MANILA, Philippines – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said on Monday, September 3, that she is confident that the Department of Budget and Management would now “help” the judiciary even as the two institutions used to fight over fund allocation in the past.
At the Court’s Monday flag ceremony, her first since becoming chief justice, Sereno told justices and employees present that she is in talks with the DBM. “Wala ako ni kaunting takot na ibibigay nila sa atin ang ating hinihinging tulong (I have no doubt that they will extend us the help we’ve been asking for),” she said.
The SC, whose share in the national budget has been less than one percent, has been asking for a bigger budget. It was at loggerheads with the DBM during the term of then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2011 over the following issues:
- Special allowances for judges
The DBM said that as stipulated in Republic Act 9227, or the law granting judges special allowances, salary increases will be sourced from the SAJ (special allowances for judges) funds.
RA 9227 created the so-called special allowances for judges or SAJ, which is equivalent to 100% of the basic monthly salary of the judges.
The law, however, also qualified that “upon implementation of any subsequent increase in the salary rates provided under RA 6758 [the SSL], as amended, all special allowances granted under this Act…shall be considered as an implementation of the said salary increases.”
Thus, the allowances will become part of taxable income. Judges threatened to hold protests over this in 2011. The DBM was able to defuse the tension by agreeing to provide the differential between the allowances and the salary increases.
- Miscellaneous personnel benefit fund
The DBM sought to transfer P1.2 billion of the judiciary’s 2012 budget to the miscellaneous personnel benefit fund or the MPBF, the funds which will only be released to the SC and other agencies once they fill up their vacancies. The DBM came up with this initiative to prevent the conversion of unused funds, which became a source of corruption in other institutions such as the military. The SC was up in arms over this, saying the DBM move impinged on the judiciary’s fiscal independence. The DBM eventually gave in to the SC.
Lack of fund reporting
Newsbreak reported in 2010 that Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad wrote the SC then, reminding the Court that it had “not complied with the submission of the required accountability reports specially where the status of the SAJ and JDF (Judiciary Development Fund) is concerned.”
The SC has started to submit reports to the DBM now, however.
The SC is now appealing to the DBM to reconsider its proposal to return millions in special allowances for judges back to the national treasury.
The DBM said that since the special allowances have been integrated with the salary increases of the judges since June 1, the balances in the SAJ fund should now be part of the national fund.
The SC, however, argued that its fiscal independence grants it “full flexibilty” to use its funds. – Rappler.com
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