SC maintains judiciary should exercise fiscal autonomy

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 30 2011 10:54 AM | Updated as of Oct 01 2011 03:04 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Budget Secretary Florencio Abad may have said he is willing to release P2 billion in judiciary funds the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is proposing to cut from the judiciary's 2012 budget on the condition that unfilled/vacant positions in the courts should first be filled up, but the Supreme Court (SC) maintains reducing its budget next year is not allowed by the Constitution.

In a text message, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez reiterated that Section 3, Article VIII of the Constitution leaves no room for interpretation.

The said provision 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."

"The provisions of the Constitution on fiscal autonomy and non-reduction of the budget for the judiciary are plain and simple. They need no interpretation, just simply application," Marquez said.

"Just the same, the JBC (Judicial and Bar Council) has been actively recruiting qualified lawyers to join the judiciary," Marquez added.

The judiciary's budget proposal for 2012 was P20 billion, the DBM proposed P15.6 billion.

However, due to a move by the Aquino administration to hold allocations for unfilled/vacant positions and place it in a miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (MPBF), the judiciary stands to lose another P2 billion. This will bring the judiciary's budget to around P13 billion, or a total budget cut of P7 billion. Should this push through, the judiciary's budget for 2012 will be lower than its current allocation of P14.3 billion.

Abad is also moving for the inclusion of a special provision on the use of funds in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2012 "so that it will not be used as savings and bonuses," and urged the judiciary to give a full accounting of the Judicial Development Fund (JDF) and the Special Allowances for the Judiciary (SAJ), which are taken from legal fees collected by the court.

To this, Marquez said: "Savings will always be used for lawful purposes, subject to COA's (Commission on Audit) accounting and auditing rules, and in accordance with the Court's fiscal autonomy."

"The Constitution cannot be compromised," he stressed.

Court employees started their "Black Monday" protest this week against the proposed budget cut and vowed to continue the protest until the DBM heeds its call to "respect" the judiciary's fiscal autonomy and the Constitutional provision that its budget may not be lowered than the previous year's.

They said lowering the judiciary's budget will affect some of its vital projects which derives funding from savings due to unfilled/vacant positions such as the Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJOW) program where mobile courts make rounds all over the country to adjudicate cases.