SC, DBM enjoy ‘openness’ – Abad

SC now more 'reasonable' in tackling issues involving use of funds

VISIT. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno welcomes Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of the SC

MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said on Wednesday, September 5 there is now “openness” between the Supreme Court and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).  

Abad met with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and 11 other justices on September 5 for the first time, saying he went there upon the High Court’s invitation. (Justices Arturo Brion and Antonio Carpio were not present in the meeting.)

Abad refused to elaborate on how this development would affect the resolution of issues between the two bodies.

But a source from the DBM, who asked not be named, said the SC is now more “reasonable” in addressing the alleged lack of transparency in its use of funds. The source told Rappler that the Court is now more open to acknowledging the necessity of reporting its use of funds even as the DBM respects the fiscal independence of the Court. 

Reporting the use of funds meant for unfilled positions is a ticklish issue between the SC and the DBM. In 2010, Newsbreak reported that 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 (Special allowances for judges) and JDF (Judiciary Development Fund) is concerned.”

The SC has started to submit reports to the DBM now, however, though the source said the reports could be more “clear” and “detailed.” 

The alleged misuse of the SAJ and the JDF has been cited as grounds for impeachment against two former chief justices – Hilario Davide in 2003 and Renato Corona in 2010. 

Mum on allowances

Wednesday’s meeting is considered a watershed moment because the SC and the DBM have yet to reach a compromise on the DBM’s proposal to return millions in special allowances for judges back to the national treasury.

This subject has yet to be resolved, according to Sen Franklin Drilon, head of the finance committee in Senate. The Senate has concluded its hearings on the judiciary’s proposed P17.7 billion budget for 2013, but Drilon said the SC and the DBM have yet to agree on this issue.

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. But the SC said part of its fiscal autonomy allows the SC to decide how it will use the SAJ fund. 

Abad refused to tell the media how they tackled the issue, however. “I defer that to the chief justice, because we agreed that they are going to speak about this, this is really their concern.”

Abad said though that discussions on funding for the “digitization” of the cases have been “very positive.” Abad previously said that they are willing to provide the funds the SC needed to develop an online system where cases could be published and the updates on them could be tracked online. 

The SC has yet to issue a statement on the meeting. –

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