Probe SC’s alleged loan misuse – Drilon

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World Bank's allegations could prejudice country's "standing and credit worthiness"

MANILA, Philippines – Sen Franklin Drilon said he would seek a Senate investigation into reports that the Supreme Court has misused a World Bank (WB) loan meant to reform the judiciary.

Drilon told Rappler that the World Bank’s allegations, contained in an aide mémoire to the SC in December 2011, are serious enough to merit a Senate probe. The issue could “prejudice the standing and credit worthiness” not only of the High Court, but of the entire Philippine government, he added.

Rappler reported on Friday, January 13, that the WB has asked the SC to return a total of US$199,000 (P8.6-M) in “ineligible” funds by the end of January, saying the High Tribunal spent this on activities and projects not covered by a loan agreement between both parties.

Some of the money went to the purchase of laptops and the funding of domestic and international travels of SC officials, the WB said.

The loan package, granted to the Supreme Court in 2003, is worth $21.9-M (P903-M based on current rates) and was meant to expedite the resolution of cases and Filipinos’ access to justice under the Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP).

The World Bank’s Dec 28, 2011 aide mémoire, signed by the WB’s acting country director Matthew Stephens, was addressed to SC Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro, chairperson of the management committee of the JRSP.

Stephens said the WB sent a team to Manila in October 2011 to review the project. The team discovered that out of the 133 transactions worth $5.5-M (P233.8-M), at least 70, or 53% of the total, were found to be “ineligible.” This means that the SC spent this on projects that were not in the procurement plan. (Read the full story here.)

Power of the purse

Drilon said he would file a resolution on Monday calling on the Senate’s Oversight Committee on Public Expenditures to look into the WB report. Drilon is vice chairperson of the ruling Liberal Party, which has pushed for the impeachment of Corona.

He noted that the problems raised by the report could harm the “already limited monetary resources” at government’s disposal.

But the SC enjoys fiscal autonomy as the third branch of government, and has, in the past, invoked this autonomy as justification for its refusal to attend congressional investigations.

Drilon however insisted that Congress has the power to “institute safeguards to curb wanton and negligent spending on any branch of the government.” He added, “Whether the funding sources come from taxes or foreign loans, it is the duty of Congress to ensure that every centavo is responsibly spent.”

The Senate convenes as an impeachment court on Monday, January 16, to try Chief Justice Renato Corona. The trial will be held daily from Mondays to Thursdays.

Hearings on other matters will be held in the mornings. –

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