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SC hits back on impeachment threats vs justices

September 21, 2011 5:53pm

The spokesman of the Supreme Court on Wednesday reminded lawmakers to be more judicious in issuing fresh threats to impeach high court magistrates in connection with the 2012 national budget's multi-billion peso miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (MPBF).

This came after Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said he will move for the impeachment of SC justices should they strike down as unconstitutional the MPBF provision in the forthcoming 2012 General Appropriations Act.

The MPBF is among the proposed provisions for the proposed 2012 national budget, which is still undergoing deliberations in Congress. The P23.4-billion special fund can only be accessed once vacant offices are filled up.

Lawmakers allied with the Aquino administration said the fund's purpose is to ensure transparency in the filling up vacancies.

Opposition lawmakers, however, said they plan to question the MPBF's constitutionality before the SC, prompting Fariñas to say that the House of Representatives may resort to impeaching SC justices who will rule that the special fund is unconstitutional.

Addressing such threat, Marquez said: "They should get all the data first before [they] come up with those threats."

"We have to go back to fundamental law and find out what does the Constitution say," Marquez added. “I think the Constitution is as clear as day when it comes to fiscal autonomy and non-reduction of the budget of the judiciary."

Of the Department of Budget and Management's P15-billion budget proposal for the judiciary, some P2 billion will be allocated for the MPBF.

Marquez, however, said the DBM assured him that the P2-billion allotment will still form part of the budget for the judiciary.

"If you put away P2 billion, that effectively reduces the 2012 budget to P13-plus billion. That's lower than the 2011 budget for the judiciary, which is P14.3-billion. At present we have assurance of DBM that the P2-billion taken away and transferred to the MPBF still forms part of budget of the judiciary. With that assurance, we'd like to believe budget of the judiciary remains at P15 billion," he said.

Section 3, Article VIII allows the judiciary to "enjoy fiscal autonomy," where the budget for the judicial branch "may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year."

Vacancies

Marquez likewise clarified that in filling up vacancies in lower courts, the judiciary can designate assisting judges and acting presiding judges to vacant posts.

This is contrary to the statement of Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. that Chief Justice Renato Corona is usurping President Benigno Aquino III's power to appoint judges.

"When we do that (designate assisting judges and acting presiding judges), it's only in an acting capacity. It was never to supplant the prerogatives of the President who can appoint judges on a permanent basis," said Marquez.

Tupas, as Justice committee chair, is the Judicial and Bar Council's (JBC) ex-officio member to represent the House of Representatives. Corona is the council's ex-officio chair. — KBK, GMA News




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