Lawmaker wants SC ‘pork’ abolished

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A LAWMAKER filed Monday a bill seeking to abolish the Judicial Development Fund (JDF) or the so-called pork barrel fund of the Supreme Court.

Citing alleged irregularities in the use of the multi-billion peso fund, Tupas filed House Bill 4738 seeking to repeal Presidential Decree (PD) 1949.

Tupas said PD 1949 was promulgated at a time when democratic institutions were not in place and when both executive and legislative powers were vested in the executive during the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.


He said the JDF, which has been in existence since 1984, is not spared from allegations of lack of transparency in the accounting and reporting of the funds as well as irregularities and abuse of discretion in the allocation and disbursement of the same.

"In line with the current administration's reforms in the area of public financial management, there is an urgent need to put in place a more transparent accounting and reporting of revenues collected by the judiciary to strengthen public accountability as provided by the Constitution," Tupas said.

Under the present law, the exclusive power and duty to approve and authorize disbursements and expenditures of the JDF is vested upon the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Tupas said that in sense alone, the JDF is considered discretionary funds as the same is administered by a particular public official and disbursed for public purpose.

"The fund shall be used to augment the allowances of the members and personnel of the judiciary and to finance acquisition, maintenance, and repair of office equipment and facilities; provided, that at least 80 percent of the fund shall be used for cost of living allowances and not more than 20 percent of the said fund shall be used for office equipment and facilities of the courts located wherever the legal fees are collected," the PD 1949 states.

JDF fund comes from the docket and other legal fees paid by party litigants.

Tupas, however, said that Article VI, Section 25 of the Constitution imposed a limitation that "discretionary funds appropriated for public officials shall be disbursed only for public purposes to be supported by appropriated vouchers and subject to such guidelines as may be prescribed by law."

The lawmaker also said that under his bill the JDF shall be deposited with the National Treasury as special account in general fund.

"This shall be without prejudice to the existing benefits being received by members of the Judiciary and its personnel under PD 1949. In the same vein, the itemization of the amounts necessary to fund the additional allowances of the members and personnel as well the acquisition, repair and maintenance of office equipment and facilities of the judiciary, as may be identified by the SC, will allow our people to see how these funds are allocated and disbursed," he said.

Tupas said that he first consulted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno before filing his proposal and he noted that top magistrate had expressed willingness to subject the JDF to scrutiny.

Last week, lawmakers urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to investigate and conduct special audit into the P1.7-billion JDF.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. urged the SC to disclose how it spent the JDF following the plan of some House members to look into the disbursement of the discretionary allocation of the judiciary.

Belmonte, however, does not support the proposal to repeal PD 1949.

The House justice committee, which is chaired by Tupas, will start its investigation into the JDF when session resumes on July 28.

Support fund

While Tupas proposes for the abolition of the JDF, his bill seeks the creation of a Judicial Support Fund (JSF) to help improve the technical capabilities of the judiciary, upgrade the existing facilities and as well as increase the benefits of the members and personnel of the judiciary.

The bill provides JSF shall be derived from the following sources:

- Increase in the legal fees prescribed in the amendment to the Rule 141 of the Rules of Court to be promulgated by the SC.

- Docket fees on estafa cases where the offended party fails to manifest within 15 days following the filing of the information that the civil liability arising from the crime has been, or would be, separately prosecuted; motions for postponement after completion of the pre-trial stage; application for notarial commissions; applications for and entries of certificates of sale and final deeds of sale in extrajudicial foreclosures of mortgage; and application for and certificates of sale in notarial foreclosures.

- Incomes from sales of reports (of decisions of the SC, Court of Appeal, Sandiganbayan), books, periodicals, pamphlets or the like, printed by the SC printing press or any other printing firm at the instance of or for the SC, Court of Appeals or Sandiganbayan or as the case may be.

- Fees collected from bar candidates, or participants of seminars/workshops or conferences offered or conducted by the court.

- Fees now authorized to be paid or collected by sheriffs, such as sheriff's commissions.

- Interests on deposits of its incomes.

- Confiscated cash bonds, satisfaction of judgement against bonds, and proceeds from the public sale of confiscated property bonds, in both civil and criminal cases where such bonds were posted.

The bill also states that the JSF shall be released only upon submission by the SC of an itemized special budget for the purpose, pursuant to Executive Order 292, series of 1987.

It also said that the Commission of Audit, through the auditor of the Supreme Court or his duly authorized representatives, audit quarterly the receipts, revenues, uses, disbursements and expenditures of the JSF, and shall submit the appropriate report in writing to the chairman of the COA and to the Chief of Justice of the SC, as well as to the Congress.

Meanwhile, House justice committee vice chairperson Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas filed HB 4690, which seeks amendments to the PD 1949.

Fariñas' bill intends to emphasize that the constitutional grant of the fiscal autonomy cannot and should not be used to frustrate the overriding constitutional principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. (Sunnex)

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