Monday, September 1, 2014
Congress should heed Sereno's plea for higher budget
MANILA-Sen. Ralph Recto said Congress should heed Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno’s appeal for a higher judiciary budget, but any increase, he said, can be attached to performance outcomes like faster disposal of cases.
The plea to augment the budget of our courts has merit, Recto said. “It is a request which should not invite a dissenting opinion.”
While the judiciary’s budget has increased from P11.2 billion in 2010 to P19.3 billion this year and to a proposed P20.3 billion for 2015, “it, however, accounts for less than one percent of total government expenditures,” Recto said.
He noted that while the national budget will expand by a robust 15.1 percent next year, the judiciary’s budget will only grow by 4.8 percent.
What the Senate and the House can do, Recto said, is go through the “original wish list” of the judiciary for 2015 and “take a second look on items which were not included in the 2015 national budget Malacanang has sent to Congress.”
He noted that during the budget preparation the judiciary requested P152 million for new equipment but instead got zero in the National Expenditure Program (NEP).
It likewise asked for P500 million for the construction of the Cebu City Halls of Justice Complex and the same was not favorably endorsed by the executive branch, Recto said.
A briefer prepared by the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court said only P10 million out of its original request of P914 million for “buildings and infrastructure” was carried in the NEP.
In the same presentation, the SC is also requesting funds to hire 2,239 court legal researchers and 3,089 personnel for 172 new Child and Family Courts.
Funding for the creation of these positions was also not endorsed by Malacanang to Congress.
“Maybe the executive has its own reasons for denying the requests. In the case of the halls of justice, it has always been its position that the funds be lodged with the Department of Justice,” Recto said.
What the legislature can do is revisit the original request of the judiciary and put back what needs to be restored, Recto said.
The judiciary originally requested a budget of P31.3 billion for 2015 but a review by the DBM pared this down to P20.3 billion.
When it comes to appropriations, Recto said “Congress is in the position to reconcile the differences in opinion between the other two branches.”
While the judiciary can dip into the Judiciary Development Fund to bankroll some of its capital outlay requirements, “the fund’s P1.2 billion annual collection may not be enough, more so if we consider that proceeds have been earmarked for other uses by law,” Recto pointed out.
Mere collection of JDF alone should not disqualify the judiciary from receiving appropriations for other purposes, Recto said.
“There are many agencies which spend the fees they collect and yet they still get funds from the national budget. In 2015, earmarked revenues will reach P86 billion. Yet it is only JDF, which represents a fraction of it, which is attracting attention,” Recto said.
“Isang halimbawa n’yan yung Road Users Tax na aabot ng P14.4 billion ang collections next year, na ginagasta na wala namang appropriation. ‘Yan siguro ang dapat silipin,” Recto said.
But should Congress increase the budget of the judiciary, “it should be anchored on a set of deliverables,” Recto said.
“Can we improve, for example, the present 38 percent disposition rate of cases in lower courts? Will velocity of cases improve in other courts?” Recto said.
In 2012, 2,214 lower courts disposed 376,289 of the 988,291 cases they handled that year.
Also in the same year, the Supreme Court reported a 38% case disposal rate out of a total case intake of 11,302.
Recto believes that investing more funds in the courts will allow them to reduce docket backlog and speed up the resolution of cases.
He cited an SC “reform project piloted in Quezon City courts” as an example of what funding support to the judiciary can do. Dubbed HUSTISYEAH, it has reportedly resulted in a 30-percent drop in pending cases.
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