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 JUDICIAL REVOLT and AQUINO’S MISPRIORITIES

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PostSubject: JUDICIAL REVOLT and AQUINO’S MISPRIORITIES   Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:21 pm



The judges’ threat to stage a “revolt” and resign is not just a reaction
to poor priorities set in the national budget. It is indicative of
dissatisfaction that has started to build up against a wavering and
compromising presidential leadership and at slim prospects of seeing
reform being undertaken under Aquino III.

By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
September 16,, 2010

The threat of a judicial revolt against the administration’s failure to
earmark a decent budget for the judiciary unveils a creeping
dissatisfaction from several sectors in the country today. This
dissatisfaction springs not only from a lack of administrative response to
age-old problems besetting state institutions of which the judiciary is
just one but also the widening gap between promises made by Benigno S.
Aquino III and the actions – or blunders - that have been done since he
became the nation’s 15th President 78 days ago.

Campaigning for the presidency before the May 10 elections, Aquino III
promised to double the budget of the judiciary “to enable it to pursue its
own reform program and deliver justice for all.” He also vowed to reduce
the vacancy of the courts and the prosecution to single digit figures; and
to reduce the average length of a case in court “through improvements in
the prosecution service and the public defenders.”

The proposed Php1.645 trillion national budget submitted to Congress for
enactment on August 25, however, allocates only Php14.1 billion for the
judiciary or way below the Php27-bn budget the judiciary is asking for
next year. The new judiciary fund is just Php1 billion higher than its
current budget of Php13.3 billion which Aquino III had promised to double.

Conversely, Aquino III’s “reform budget” allocates Php 24.8 billion for
the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF or pork barrel) - an
increase by Php13.9 billion or 129 percent from the current allotment.
Funding for the armed forces will increase by 17.9 percent and the
controversial debt servicing by 29.2 percent. The budget for the
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will increase by a
whopping 122.7 percent to Php34.3 billion. Comparatively, the allocation
for the judiciary is less than 1 percent of the total budget while that of
the unproductive PDAF is nearly 2 percent; armed forces, 4.7 percent, debt
servicing, 22.6 percent, and DSWD, 34.1 percent.

An independent branch

Bemoaning their meager fund, a number of judges said that the budget as
originally proposed by the judiciary should have been given due course it
being an independent and co-equal branch of government. A walkout is being
mulled in protest while a few have vented their ire through the media
threatening to resign and going back to private practice.

If there is any institution that needs priority attention in terms of
resource allocation, one of these is the judiciary – it is, to say the
least, undermanned, under-funded, and underdeveloped. About 23 percent of
magistrate posts are vacant while salary increases for 2,300 justices and
judges have not been released for the last three years. Courts remain
clogged: about 600,000 cases remain pending nationwide, 6,000 of these
with the Supreme Court (SC). Court facilities especially at the local
level are ill-equipped and dilapidated.

The string budget also poses a setback to special courts created in 2007
to try cases of politically-motivated extra-judicial killings.

One of the principles underlining Aquino III’s “reform budget” “is
transparency and accountability to make government productive.” Clearly,
the paltry allocation for the judiciary makes this objective a sham. More
than this, the system of allotments governing the proposed budget betrays
a particular bias and a retreat from the commitments made by the President
especially his centerpiece anti-corruption program.

As noted by the economic think tank Ibon Foundation, Aquino III’s “reform
budget” is extravagant with patronage funds and is vulnerable to
corruption. Going against public clamor, the President not only maintained
but also increased the PDAF by several folds. PDAF – or pork barrel –
guarantees congressional alignment to the presidency in exchange for
annual “development funds” much of which ends up in corruption.

However, it is precisely pork barrel and other perks provided by the chief
executive that has undercut Congress’ independence and its role as a
check-and-balance vis-à-vis the President. By maintaining and increasing
the pork barrel, Aquino III in effect has given corruption a tacit
endorsement. Governance by political patronage makes the Aquino presidency
no different from Macapagal-Arroyo. The higher the expectation of the
chief executive is from the dominant traditional legislators to support
his legislative and political agenda the bigger the pork barrel must then
be allocated.

Other sources of corruption

Other possible sources of corruption, the think tank says, are the
Php29.2-billion Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) especially its
Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) component. Aside from being unsustainable,
the program does not basically address the roots of poverty and opens big
opportunities for corruption at both the local and national levels. The
record of DSWD which will administer the money is not that impeccable: Its
name was dragged in the diversion of relief goods for Typhoon Ondoy
victims last year. Also prone to misspending are large but vague lump-sum
items for the departments of agriculture, public works and highways, and
transportation and communication, Ibon adds.

The Aquino III administration started with a wrong foot in its first 100
days. Cabinet appointments were decided largely in terms of paying back
Aquino III’s supporters many of them from big business. In accommodating
almost every interest group who supported him, he has practically opened
the Cabinet to infighting and factionalism thus weakening the executive
office at its formative stage. The botched hostage crisis revealed not
only a lack of experience in crisis management but also serious organic
cracks within the interior and local government department and the
communications group.

All that Aquino III could do in fulfilling his pledge to end corruption is
to form a Truth Commission – a toothless and footless fact-finding body
which is mandated to finish its investigation on corruption cases
involving the past administration by end-2012. To say the least, creating
a superbody with no powers of prosecution makes this presidential move to
address corruption a farce and reveals a lack of political will and
decisiveness on the part of the new chief executive to fulfill a major
promise.

While he packs a kid’s glove on the alleged corruption cases of the Arroyo
administration, Aquino III needs a house cleaning within his own
government. Unimpeachable sources revealed this week that top officials in
the Aquino government involved in security matters are on the take in the
Php38-billion jueteng (or illegal numbers game) industry.

Given his inability to fulfill a campaign promise of land distribution in
the family-owned Hacienda Luisita, farmers cannot expect any meaningful
act with regard to genuine agrarian reform. In fact the peasant sector has
already lost seven farmer activists to extra-judicial killings that have
persisted under Aquino III especially as a result of the President’s
go-signal to the armed forces to continue with the counter-insurgency
program.

The judges’ threat to stage a “revolt” and resign is not just a reaction
to poor priorities set in the national budget. It is indicative of
dissatisfaction that has started to build up against a wavering and
compromising presidential leadership and at slim prospects of seeing
reform being undertaken under Aquino III.



Reference:

The Board of Editors
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
3F CSWCD Bldg., University of the Philippines Diliman 1101 Quezon City,
Philippines
TelFax +63-2 9299526
E-mail: cenpeg@cenpeg.org; info@cenpeg.org
http://www.cenpeg.org
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