POSTSCRIPT / December 29, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Unfair to stop PDAF yet allow Palace pork

PRESSURE TACTIC: A senior congressman’s press releases keep cropping up in the newspapers repeating his threats to Supreme Court justices that they could be impeached for misusing the Judiciary Development Fund collected from litigants.

The gentleman from Cavite need not threaten the SC justices. The magistrates know the law and their liability, if any. He should just do it and file the impeachment charges — if warranted.

It is unlikely, however, that he will stop barking. The noise barrage is part of the campaign of Malacañang to pressure the SC from declaring unconstitutional its Disbursement Acceleration Program, where forced savings were being impounded for future use.

Big question: Would it be fair and conducive to maintaining constitutional balance if, after striking down legislative pork barrel (Priority Development Assistance Fund), the SC would uphold the legality of presidential pork (DAP)?

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IMPEACHMENT: The targets of the Cavite congressman are not clear. Are they the Chief Justice, the entire Court, only the appointees of former President Gloria Arroyo, or only those still resisting the Palace pressure?

Will it be selective impeachment? Sources said Malacañang needs only three more votes in the 15-member tribunal to swing the upcoming ruling on the constitutionality of DAP, a hidden source of presidential pork.

President Noynoy Aquino himself could be the subject of an impeachment complaint the moment the SC declares his DAP unconstitutional and evidence is produced that he had ordered its creation and used part of it through some senators and congressmen.

But impeaching the President is not likely to prosper at this point since a big number of congressmen still support him. The tide is likely to ebb only when his popularity wanes and his ability to dole out pork and patronage contracts.

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FISCAL AUTONOMY: The Supreme Court invoked judicial independence and fiscal autonomy (Section 3 of Article VIII) as it explained that the JDF is a “special purpose fund” set up in 1984 through Presidential Decree No. 1949.

It said the fund is “for the benefit of the members and personnel of the judiciary to help ensure and guarantee the independence of the judiciary as mandated by the Constitution and public policy and required by the impartial administration of justice.”

Unlike presidential pork (DAP) which is used at the discretion of the President, the JDF is not discretionary. The law requires that 80 percent of it be used for cost of living allowances of judiciary workers and 20 percent for the acquisition or maintenance of court office equipment and facilities.

The SC said that while Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno has the power to administer the fund and authorize disbursements, she is not given any discretion on how the funds will be used.

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PEOPLE’S EYES: On the subject, we share this interesting and (as usual) insightful email of lawyer Rene A.V. Saguisag. He wrote in part:

“The Supreme Court may be autonomous from the other branches of government. However, it is not autonomous from the people to whom it, through the Chief Justice, should report every quarter what it does with the Judiciary Development Fund under Sec. 3 of PD 1949.

“The Manila courthouse is a disgrace. When I still could actively litigate, some court personnel would tell me they would get only a few thousand pesos a month.

“The CJ has the ‘sole exclusive power’ to decide what to do with the money (Sec. 2). Only CJ Sereno may be impeached then (this I’d not like to see; I fully trust her).

“It is not the House asking but the people, including my students, who are ‘particles of popular sovereignty.’

Kung kahit isang singkong duling ay ginamit sa mga Justices’ mansions sa Baguio, sa kurtina sa Korte Suprema, for the SC’s wellness programs, foreign trips and vehicles, Houston, we have a problem.

“Anyone in government handling public funds and is asked to account, should respond: ‘Here it is, what else can I do for you?’ In my time in government, others and I did not wait to be asked.”

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CLARK SUMMIT: Key businessmen and officials of Central Luzon, meanwhile, are poised to initiate moves to prod the national leadership to adopt a clear policy and push concrete action on the economic development of the region and of Clark Freeport in particular.

First step is a “summit” that some 200 of corporate bosses, congressmen and local officials will hold on Jan. 16 at the Widus Convention Center, one of the 900-plus enterprises in the former US air base converted into a business haven.

Rep. Yeng Guiao of Pampanga’s first district disclosed this in last Friday’s forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at its Bale Balita (House of News) at Clark. The Balitaan is co-sponsored by Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System.

He said he plans to follow up with a privilege speech in the House to sharpen focus on regional and Clark development along the vision of President Aquino.

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PRIORITIES: Guiao said his own priorities, drawn up in consultation with the region’s stakeholders, include the faster upgrading of the Clark airport as the alternative international gateway and the speedy building of the rail link between the national capital and Clark.

He said the National Economic and Development Authority must approve soonest the Clark airport project to trigger the release of its approved P7.2-billion funding now lying idle among the unprogrammed funds in the national budget.

“We also hope to encourage the Department of Transportation and Communication to speed up the completion of the North Railway, and extend it from Calamba, Laguna, to the Clark, instead of the plan to stop it in Malolos, Bulacan,” Guiao said.

The lawmaker said he shares the view of economists and businessmen that the Clark Freeport’s full development into a commercial-industrial enclave will benefit not only Central Luzon, but the entire country in terms of shared progress, job generation, technology transfer and increased foreign exchange income.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 29, 2013)

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