SC: Impeach threat vs justices over MPBF 'premature'

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2011 10:01 AM | Updated as of Sep 22 2011 09:06 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court(SC) has labeled as "premature" fresh threats to impeach its magistrates on the issue of the Aquino administration's move to set aside a multi-billion peso Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF) in the 2010 proposed national budget.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said lawmakers who have issued the threats "should gather all the data first" to get their facts straight especially since no General Appropriations Act(GAA) for 2012 has been passed and signed into law as of yet.

He reminded lawmakers who have been quoted in the media as saying the Corona court will face fresh impeachment raps should it rule that the MPBF is unconstitutional, to be more cautious in their statements.

The Aquino administration has decided to set the fund aside from allocations for positions yet to be filled by various agencies and institutions.

Ilocos Norte Representative and House Justice Committee vice-chairman Rodolfo Fariñas said he will move for the impeachment of the high court's justices should they strike down as unconstitutional the P23.4 billion MPBF provision amid threats by opposition lawmakers they will question its constitutionality.

“If the SC rules that the MPBF is unconstitutional, the House may opt to impeach the SC members who would vote to declare it unconstitutional for betrayal of public trust,” Farinas said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Asked how the high court will deal with such petition, considering that the judiciary, itself, is under threat of losing P2 billion from the Department of Budget Management's(DBM) proposed P15 billion allocation, Marquez said: "We have to go back to [the] fundamental law and find out what does the Constitution say. I think the Constitution is as clear as day when it comes to fiscal autonomy and non-reduction of the budget of the judiciary."

Section 3, Article VIII of the Constitution expressly states: "The Judiciary shall enjoy fiscal autonomy. Appropriations for the Judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year, and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released."

However, the planned reduction by P2 billion of the Department of Budget Management's(DBM) proposed P15 billion allocation for the judiciary due to unfilled positions will bring the judiciary's 2012 proposed budget to a little over P13 billion. This budget allocation is less than the judiciary's current 2011 budget of P14.3 billion.

Marquez said the DBM assured that the judiciary will have its P15 billion budget.

"At present we have assurance of DBM that the P2-billion taken away and transferred to the MPBF still forms part of budget of the judiciary," he said.