House invites Sereno anew to JDF probe

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 12 2014 05:09 AM | Updated as of Aug 12 2014 01:09 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives has again invited Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to one of its committee hearings.

This time, it is the committee on appropriations and not the committee on justice that extended the invitation.

Just the same, the appropriations committee hearing on Thursday will tackle not only the proposed P19.499-billion 2015 budget for the judiciary but also the controversial Judiciary Development Fund (JDF).

Committee chairman Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City sent the invitation.

Ungab said if Sereno was not available, she could send a representative.

He said his committee would want to be briefed on the judiciary budget for next year.

He said the panel would also like to know the status of the JDF, collections accruing to it, as well as disbursements.

These are the same details of the fund that the committee on justice wanted to seek from Sereno or Supreme Court (SC) representatives when panel chairman Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo invited them to its hearing last Tuesday.

Sereno snubbed the hearing. She also did not send a representative.

Instead, she wrote Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. that her attendance might be “premature” and “inappropriate.”

In his P2.606-trillion 2015 budget proposal, President Aquino increased funding for the judiciary by P900 million. The SC and other courts have P18.560 billion for this year.

Funds for the SC, regional trial courts and metropolitan trial courts will increase by P758 million, from P16.408 billion to P17.366 billion.

The Supreme Court, functioning as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has a separate budget.

It will get P88.058 million next year, slightly up from this year’s P88.023 million. Last year, it had P63 million.

According to the Commission on Audit (COA) report on salaries and allowances paid to bureaucrats for 2013, aside from millions in allowances from the SC proper, all 15 justices received additional allowances from the PET ranging from P822,000 to P850,000.

Six justices sitting in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal pocketed more allowances ranging from P1.1 million to P1.6 million.

The COA report showed that Supreme Court justices are among the country’s highest paid officials, taking home from P3.5 million to P5.7 million last year.

Their annual basic pay is about P1.1 million. The bulk of their compensation is in the form of allowances.

The JDF is a source of additional allowances for justices, judges and their personnel.

Funding for the Sandiganbayan will go up by P5 million, from P393.4 million to P398.5 million.

Three Sandiganbayan divisions are hearing the plunder and graft cases of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr., their senior aides, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and officers of certain agencies used as conduits of pork barrel funds.

The Court of Appeals (CA) will have P1.404 billion next year, down from P1.426 this year. Last year, it had P1.353 billion.

The Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) will have P242.7 million, down slightly from P244.6 million. Its funding last year amounted to P273 million.

The most prominent case the CTA is handling is the one involving boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao. The latest development on the case is the court’s decision to require him to post a multibillion-peso bond to answer for his alleged tax liabilities.

In terms of expense class, provisions for salaries for the Supreme Court and lower courts, except the Sandiganbayan, CA and CTA, will go up by P656 million, from P12.968 billion to P13.624 billion; while funds for maintenance and other operating expenses will similarly increase from P3.266 billion to P3.427 billion, or by P161 million.

The SC and lower courts will have P315 million in capital outlay, up by P141 million from this year’s P174 million.