Pain in the purse
After years of hush for having meager slice in the annual national budget pie, the judiciary, thru its members, has sounded its warning to hold a so-called “revolt” in protest over the big cut that the Dept. of Budget and Management imposed on the proposed budget of the Supreme Court of the Philippines for 2011. Contending that the Aquino administration by this gesture is “courting chaos,” the judges in the lower courts are poised to take on the tiff with a virtual punch.
Although an initial reaction is stunning surprise, the public would sooner or later fathom what could be so serious a repercussion as to lead the supposed noblest men of prudence to come up with a threat of holding mass leave should the budget proposed by SC in the hefty amount of P27.7 billion will not be approved.
It is a given fact that money propels goals and undertakings; that it is an essential element of progress and development; and that it is a tool to make dreams come true and problems solved. Where dearth of money harasses, stagnancy and deprivation result. Where a pre-determined set of expenditures is aptly being financed with regular income, including allowances recurrently received, a sudden belt-tightening policy will dramatically alter the routine. One’s lifestyle could also change against his will correspondingly.
National news is stuffed with information about the apparent tussle among the co-equal branches of the government, namely the executive, the legislative and the judiciary on this issue. What was thought to be a simple case of arithmetic has magnified into a public disclosure of the income that SC generates and distributes to its members and employees in form of allowances and bonuses. It started as a simple cry for approval of SC proposed 2011 budget and later bloomed into a public knowledge that SC is itself an income generating body of the government at all, capable of providing the members of the judiciary (the justices and judges) with monthly allowance equivalent to a hundred percent of their respective salaries.
Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, SC spokesman, was quick to explain that a huge chunk of the proposed P27.7 billion budget of SC for 2011will be used to improve courtrooms and halls of justices (Bulwagan ng Katarungan) and to shoulder the salary of 2,300 or so judges nationwide, including Shari’a Courts and justices of the High Tribunal, the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals, as well as around 25,500 employees across the country.
Stressing that the judges are not threatening but just “want to get the message cross,” Midas purported that the cut will negatively impinge upon many programs of SC, including these increases. He said that these members of the judiciary still have not received their 100 percent increase in salaries and allowances provided under RA 9227 enacted way back in 2003.
What they regularly receive now under the nomenclature of Special Allowance for the Judiciary as well as the additional cost of living allowance monthly given to them and the employees in the form of Judiciary Development Fund allowance are financed by the legal fees collected by the judiciary.
Confronted with the paucity of funds from the national treasury to meet the mandate of law allowing the salary increase of justices, judges and employees, SC endeavored on its own initiative and resourcefulness to provide these ameliorations due them in the face of the economic crisis the country is in right now.
With the P16 billion budget normally allocated to the judiciary, lower courts tend to nudge at local government units for travel allowances of judges and personnel for seminars and conventions and for the repair of court rooms. There were even instances that lower courts would run to LGUs for office supplies. Marquez opined that this could compromise the independence of the judiciary, efficiency and integrity.
The judiciary is saddled with too much worries and imperatives which it has to abide considering the passage of laws allowing increases in salaries and allowances, yet the national treasury barely provided for it. Worse than this, there are already about dozens of laws passed creating court salas, including those in Tacloban City, yet not too many have been built only because there is not sufficient fund for this purpose.
According to Marquez, the ideal ratio was one judge for every 10,000 population. However in the current situation due to lack of salas and in the face of the vacancies in the judiciary, only one judge is servicing 50,000 constituents. He said further that there were 2,200 judges all over the country with more than 600,000 cases pending nationwide. The Supreme Court, which has 15 justices, has 6,000 cases pending.
Generally the judiciary frowns at the planned “judicial revolt,” but if this is the only recourse left to dramatize its protest to another round of inadequate fund then this is a serious matter for the Executive and Legislative Branches to consider vis-à-vis the suffering of thousands of detention prisoners awaiting their cases to be heard and decided.
Hopefully, with all the leaders in these three co-equal branches of the government being noble and professional, a sincere closed door conference to iron out the kinks in the budget will be very productive. Hopes are high that this will lead to win-win consensus with SC members and personnel not ending up demoralized.
Hopefully, too, Congress and Malacañang will realize that it is not good to be passing laws without providing funds to give life into these laws.
By: Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros
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