OCTOBER 19, 2011 (STANDARD) by Rey T. Salita - TWO senators on Sunday blamed Malacañang’s spokesmen for pitting President Benigno Aquino III and his allies in Congress against the Supreme Court over an administration plan to take control of the Judiciary’s budget for unfilled positions.

“They should not exacerbate the situation and they should protect the President,” Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said, referring to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

She accused them of using the “unforgivable language of disrespect,” adding their attacks on the magistrates had been eroding the Supreme Court’s prestige.

Senator Francis Escudero said it was unfortunate that Valte announced that the Palace was not open to a dialogue with the Supreme Court on the budget issue.

“If the government can talk to rebels, why not with the Judiciary?” Escudero said, referring to the administration’s peace negotiations with the Muslim and communist insurgents.

Supreme Court spokesman and administrator Jose Midas Marquez criticized Lacierda and Valte for their discourtesy.

“Perhaps Lacierda, Valte and others who speak out of turn, with due respect to them, should learn as well a lesson or two in inter-branch comity and courtesy,” he said.

“I am not sure if the President’s refusal to meet with the Legislative and Judiciary officials on the budget of the Judiciary is really coming from the President himself.”

Santiago said the Palace should initiate talks with the Supreme Court to thresh out their differences, and that low-level talks should suffice.

“The Department of Budget and Management should voluntarily initiate a dialogue with their counterpart in the Supreme Court,” Santiago said.

“It would put the Supreme Court in a bad light if it initiated a dialogue because some people might look at it as being political.”

Santiago and Escudero said the differences between the Palace and the Supreme Court could be threshed out. They denied the country was heading for a constitutional crisis.

“What shows here is the independence of the co-equal parts of government, conflicting in their opinions. Here we have a strong check and balance in government at work,” Escudero said.

Still, the chairman of the House committee on appropriations on Sunday vowed that Malacañang would keep control of about P2 billion of the Judiciary’s hiring fund.

Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya Jr. said he would restore a special provision in the 2012 budget requiring the Judiciary to use the funds exclusively for hiring court personnel and to submit quarterly reports to Malacañang and Congress on the progress of its hiring efforts.

Chief Justice Renato Corona last week blasted the Palace for forcing the Court “to beg for the funds guaranteed … by the Constitution.” With Maricel Cruz and Rey E. Requejo

Malacañang cranks up word war versus Corona by Joyce Pangco Pañares

Presidential spokesman Lacierda (photo left) uses street talk to refer to the chief justice, while Budget chief says Court is answerable to Congress

THE Palace on Monday cranked up its word war with the Supreme Court, with a presidential spokesman using street talk against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

“Bakit nagpuputok ang butse niya? (Why is he busting a gut?)” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said of the chief justice, who last week accused the Palace of seeking to undermine the independence of the Judiciary, and who bewailed the disrespect with which the Court was being treated.

“It was Chief Justice Corona who suddenly blew up on that issue. It was only when he attacked the Executive branch that we spoke up,” Lacierda said.

He said the chief justice was suffering from amnesia.

“We have already resolved the issue and we have also [held a] dialog with them in the past,” Lacierda said.

“Everything looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.”

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad (photo at left) said the administration had agreed to release the Judiciary’s P1.9-billion fund for unfilled positions, provided that the justices submitted a quarterly report to the Office of the President and Congress on how the money was spent.

The funds will be released automatically, but the Judiciary is required to use them exclusively for filling vacant posts, or those will revert to the Treasury.

“They are questioning the qualifications set for the release. But the basic principle is, whether you are an agency who enjoys fiscal autonomy or not, your obligation to the people is to report to the people how you spent their money. Nobody should be exempted from that,” Abad said.

He said the P1.9-billion fund to be released to the Judiciary for 2012 was enough to cover 500 unfilled positions.

In the House, a Palace ally and chairman of the committee on appropriations echoed Abad’s stand.

“The main objective in all this policy formulation is transparency in the use of the people’s money,” Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya said.

He said the Judiciary would be answerable to Congress if it failed to comply with the requirements for the release of the budget for unfilled positions.


Malacañang had earlier accused Corona of using the budget issue as a smokescreen for his mistakes in handling a high-profile case in which flight attendants sued Philippine Airlines for illegal dismissal. Last week, the Court recalled a “final” decision in favor of the flight attendants over a technicality.

Lacierda said the justices “brought it upon themselves if there are attacks on their credibility” because of the mess involving PAL.

He said Corona should “take it as it is,” that criticisms and even the filing of an impeachment case against the justices were all part of the democratic space.

Corona said the judiciary would not take things sitting down.

“Never before has the entire Judiciary, not even during Martial Law, been subjected to lack of respect,” Corona said. “I say to them here and now: enough is enough. With Maricel Cruz


A budding autocrat EDITORIAL 10/18/2011

What end does the Palace intend to achieve in pursuing the withholding not only of the judiciary’s budget but those of constitutional commissions as well, and whose fiscal autonomy is all expressly guaranteed in the Charter?

The Supreme Court (SC), the Office of the Ombudsman, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit and the Commission on Elections all received the Palace assault on their independence when it declared that allocations for unfilled positions in these bodies should revert to the National Treasury.

For the SC alone, that Malacañang-sponsored provision in the 2012 budget will mean P2 billion being slashed from its allocations next year.

The argument over the impounded budgets go beyond peso and cents since what is at stake is what SC Administrator Midas Marquez said were the constitutional provisions “on the separation of powers upon which the entire fabric of our constitutional system is based.”

Thus, the high tribunal which is the declared defender of the Constitution, had to make a stand against the Palace intrusion.

The Palace considered the protests raised as a small matter and said Chief Justice Renato Corona was merely griping in saying that the withholding of the high court’s funds was an assault on the judiciary.

Marquez in the defense of the SC chief and the high court itself, not only raised in a letter the fact that the Palace and its allies in Congress have a hostile view of Corona which is the real root of the current friction between the judiciary and the executive. But he also warned that letting the Palace impose its will on the high court is a throwback to the autocratic past of the government.

The Palace is determined to impose its will on the judiciary as proven by statements coming from the Palace and Noynoy’s allies in Congress who speak in unison in justifying the budget impounding.

The muscling effort is also backed by a firm rejection on suggestions for a dialog with the spokesmen of Noynoy insisting that the issue is already settled.

Marquez said that, on the contrary, nothing has been settled since the Palace won’t dialog and the SC will continue to speak against “an insidious attempt to control and undermine the independence” of the judiciary and the other constitutional agencies.

The attempt of the executive to dominate the other branches of government was last seen during the period of President Marcos and the popularity or not of the incumbent does not change the fact that such a move nurtured autocracy.

“While the allocation of the State’s resources belongs to Congress, subject to the limitations imposed by the Constitution, the allocation of constitutional boundaries belongs to the court. The court will never shirk on the duty the Constitution has conferred to it,” Marquez said.

Noynoy has been harping on the straight path for most of the controversial actions that his administration has taken, saying that such moves were necessary to institute reforms.

His concept of reform, however, is mainly to obliterate the marks of the previous government including those appointed in key government posts. Reform in the judiciary, for Noynoy, is the removal of Corona who happens to have been given his appointment during the twilight days of Gloria Arroyo.

Marquez said the nation does not need to look far back in history where executive usurpations led to autocracy.

Marquez also said that the high court, as the champion of the Constitution, has no intention to lie down and die on the issue.

“We just want to let them know that their persistent uncalled for and baseless comments, including devious plans to distort the Constitution are not unnoticed and will be addressed at the appropriate time,” Marquez wrote.

The line has been drawn and it will be interesting days ahead.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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