SC wants own building in Fort Bonifacio

Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Gods of Padre Faura no more.

The Supreme Court (SC) has confirmed a plan to transfer its compound from Padre Faura street in Manila to Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

“There’s a plan but we don’t know yet the timetable. The funding is being secured for that through the budget (for 2015),” SC spokesman Theodore Te revealed.

Te said over the weekend that the high court has not had its own property in its 113-year history. The lot and buildings the SC presently occupies – like the Court of Appeals and the Department of Justice (DOJ) – belong to the University of the Philippines

“We don’t have our own building. That’s the reason for the proposed transfer,” he explained.

Te said the plan was approved since last year by the SC justices, who are historically dubbed as the “gods of Padre Faura” for their “judicial divinity.”

Top architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. is being eyed to construct the high court’s proposed building and compound.

During a hearing of the House committee on appropriations on the judiciary’s proposed budget for next year, SC officials said a proposal was submitted to the Department of Budget and Management to purchase a 21,000-square meter lot in Fort Bonifacio worth P1.28 billion, payable in 10 years, with an annual amortization of P128 million.

It was included in the P32.6-billion original proposed budget submitted to the high court for 2015.

But the executive branch only recommended P20.28 billion in total budget for the courts or 30 percent less than what the SC requested.

Apart from the SC building, also being proposed is the construction of a P3-billion Manila Hall of Justice to replace the dilapidated courts in the nation’s capital city.

Based on the proposed budget submitted by Malacañang to Congress, the Supreme Court’s budget next year represents 0.65 percent of the total proposed national budget of P2.606 trillion, the lowest percentage in years.

The judiciary has P18.560 billion to spend this year, which represents about 0.8 percent of the national budget.

The cut made by the Palace on the judiciary’s proposed budget came after the SC voided President Aquino’s controversial discretionary funds known as the Disbursement Acceleration Program.  

Now the judiciary is wishing for better luck in Congress despite its being dominated by administration allies and after the SC struck down the pork barrel fund of lawmakers last year.  

A member of the SC lamented that the high court has no fiscal authority over the infrastructure projects for its courts.

Funding under the General Appropriations Act for the construction of the halls of justices and courts in the country has been given to the DOJ, which is under the executive branch.

This is despite a provision in the Constitution requiring fiscal autonomy of the judiciary as well as the constitutional commissions and the Ombudsman office, “a guarantee of separation of powers and of independence from political agencies.”   

The source said this has been the case of the Manila Hall of Justice, which was funded with only P100 million under the DOJ’s Justice System Infrastructure Program (JUSIP) in the GAA.

“It was for the construction of courts, which are the basic facility of the judiciary, but it was given to the DOJ,” a magistrate told The STAR.

When asked if this constitutes violation of the Constitution, the insider begged not to respond.

 The insider admitted that this scheme by the executive, which was approved by Congress in passing the GAA, was somehow “tolerated” by the high court, especially when it comes to big-ticket projects like the Manila Hall of Justice.

“The law prohibits significant cut in the budget of the judiciary. This Manila Hall of Justice costs about P3 billion. When you add that to the budget of the SC this year and completes the project before next year, then there will be a P3-billion cut… which is too much to be allowed by law,” the magistrate explained.

The insider further pointed out that the project has not been implemented yet anyway with the P1.865-billion funding from the SC’s savings still intact.


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