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Supreme Court kept billions meant for treasury — COA

At the time, Marquez launched a high-profile media campaign for the Court’s budget. He also warned of protests by the judges if the budget department and Congress did not increase their budget to their desired level of P27.1 billion.

The Department of Budget and Management allotted P14.3 billion for 2011, which actually represents an increase of 7.27 percent from this year’s P13.3 billion.

Billions in savings

Moreover, data from the Supreme Court show that they were able to save, from 2007 to 2009, an estimate of P2.8 billion from their budget for salaries. This happens because not all the posts for judges are filled up and the DBM gives the Court the full appropriation for all 2,307 judges.

Senator Frankling Drilon: "The chief Justice has  authority to realign the savings of the judiciary."

Senator Frankling Drilon: "The chief Justice has authority to realign the savings of the judiciary." (Photo: Liberal party website)

As of July 2010, vacancy rate for judges was at 20 percent, Marquez said during the hearing.

From the billions in savings, the Court declares special bonuses. “Note that the Chief Justice has authority to realign savings of the judiciary,” Drilon told Newsbreak in an interview.

Decisions on the Court’s finances are the turf of the Chief Justice. The rest of the Justices are not informed of the financial condition of the SC so there is usually no discussion, during the en banc meetings, on budget issues.

Sources with access to the Court informed us that special bonuses are biased against the regions. For example, this year, Supreme Court central office employees received a Christmas bonus of P25,000 per person and only P10,000 for the lower courts.

Last year, it was P20,000 each for central office staff and P3,000 for the lower-court employees.

Apart from these, the Chief Justice can give out bonuses pegged to any occasion.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno declared a “retirement bonus” of P15,000 each for the central office staff when he stepped down in May 2010. Soon after, the new Chief Justice, Renato Corona, granted P10,000 “appointment bonus” for each central office employee. We learned that the lower courts did not receive any of these extraordinary bonuses.

These bonuses came when the Court was at the center of a controversy over the “midnight appointment” of a new Chief Justice. Puno did not take a stand on the issue. Majority of the Justices re-interpreted the Constitution to allow President Arroyo to appoint a Chief Justice despite the ban on appointments during presidential elections—which happens only every six years.

Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez warned of "judicial revolt" (Photo: Judicial and Bar Council website)

Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez warned of "judicial revolt" (Photo: Judicial and Bar Council website)

Memo to PNoy

In September, when Marquez warned of a “judicial revolt” because the DBM wasn’t giving in to their demand for a much higher budget, the budget department briefed President Aquino in a three-page memo. The key points were:

· The budget woes of the Supreme Court have been addressed by a law passed in 2003 that provided “special allowances equivalent to 100 percent of their basic monthly salary.” This “special allowance” was granted over a four-year period.

· The source of these allowances was the legal fees collected by the Court.

· By the fourth year of the implementation of the special allowance, the national government was required to provide additional funds to “cover the shortfall between the SAJ fund and the full 100 percent allowance.”

· The Supreme Court agreed with the law and said so in a resolution. Later, however, the Court changed its mind. In October 2009, it issued an order saying that these allowances can no longer be taken from the SAJ but instead from the national budget.

This is the root of the problem. In an interview, Drilon described the situation as a “classic deadlock” caused by a legal issue.

No accountability reports

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, in his memo, also raised the issues of transparency and accountability.

He wrote that while the DBM recognizes the need to provide a more attractive compensation package for the members of the judiciary, “we must also address the attendant transparency and accountability issues regarding the treatment of the SAJ and JDF collections as off-budget accounts…we would also like to emphasize that the Supreme Court has not complied with the submission of the required accountability reports specially where the status of the SAJ and JDF is concerned.”

He said that the SC “must be encouraged to remit to the BTR (Bureau of Treasury) all SAJ collections consistent with the policy of transparency, accountability and good governance with the current administration is espousing.”

If the SC complies, the DBM can “determine the deficiency in the salary differential requirements of the judiciary and provide, in full, the financial requirements of these salary increases.”

The Court, claiming fiscal autonomy, is the least transparent about its budget. It was only forced to account for the JDF when Congress, in 2003, attempted to impeach then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. Since then, the Court has kept its JDF financial report under wraps.

The tug-of-war between the DBM and the Supreme Court over the submission of accountability reports is a perennial issue. Newsbreak, independent journalism from the Philippines

Erratum:

This article initially said that, for two years, the Court kept a total of P10.18 billion that was meant for the treasury. This was after we mistakenly added the P5.38 billion which was the running total as of 2009 to the total as of 2008. We apologize for the error. – eds

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CATEGORY: Institutions, Investigations, The Judiciary
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  1. jose miguel ramirez says:

    Now that we have what appears to be an independent Supreme Court, Ms. Vitug once again comes out with an article such as this tending to spark undeserved condemnation of the Supreme Court. Ms. Vitug and her financiers must want a rubber stamp Supreme Court!

  2. MARITES DAÑGUILAN VITUG says:

    Mr. Ramirez,
    The Commission on Audit reports speak for themselves.
    What saddens me about your remark is that you ascribe motive instead of making comments on the merits of the story. We journalists are not new to this experience. In our feudal and very personalistic society, many do not rise above personalities and motives–to the level of facts and ideas.
    As for financiers: Newsbreak is funded by grants and you can check this out. Recently, we concluded our partnership with ABS-CBN.
    I would also like to stress that we at Newsbreak take great pride in our independence.

  3. Julio Amador says:

    Any institution should be fair game for criticism for the sake of transparency. Ms. Vitug has done us a great service in shedding light on the Supreme Court. The government is not a religion that cannot be questioned. The SC is a government institution like it or not and thus should not be onion-skinned about these things.

  4. Ms. Vitug, according to my friend from the Supreme Court, the Mediation Fees that are being collected for each case filed in our courts today is P500, its true in all lower courts(MTC/RTC) and P1,000 at the court of appeals. All in all there about 800,000 cases that is currently pending in our courts all over the country. Multiply it by P500, makes a huge amount. That’s how much money the Philippine Mediation Center has right now. Recently, the PHILJA Board has decided to invest further with LANDBANK on high yielding deposit with additional monthly earnings of P3Million. Mediation is just a very small department of PHILJA of the Supreme Court and yet it has a staggering amount of money being kept with them without the benefit of an AUDIT ever since this was implemented. Besides, the Philippine mediation center office is an office solely created by the Supreme Court thru an Administrative Matter issued by the Supreme Court en banc and NOT CREATED BY LAW in CONGRESS. At the moment, DBM has not issued NOSCA (Notice of Organization, Staffing and Compensation Action) to all the personnel of the Philippine Mediation Center Head Office. They are currently deriving their salaries from the Supreme Court. This is highly illegal in so far as the DBM is concerned.

  5. nikko mahor says:

    has anyone asked the supreme court why did they not remit these immediately to the treasury?

  6. juan de la cruz says:

    Ang Korte Supreme natin ngayon ay bulok na.

    Akala ng Korte Suprema ay hindi sila pwedeng magkamali. Akala ng mga nag-oopisina sa padre faura ay mga diyos sila at mga alipin nila ang mga nasa rtc at mtc.

    Ang karamihan ng trabaho ay nasa rtc at mtc, ngunit ang mga benepisyo ng mga nagtatrabaho sa padre faura ay napakalaki.

    Maiintindihan natin kung mabagal umusad ang hustisya sa rtc at mtc dahil nga sa dami ng kaso. Sa CA at Sc naman, kung ano ang konti ng trabaho ay sya namang dami ng benepisyo at saksakan ng bagal sa pagdesisyon ng mga kaso.

    Iniipit ng SC ang pera para sa kanilang allowances para sa mga taga padre faura. Makapal ang mukha nila na sabihing walang pera para sa mga nasa rtc at mtc.

    Kung garapal sa korapsyon ang malacanyang at kongreso, ganyan din kagarapal sa korapsyon ang korte suprema. Wala silang pinag iba.

    Nagmamalinis ang korte suprema pero nasa ilalim din ang kulo.

    Dapat magbitiw sa tungkulin ang lahat ng mahistrado sa korte suprema para naman magsimula na ang paglilinis at pagbabago ng hustisya sa Pilipinas. Dapat bawal ang mga pulitiko sa korte suprema. Bawal din yung mga nag abogado sa mga pulitiko, lalong lalo na kung katulad ni Corona.

  7. If I didn’t read this article, I would have thought that the SC was the only honest institution in our country.

    So the SC is after money after all? They have their own money making machine and they want to keep it for themselves?

    I wondered if SC flip-flops their decisions every now and then for the biggest bidder. I am so disappointed already regarding RA 9355 the creation of Dinagat Province. They flip-flop their decisions even if the facts point that it should be nullified.

  8. Great article Ms. Vitug. More power to our journalists. A truly free and democratic country needs a free and independent press.

  9. remembrall says:

    i think the judiciary branch should maintain competent accountant or financial advisers for these matters. well, commission on audit is always there to check on their books, but the department concerned must, on the inside, does its part on managing its finances. for midas, there’s no need for ‘judicial revolt’ if there are budget surpluses to begin with, that can, at least for their sake, be reallocated for other purposes. his idea of a judicial strike is itself a blunder on his part as Court Administrator when, after all, there would no be such thing if not for his reeking mismanagement of the court operations.

  10. LOLLY ACOSTA says:

    Hi Maritess,

    You so bravely wrote this piece for a reason and we admire you for that.!!! The Supreme Court should account for every single thing they did– It’s about time the evil be exposed!!!! God bless you more!!!

  11. ruby castelltort says:

    sino ba ang nag screen ng mga applikante sa korte suprema at nagsumite sa presidente. Ang Judicial and Bar Council, ang mga myembro nito ang dapat sisihin kung bakit nila nirekomenda ang mga ito para maging mahistrado sa korte suprema. Dapat isa publiko ang pagpili ng magiging mahistrado ng korte suprema. Sabagay, pera-pera lang yan. Lahat ng empleado ng gobyerno e me perang katapat.

  12. Supreme Court is turning into a money making enterprise. It’s primary objective is to amass billions of pesos at the expense of those who wants to seek justice by filing their complaint in court. The Judiciary Fund Transfer is a stark example why the Supreme Court has fallen grace from the very people they promised to serve. Imagine, 80% of the JDF (Judiciary Development Funds)goes to the cost of allowances of judges. The name Judiciary Development Funds is a misnomier, it is nothing but one form of extortion which was approved by HONORABLE SUPREME COURT members at the expense of those filing Complaint in court. 80% of these JDF goes to the living allowances of the Judges which is a double jeopardy because the Judiciary has already got a Yearly budget from the National Government. So. why then do the need additional income? If this is not one form of grave abuse of authority, I do not know what to call it except to consider their action as EXTORTION.

  13. Supreme Court is no longer Supreme! I just could not help keeping to my self to what the Supreme Court is doing to those who files Complaint. I have been in the Court filing cases for almost 20 years. In the early times, the filing of Complaint Affidavit is just a matter of course, cheap filing fees, filing of Motions are free, and their was no hazel.

    Unfortunately, that devil called JUDICIARY DEVELOPMENT FUNDS completely change my impression towards our Supreme Court. They have turned Justice into a money making enterprise. No, sir. They are more occupied making money than in dispensing their function. Now a days, it is too expensive to file a Complaint Affidavit. For example, one time, I have to throw to the garbage my Complaint because the filing fee is too high. With the substance of P 100,000 involve, I have to pay the Court P 20,000 depending on the number of Checks. Let us consider other expenses, Filing Fee P 20,000, Acceptance Fee of my Lawyer, P 20,000 minimum, then, there is their per appearance of P 2,500 and then when I win the case, I will pay the Court Sheriff a minimum of P 12,000 to elit the properties just in case. In short, the grand total of my expenses is P 62,000 pesos. Now, if I won the case, 25% goes to the lawyer for winning the litigation, which is another P25,000 pesos. In short, I have to shell out a minimum of P 87,000! Now in the civil aspect of the B.P. 22, you get a !% a month interest , still it can not cover up the original amount of P 100,000 pesos because you will just be collecting P 1,000 a month or P12, 000 a year. So, if you have P100,000 original claim plus one year interest of P 12,000, then your gross is P 112,000, and less expenses of P87,000 pesos, then your net is only P 25,000.

    Sounds crazy but it is the fact! For going to the Court you spend P 87,000 and your net is only P 27,000 from the original of P 100,000. So is it worth it?

    The culprit here is the interest impose by the Court for “humanitarian purposes” by awarding you 1% a month!

    Going back to the JDF. At present, the income derive from these excessive collection for this year alone went up to 8 billion pesos! Now, 80% of the JDF goes for “Cost of LIving allowances.” In short, the word “Judiciary Development Funds” is actually to finance the allowances of the Justices. Imagine 8 billion pesos 80% is a wooping 6.4 billion pesos Judges allowance. He hhee.

    Sounds fantastic but true. Imagine, if there are 2,000 judges in the entire Philppines, so each will have a yearly allowances of 320 million pesos. Sounds fantastic. I hope my arthimitic is wrong. Of course the SC judges will have a greater share from the cake. Supreme Court yata.

    NOw, here is why it is morally wrong. The collection alone of Cost of Living Allowances of Judges is considered an EXTORTION because it is not lawful, morally wrong, and definitely daylight robber for the simple reason that the Judiciary Branch has already a yearly budget. NO NEED FOR ADDITIONAL FUNDS BECAUSE THEY ARE ALREADY SUBSIDIZED BY THE TAX PAYER IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    As a closing remark, Supreme Court is no longer lay Supreme. They are no different from an ordinary thief. The only different from an ordinary thief is the thief robs to survive, the Supreme Court Judges robs its client our of GREED.

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