SC declined Palace's offer to use savings

by Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 24 2014 08:14 AM | Updated as of Jul 25 2014 10:43 AM

PNoy failed to mention this in his 'SC, you did it too speech'

MANILA - President Aquino hit the Supreme Court (SC) anew as he continued to publicly defend his administration's controversial and constitutionally infirm Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) during a speech delivered at hero Apolinario Mabini's 150th birth anniversary celebration in Batangas on Wednesday.

However, Aquino failed to mention that last January, Malacanang, through Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad, offered to use pooled savings to address the very same act the President accused the high court of having committed cross-border transfer of funds.

In its July 1 decision declaring the DAP unconstitutional, the SC said cross-border transfer of funds, committed by Malacanan in the implementation of the DAP, is illegal.

Aquino further omitted to mention in his speech in Batangas that the SC declined the offer.

In his speech, Aquino, in an effort to highlight that the SC does not walk its talk, cited the high court's move in 2012 to use P1.865 billion of the judiciary's savings to fund the construction of the Manila City Hall of Justice, which houses the city's various lower courts, a project appropriated under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) through the Department of Justice (DOJ).

"Inilaan ito para dagdagan ang pondong pampagawa ng Manila City Hall of Justice...Ang problema lang po, nasa ilalim ng Department of Justice and item ng ating budget para sa proyektong ito. Malinaw po: ang pera ng hudikatura, inilaan nila para sa proyektong ang ehekutibo ang gumagawa.

"Ito ang pagtatangkang magsagawa ng tinatawag nilang cross-border transfer, or ang paglalaan ng pondo mula sa isang sangay ng gobyerno tungo sa ibang sangay," Aquino said.

In the same speech, Aquino gave a second example, of the high court's so-called cross-border transfer of funds -- a resolution, dated March 5, 2013, which states:

"Wherefore, the court (SC) hereby requests the Dept of Budget and Management to approve the transfer of the amount of One Hundred Million Pesos which was included in the Dept of Justice-Justice Infrastructure Program (JUSIP) for Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the Manila Hall of Justice to the budget of the judiciary, subject to existing policies and procedures, to be used for the construction of the Malabon Hall of Justice."

Aquino said the request was subsequently withdrawn, which was true, for on Dec. 23, 2013, the SC, through Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, wrote Abad withdrawing the request.


An en banc SC resolution dated Jan. 21, 2014, barely six months before handing down the DAP decision, reveals that the magistrates had declined the DBM's offer for the release of pooled savings to the judiciary in response to the SC's March 5, 2013 resolution on the request to use the P100 million Manila Hall of Justice construction JUSIP appropriation for the Malabon Hall of Justice construction.

The Jan. 21 resolution bared that Abad wrote the SC on Jan. 10, 2014 informing them of the availability of pooled savings "processed for release to the judiciary pursuant to the March 5, 2013 resolution."

The SC noted that this was the alternative move by the DBM since the request for the usage of the P100 million JUSIP funds was not possible beyond Dec. 2013.

"On Jan. 10, 2014, Sec. Florencio Abad sent a letter noting the receipt of the March 5, 2013 resolution and informing the Chief Justice of the denial of the request for extension of the validity of the P100 million appropriation for another year pursuant to Sec. 23 of the General Provisions in Republic Act No. 10155 or the FY (fiscal year) 2012 General Appropriations Act which provides that appropriations for capital outlays shall be valid only for release and obligation until Dec. 31, 2013.

"Sec. Abad, however, informed the [SC] of the availability of a portion of the pooled savings to augment the judiciary's capital outlay in the fiscal year 2013 budget and asked what the [SC] would like to do with the pooled savings that have been processed for release to the judiciary pursuant to the March 5, 2013 resolution," the SC said in its Jan. 21 resolution.

The high court further said that apart from insisting on its original withdrawal of the request for the usage of the P100 million subject funds for the Malabon Hall of Justice construction, it was also declining Abad's offer.

"On Jan. 17, 2014, Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. chairperson of the Halls of Justice Coordinating Committee, sent a memorandum to the Chief Justice recommending that the withdrawal of the request subject of the March 5, 2013 resolution be confirmed and that with respect to the Jan. 10, 2014 letter of Sec. Abad, the offer to avail of a portion of the pooled savings be declined.

"Wherefore, the [SC] notes the memorandum dated Jan. 17, 2014 of Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno and adopts the recommendation contained therein. The [SC] confirms the withdrawal of the request subject of the March 5, 2013 resolution and declines the offer contained in the Jan. 10, 2014 letter of Sec. Florencio Abad to avail of a portion of the pooled savings," the SC Jan. 21 resolution read.

In its July 1 DAP decision, the high court ruled that apart from barring cross-border transfer of funds from one branch of government to another, the Constitution also prohibits the "withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Acts."


In the case of the P1.865 billion earmarked by the SC for the Manila Hall of Justice project, the high court had made clear in past statements that these funds do not come from savings from the judiciary's less than 1-percent budget under the 2012 GAA, rather, it comes from the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) collected by courts nationwide from docket and other court fees.

The JDF was created by virtue of Presidential Decree 1949, dated July 18, 1984 "in order to preserve and enhance the independence of the judiciary at all times and safeguard the integrity of its members," being the lone apolitical branch of government.

Under PD 1949, 80-percent of the JDF shall be used to augment the allowances of justices, judges, and court personnel; the remaining 20-percent for office equipment and facilities.

The COA is mandated to do a quarterly audit of the fund -- its "receipts, revenues, uses, disbursements and expenditures."


As to Aquino's second example, high court insiders say the infusion of funds from the JDF into the Manila Hall of Justice (HOJ) was not an augmentation of an existing item in the 2012 GAA for the DOJ JUSIP because in the very same SC resolution (March 5, 2013) cited by Aquino, the justices sought the abandonment of the project by the executive so that the judiciary may fund the construction in full.

Thus, in the March 5 resolution, the high court sought that the entirety of the P100 million appropriation for the Manila Hall of Justice be used to fund another Hall of Justice project in Malabon City.

The Judiciary Employees Association (Judea) said the matter on the construction of Halls of Justice, primarily used to house court rooms, would have been less complicated if the judiciary were given sufficient annual budgets.

Judea laments how the judiciary is unable to fast track its infrastructure targets due to its "perennially" reenacted annual budget of less than 1-percent of the total budget Congress and Malacanan pass.