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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers-Shot down. Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the executive department-Shot down. Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) of the SC? I will leave that question hanging in the meantime.

But Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter president Elaine Bathan seems to be on the warpath. A few days ago, she said that the group she is heading will pass a resolution opposing the bill authored by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, the chairman of the committee on justice of the House of Representatives, which aims to scrap the JDF.

"We will oppose the bill because it is unconstitutional," she said.


Actually, two bills on the JDF are pending at House. Tupas's measure is not only about abolishing the JDF but also setting up in its stead the Judiciary Support Fund (JSF), which is subject of stringent controls. Another bill filed by Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas seeks to retain the JDF but with more controls. The two bills are set to be consolidated.

But I don't think all Cebu City lawyers are with Bathan. Yesterday, I heard one IBP member (I won't name him because I didn't ask permission from him to do so) contradict the claim that the House touching the JDF is unconstitutional. His line was that the JDF is a creation of law and lawmakers can introduce changes to that law.

By the way, if the initiatives of Tupas and Fariñas gain ground in the House and the Senate, would IBP Cebu City Chapter bring the matter to the SC? Of course it's a no-brainer how the SC will decide on the issue. Wouldn't that spark a constitutional crisis? But I am digressing there.

To be specific, the JDF was created by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos through Presidential Decree 1949 that he signed on July 18, 1984. Marcos's supposed intention in setting up the JDF was to ensure the economic independence of the judiciary.

But note the year Marcos created the JDF. That was around three years after he "lifted" Martial Law and almost a year after former senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., President Noynoy Aquino's father, was assassinated. The Marcos administration was beleaguered. There was therefore this belief that the JDF was created so Marcos could secure the loyalty of the judiciary.

Anyway, the JDF is controlled by the chief justice, according to PD 1949. (Reports say that from August 2012 to July 2013 alone, total JDF collections from legal fees have reached P1 billion). But the JDF is subject to the scrutiny of the Commission on Audit (COA).

Still, the JDF can be an issue from time to time. Remember the impeachment complaint against Cebuano Hilario Davide Jr., Gov. Junjun Davide's father, when he was still SC chief justice? While the complaint was junked, its basis was the supposed misuse of the JDF.

What I am saying is that the SC and the judiciary should welcome the review of the JDF and the introduction of reforms with the goal of ensuring that the money won't be misused. They can have their voices heard by Congress, which I say should also consult them.

I agree that the timing of the House initiative could be wrong. It should have been done before the SC shot down the PDAF and the DAP so accusations of ill-motive won't be attached to the move. But it is precisely because the PDAF and the DAP were shot down that we are going through this process of laying down mechanisms to protect government funds.

There should be no exemptions from this cleansing process.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 23, 2014.


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