Judges call off ‘black Monday,’ other protest actions

Published by rudy Date posted on January 15, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Organizations of judges all over the country have called off their planned actions this month to protest the cut in the judiciary’s proposed budget for this year, apparently after being pacified by the Palace.

Officials of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA), Philippine Trial Judge League (PTJL) and Metropolitan and City Judges Association the Philippines (MCJAP) revealed yesterday they have suspended their “black Monday” protest and other drastic actions, including a possible march to the Palace.

PJA president and Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Antonio Eugenio Jr. told The STAR that they have also suspended the national summit for over 2,000 judges set at the end of the month.

Eugenio said their plans were temporarily called off following a meeting with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad last Saturday.

“Secretary Abad committed to make current our salary and allowance. He also promised to relay to P-Noy (President Aquino) our concerns,” he said.

The judges have been demanding their accumulated salary increases and benefits under the Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ) law that had been unpaid over the past four years.

The Supreme Court (SC) included this claim of judges in the P27.1-billion proposed budget for 2011. But Congress and President Aquino cut this proposed budget by almost half and approved only P14.65 billion despite lobbying from the SC.

PJA, PTJL and MCJAP have expressed their disappointment over this continued non-payment of their additional salaries and benefits, warning of actions including street protest and mass leave.

But after the meeting with Abad, the judges were appeased.

“Pending negotiations about the differentials, all protest actions are on hold. Let’s see first if Secretary Abad can deliver,” Eugenio explained.

It was earlier reported that the Palace has apparently defied rulings of the High Court when it cut the judiciary’s proposed budget.

The President signed last Dec. 27 the 2011 national budget, including the P14.65-billion budget of the judiciary, which did not cover the SAJ claims of judges and retired justices.

The STAR obtained copies of a status quo ante order dated Oct. 27, 2009 and a resolution dated May 4, 2010 both directing the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to issue funding for these SAJ requirements in compliance with RA 9227, a law that took effect in November 2003 granting additional compensation to members of the judiciary.

These orders, covering an amount worth over P900 million, still stand and have not yet been complied with, according to court insiders.

The court orders were reportedly submitted to both the Palace and Congress during deliberations of the proposed national budget, but have been apparently ignored.

To be fair, the sources said the orders were also not implemented by the previous administration, which they said only means that the current administration should not put political color to the judiciary’s bid for a bigger budget.

In both directives, the High Court ordered DBM “to issue the necessary special allotment release order and the corresponding notice of cash allocation to cover funding requirements for the salary increases, authorized under Executive Orders 611, 719 and 811 (of the previous administration), of justices, judges and judicial officials with the equivalent rank of a Court of Appeals justice and a regional trial court judge for the period of July 1, 2007 to March 31, 2010 and, thus, to release the necessary funding beginning April 2010 and every month thereafter.”

The executive department was directed to issue funding for “special allowance for the judiciary component of the retirement gratuity and terminal leave benefits of retired justices and judges previously denied funding and, thus, to provide the necessary funding for present and future claims on the SAJ component of the retirement gratuity and terminal leave benefits and the monthly annuities of retired justices, judges and judiciary officials with the equivalent rank of a Court of Appeals justice of a regional trial court judge.”

The orders were approved by the full court led by then Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and based on the SAJ fund approved by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. in December 2003.

The High Court’s actions were prompted by a petition for prohibition filed by presiding judges of trial courts of Iloilo in August 2009 and also by requests made by retired Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Godofredo Legaspi and other retired justices of CA and Sandiganbayan. –Edu Punay (The Philippine Star)

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