Farinas threatens to impeach Sereno, other justices

Posted at 08/11/14 7:50 PM

MANILA - Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas on Monday said he is ready to file an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and other Supreme Court justices over the Judicial Development Fund (JDF).

Farinas, the House Justice Committee vice-chairman, said he will file the complaint if Sereno and other justices will continue to snub the Congress' letter asking them to attend hearings on the JDF.

He said the letter sent to the justices explains how the JDF was misused.

Farinas said the Supreme Court should answer the allegations.

He said Sereno can send a representative to the House hearings.

He added that the JDF hearings are not an investigation but only a look into the proposals to either scrap or reform the implementation of the JDF, which has been described as the judiciary's pork barrel.

Farinas earlier alleged that Sereno may have committed an impeachable offense with the way she has been handling the JDF.

Farinas said the High Court should not have made changes in the law governing the JDF.

He said the Supreme Court issued a circular that expanded the JDF to include incomes from sales of unserviceable equipment, sale of reports of decisions of SC, grant of concessions to operate canteens, etc.

Fariñas said the effect of the SC circular is to amend the law.

"All [the SC] can do is see if the law is constitutional or not. The Supreme Court has no power to legislate. That's why it has no power to generate its own funds," he said in an interview on ANC.

Asked what is the liability of the Chief Justice, he said: "It could amount to culpable violation of the Constitution. It could be betrayal of public trust."

Sereno skipped a Lower House inquiry on the JDF last week, saying she found the inquiry "premature."

She also asked for time to consult with other magistrates of the Supreme Court on "how best the judiciary can meaningfully participate in the valid legislative concerns of the House of Representatives without sacrificing judicial independence and fiscal autonomy."

House justice committee chairman Niel Tupas Jr. pointed out that this is the first time during his watch that the SC did not send a representative to a deliberation of a measure concerning the judiciary.

Citing a Commission on Audit (COA) report, Tupas said some P3 billion meant for unfilled positions became savings of the judiciary and went to allowances, medical benefits, anniversary bonus, loyalty benefits.

He also said the judiciary gives allowances to local government units.

Tupas also cited a 2012 COA report that some P300 million in JDF funds were invested in high-yield savings accounts. He said the SC is not an investment body.

He noted the 80% of the JDF should be spent on allowances and 20% on court facilities, but the COA found that some JDF funds were given out as loans.

He said the JDF is sourced from legal fees and bail bonds. In 2012, the COA said bail bonds amounted to some P2.7 billion.

Tupas earlier proposed a bill seeking to replace the JDF with a fund that will be deposited in the Treasury and subject its use to a formula upon submission of a budget. Farinas has filed a similar bill. - with a report from Jon Ibanez, dzMM