Supreme Court justices may attend House hearing

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 13 2014 03:02 AM | Updated as of Aug 13 2014 11:02 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno will not attend the hearing of the House of Representatives tomorrow on the judiciary's proposed P19.499- billion budget for next year.

Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the high court would instead send several other magistrates and officials in charge to face the House committee on appropriations and explain the needs of the courts.

“The Court will send a delegation to the hearing. Some justices will also be attending but I don’t think the Chief Justice will join,” Te said in a press briefing yesterday.

He said Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva would be making the presentation on behalf of the Court.

Sereno was invited to the hearing by committee chair and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.

Ungab said that aside from the judiciary’s budget for 2015, the committee might also tackle the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which some allies of President Aquino said is the judiciary’s version of the pork barrel.

Earlier this month, Sereno was also invited by the House committee on justice to its hearing last Aug. 4 on the alleged misuse of the JDF.

The SC chief said she would have to consult first with the full court on the matter even as she told the House in a letter that the hearing is “inappropriate” and “premature.”

Based on the proposed budget submitted by the Palace to Congress, the Supreme Court’s budget of P19.499 billion next year represents 0.65 percent of the total P2.606-trillion national budget.

While the Palace has projected an increase of P900 million in the budget of the judiciary for next year, the funding of the courts has actually dipped.

The judiciary has P18.560 billion to spend this year, which represented 0.8 percent of the national budget.

Under the proposed 2015 budget, funding for the SC, regional trial courts and metropolitan trial courts will increase by P758 million, from P16.408 billion to P17.366 billion.

The SC, 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.

CA powers threatened

Another showdown looms between the House and the judiciary as the chamber has begun tackling legislation that would clip the powers of the Court of Appeals (CA) to hear labor cases.

The committee on labor, chaired by Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, started its hearing last week on a bill that seeks to shorten the litigation of labor cases by prohibiting the CA from entertaining appeals in relation to decisions made by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

Nograles said representatives of both the labor and employers’ sectors expressed support for House Bill 4529 that he filed.

The measure bars the CA from entertaining labor cases so petitioners can go directly to the Supreme Court for speedy disposition of cases.

The Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (TIPC), the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), the Philippine Association of Local Service Contractors (PALSC), the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) and the NLRC backed the bill.

The groups said the proposal would benefit both labor and employers since this would mean lesser cost of litigation for both parties.

However, representatives of the CA, led by Justice Vicente Veloso, told lawmakers that the proposal could contradict the present judicial hierarchy and could be seen as a “grave abuse of discretion” on the part of Congress for enacting a law that breaches on the judiciary’s mandate.

Veloso, however, said the bill has yet to be fully discussed by the CA.

The CA and the SC are expected to submit their official position on the legislation.

Nograles said the 1987 Constitution guarantees the speedy disposition of cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative bodies but the redundant check-and-balance mechanism has allowed legal manipulations to delay the delivery of justice.

Based on estimates, the “process cycle” of litigation can be shortened from the present five to eight years to just two to three years if the bill is enacted into law, he said.

He said out of an average of 1,168 labor cases brought to the CA on appeal from the NLRC each year, 84 percent of these cases are still brought to the SC even after the appeals court issues a decision.

“In effect, these labor cases only pass through the CA but the real and final decision still comes from the SC. We are unnecessarily delaying the delivery of justice through this circuitous legal process, which is unfair, especially to those who can barely afford a good lawyer to represent them,” Nograles said. With Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez