatives will most likely abolish the multibillion-peso Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which congressmen call the Supreme Court’s pork barrel.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said yesterday he has consulted many House members and “there is consensus to scrap the fund and replace it with a similar appropriation with strict control measures, or reform its administration.”

Evardone said he conducted the consultations as vice chairman of the House appropriations committee, which is expected to tackle two bills on the JDF jointly with the committee on justice.

“I think I can safely say that we will remove absolute control and discretion over this fund from the Supreme Court and transfer it to another agency,” he said.

“They frown upon what they describe as discretionary funds, like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Their preaching should apply to their own discretionary fund,” Evardone added.

The SC has declared both the PDAF, the congressional pork barrel, and the DAP, the administration’s economic stimulus fund, as unconstitutional.

Evardone said the House would consolidate the two bills on the JDF authored by Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., justice committee chairman, and his senior vice chairman Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte.

The Tupas bill seeks to abolish the JDF and replace it with the Judiciary Support Fund (JSF), while the Fariñas’ bill would retain the JDF.

Both measures would remove control over the fund from the Supreme Court. Collections would be turned over to the national treasury and disbursements made pursuant to an appropriation by Congress as part of the judiciary’s budget.

However, the fund would continue to be on top of the annual budget that the legislature appropriates for the Supreme Court and lower courts.

The Bureau of Treasury, instead of the SC, would administer the JDF.

The Supreme Court’s resident auditor would be required to audit JDF receipts, revenues, uses, disbursements, and expenditures every quarter, and would submit a report to the SC, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Commission on Audit.

During budget deliberations in Congress, the chief justice would be asked to submit a report on funding and support received by the judiciary from external sources, such as from local government units, including buildings, facilities, vehicles, equipment, and additional allowances.

The JDF is a source of allowances for justices, judges and other personnel of the judiciary. Under Presidential Decree 1949, 80 percent of collections would be set aside for allowances and 20 percent for facilities. The Fariñas bill would not disturb such distribution.

Under the Tupas proposal, 70 percent of the JSF would be reserved for allowances, 15 percent for new facilities, buildings or equipment, and 15 percent for the repair of existing Halls of Justice buildings.

The Tupas bill also enumerates the sources of funds for the proposed JSF.

Both Tupas and Fariñas have accused the SC of illegally expanding the JDF by identifying additional fees and income that accrue to the fund.

Court employees, however, protested the move to remove the JDF.

Joel Guerrero, leader of the 3,000-strong Supreme Court Employees Association, said they are ready to shield the judiciary from attacks from other branches of government, even if it would bring them to the streets.

Guerrero specifically questioned the proposals in Congress seeking to abolish the JDF.

Employees of the Sandiganbayan, on the other hand, are protesting against the Bureau of Internal Revenue over what they called “oppressive” taxes on their allowances and financial benefits.

They said they would be wearing red shirts and black armbands today to denounce the BIR.

Employees of the anti-graft court earlier staged a 30-minute walkout denouncing the BIR for preying on their allowances and other financial perks that are supposed to be non-taxable. –Michael Punongbayan