MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may have committed an impeachable offense with the way she has been handling the Judiciary Development Fund, according to a member of the House prosecution team in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
House justice committee vice chairman Rodolfo Farinas said the High Court should not have made changes in the law governing the JDF.
He said the Supreme Court issued a circular that expanded the JDF to include incomes from sales of unserviceable equipment, sale of reports of decisions of SC, grant of concessions to operate canteens, etc.
Fariñas said the effect of the SC circular is to amend the law.
"All [the SC] can do is see if the law is constitutional or not. The Supreme Court has no power to legislate. That's why it has no power to generate its own funds," he said in an interview on ANC.
Asked what is the liability of the Chief Justice in the matter, he said: "It could amount to culpable violation of the Constitution. It could be betrayal of public trust."
Fariñas lamented the Commission on Audit could not give them accurate information on the JDF because the COA received the reports late.
"We asked them: 'Has the law been followed on the 20 percent should go to supplies?' They could not give a categorical answer. Precisely, it is necessary for the Chief Justice or her representative to come there and show to us. This JDF was granted by law and the legislature can take it back anytime."
Sereno skipped a Lower House inquiry on the JDF on Tuesday, saying she found the inquiry "premature."
She also asked for time to consult with other magistrates of the Supreme Court on "how best the judiciary can meaningfully participate in the valid legislative concerns of the House of Representatives without sacrificing judicial independence and fiscal autonomy."
House justice committee chairman Niel Tupas Jr. pointed out that this is the first time during his watch that the SC did not send a representative to a deliberation of a measure concerning the judiciary.
Citing a Commission on Audit (COA) report, Tupas said some P3 billion meant for unfilled positions became savings of the judiciary and went to allowances, medical benefits, anniversary bonus, loyalty benefits.
He also said that the judiciary gives allowances to local government units.
Tupas also cited a 2012 COA report that some P300 million in JDF funds were invested in high-yield savings accounts. He said the SC is not an investment body.
He noted the 80% of the JDF should be spent on allowances and 20% on court facilities, but the COA found that some JDF funds were given out as loans.
He reminded the public that the JDF is sourced from legal fees and bail bonds. In 2012, the COA said bail bonds amounted to some P2.7 billion.
Tupas earlier proposed a bill seeking to replace the JDF with a fund that will be deposited in the Treasury and subject its use to a formula upon submission of a budget. House committee vice chairman Rodolfo Farinas also filed a similar bill.