SC justice rues shrinking judiciary budget

Aries C. Rufo

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SC justice rues shrinking judiciary budget
The judiciary is one of the least-funded institutions, getting less than a 1% slice of the total budget pie

MANILA, Philippines – First, it struck down as unconstitutional the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers and the use of the Malampaya Fund and the President‘s Social Fund for other purposes not intended by law. (READ: SC junks PDAF as unconstitutional)

More recently, the Supreme Court (SC) dealt the executive branch another blow by declaring certain acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as void. (READ: SC: 3 DAP schemes unconstitutional)

The successive setbacks make it appear that the High Tribunal is weighing too hard on Malacañang and the House of Representatives. They also seem to show the justices still have the final say on fiscal issues.

But the other side of the coin shows the SC remains at the mercy of its co-equal branches – executive and legislative departments – for its yearly budget.

In fact, it is among the least-funded government institutions, getting less than a 1% slice of the total budget pie.

Shrinking allocation

In his message to Congress in August 2010 when he presented the first national budget proposed under his administration, President Benigno Aquino III vowed to “institutionalize judicial reforms to address the deficiencies in our judicial system.”

He reiterated this in his 2013 budget message to Congress, saying that his government “is committed to strengthening our institutions that deliver justice and enforce the rule of law, so that justice is dispensed fairly and equally in society.”

But the numbers do not back up this commitment.

In a talk on judicial reform before law students at the Ateneo School of Law last June 20, Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen observed that the budget for the judiciary had barely breached the 1% mark under the Aquino administration. Leonen, former dean of the UP College of Law, is the 4th appointee of Aquino to the SC.

While the judiciary’s budget from 2011 to 2014 rose in absolute terms, it has not actually increased in percentage terms in the context of the entire General Appropriations Act (GAA).

In fact, it even decreased in 2014 in percentage terms, constituting only 0.82% of the P2.265 trillion ($US51.5 billion)* national budget for the year.

For 2011, in the first national budget passed under Aquino, the entire judiciary – which includes the SC, the lower courts, the Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals and the Court of Tax Appeals – had a total budget of P13.621 billion ($309.6 million).

In 2012, this jumped to P15.075 billion ($342.61 million), and in 2013, the judiciary’s budget stood at P17 billion ($386.4 million). For 2014, the judiciary got a budget of P18.56 billion ($421.9 million).

Thus from 2011 to 2014, the judiciary’s budget already rose by P5 billion. But the increases can be misleading.

Pork barrel bigger than judiciary’s budget

Leonen said that in the 2011 GAA, the judiciary’s share in the national budget pie was only 0.84 %. The percentage increased slightly to 1.01% in 2012.

In 2013, the percentage share dipped to 0.86% and further slid to 0.82% in 2014. (Rappler has a slightly different calculation. For the past 3 years, the percentage share of the judiciary in the budget pie hovered between 0.82% to 0.85%).

Lamentably, Leonen said, on a yearly basis, the pork barrel of lawmakers had a bigger allocation – about P24 billion ($545 million). The alleged misuse by lawmakers of their pork barrel is the worst corruption scandal to hit the country in recent history.

 20112012 20132014
Supreme Court and lower courts P 12,163,151,000 P 13,355,764,000 P 15,039,944,000 P 16,407,654,000
Presidential Electoral Tribunal 62,741,000 72,157,000 87,769,000 88,023,000
Sandiganbayan 320,414,000 348,121,000 381,238,000 393,410,000
Court of Appeals 902,303,000 1,094,428,000 1,262,684,000 1,426,129,000
Court of Tax Appeals 172,909,000 205,421,000 234,472,000 244,600,000
TOTAL BUDGET FOR JUDICIARY P 13,621,518,000 P 15,075,891,000 P 17,006,107,000 P 18,559,816,000
Priority Development Assistance
Funds (PDAF)
 P 24,620,000,000  P 24,890,000,000 P 24,790,000,000 P 0
TOTAL NATIONAL BUDGET (rounded)  P 1,645,000,000,000 P 1,816,000,000,000 P 2,006,000,000,000 P 2,265,000,000,000
% of Total Budget allocated
to the Judiciary
0.83% 0.83% 0.85% 0.82%

Leonen observed that while there are high expectations for the judiciary, “the public is not there when the budget (for the judiciary) is being deliberated on.”

He asked the public to be “champions in removing the vulnerability of the judiciary” from external factors that could affect its integrity.

Constitutional conundrum

Leonen said members of the judiciary must have the financial means “to maintain integrity” and make them less susceptible to corruption.

For example, the monthly salary of a newly-appointed Metropolitan Trial Court judge only amounts to P27,000 ($614) while that of a Regional Trial Court judge is slightly higher at P29,000 ($659), Leonen pointed out.

By the time the judge would have retired, factoring the tiered pay increases, the monthly salary of an MTC judge would have amounted to only P67,000 ($1,523) while that of an RTC judge, slightly higher at P78,000 ($1,773).

While the judicial branch enjoys fiscal autonomy, the reality is that it is dependent on the allocation that the executive and legislative branches provide for its yearly budget.

Seeking a higher budget allotment presents “a constitutional conundrum,” Leonen said, since “the courts are not designed to lobby to political departments.”

During budget hearings, SC justices appear before the House of Representatives and the Senate to defend the judiciary’s budget. But such hearings usually are a bruising encounter for the justices.  

Instead of grilling the justices on the budget, the hearings only provide lawmakers a convenient venue to air their complaints, reprimand justices, and worse, lobby for a particular case.

One recent example is the Senate budget hearing last year, where Senate President Franklin Drilon challenged the SC’s collective wisdom in issuing a temporary restraining order on the pork barrel. (READ: Budget hearing? Drilon grills SC justices on ‘pork’ TRO). – with research by Michael Bueza/

$1 = P43.99

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