Supreme Court deserves higher budget – Recto

 

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court has found an ally in Senator Ralph Recto, who urged Congress to increase the court's budget for 2015 by restoring what Malacañang removed from its original proposal. 

Recto said Monday, September 1, the SC's call to augment their budget is "a request which should not invite a dissenting opinion." 

The proposed budget for the judiciary for fiscal year 2015 is P20.28 billion ($463.75 million). While this is 5% higher than what it got in 2014, it is but 30% less than what the SC originally asked for.

The amount is also less than 1% of the proposed P2.606 trillion ($59.79 billion) national budget for 2015, and the 5% increase for 2015 is said to cover only the inflation over the year.

Agencies and branches of the goverment submit their proposed annual budgets to the Department of Budget and Management, which is under the executive. The DBM then consolidates them before submitting to Congress for deliberation and approval. It was DBM that removed items from the original budget proposal of the High Court.

The budget cuts came after relations between the 3 branches of government showed cracks in recent months. The SC declared as unconstitutional lawmakers' discretionary funds, the one recently uncovered to have been illegally diverted to ghost projects for at least a decade. The court also declared as partly unconstitutional Malacañang's spending program, which bypassed Congress' approval in utilizing savings but also became a source of extra funds for lawmakers.

 

Why only question SC's funds?

Recto said the executive should not justify the budget cuts by citing the High Court's collection of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which critics have dubbed as the judiciary's own pork barrel.

“There are many agencies which spend the fees they collect and yet they still get funds from the national budget. In 2015, earmarked revenues will reach P86 billion ($1.97 billion). Yet it is only the JDF, which represents a fraction of it, which is attracting attention,” Recto said.

An average of P1 billion ($22.87 million) is collected for the JDF from docket fees in lower courts and other sources, according to reports from the Commission on Audit. The SC is supposed to use 80% of the money for the cost of living allowances of employees and 20% for the improvement of courts.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno earlier said in a rare press conference that she is "not content" with what the SC is set to get. (WATCH: #AskCJ)

"The national budget is terribly imbalanced against us. We don't have the balance of power in our favor," she said. 

Items cut from SC proposal

Recto said Congress should restore items from the original SC proposal, urging his colleagues in the Senate to go through back to the SC's "original wish list."

Among the items that were not endorsed by Malacañang when the proposed 2015 budget was submitted to Congress were:

Meanwhile, Recto acknowledged that the executive also has basis for cutting some of the funding that the SC had requested for.  

The high court asked for P500 million for the construction of the Cebu City Halls of Justice Complex, but it was not endorsed by Malacañang. Meanwhile, only P10 million out of the high court's original request of P914 million for "buildings and infrastructure" was endorsed to Congress. 

The issue on whether funding for the construction of halls of justice should be given to the SC is under discussion. 

Appropriations for such projects had been given to the Department of Justice in the past years since the department signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the SC in 2000 under the Justice System Infrastructure Program (JUSIP). The MOA gave the responsibility of constructing halls of justices to the DOJ and the maintenance of the buildings to the SC. 

During the DOJ budget briefing on Thursday, August 29, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she was open to consultations with the judiciary on the matter.

Deliverables

While Recto supports increasing the budget of the judiciary, the senator said it should be done side by side with performance indicators. 

“Can we improve, for example, the present 38% disposition rate of cases in lower courts? Will velocity of cases improve in other courts?” Recto said.

In 2012, the SC reported a 38% case disposal rate out of a total case intake of 11,302.

One of projects in the SC's pipeline is the creation of a continuous justice system, which Sereno said could help the courts achieve faster disposal of cases. Malacañang, however, did not endorse funding for the project to Congress. 

In 2013, the government introduced the performance-informed budgeting system, which uses performance indicators "to assist in deciding where funds will go."

The tug-of-war between the Supreme Court, Malacañang and Congress over the disparity in the High Court's proposed budget and what is eventually approved has been going on for years. Congress, which has the power of purse, is wary of giving the SC a huge budget increase due to its fiscal autonomy, which prohibits Congress from reducing its budget from last year. 

While the judiciary is supposed to be on equal footing with the legislative branch and the executive branch, budget allocations for it has barely breached the 1% mark under the Aquino administration, as noted by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in a June forum.  Rappler.com