Judges call off protest actions against budget cut

Published by rudy Date posted on March 21, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Judges in the country have called off their plan to protest the cut in the proposed budget for the judiciary this year after the Palace agreed to restore their current salaries and allowances.

On Friday, members of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA), Philippine Trial Judge League (PTJL) and Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines (MCJAP) held a national assembly and voted to accept the offer of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

The three groups and the DBM forged a memorandum of agreement (MOA) restoring the judges’ full special salaries and allowances, payment of adjusted salaries under the Salary Standardization Law and payment of special allowances apart from basic salary.

The MOA carried a disclaimer that it should not be treated as waiver of the judges’ right to claim the salary differential pertaining to the 20-percent increase in 2008 and 2009.

More than 540 of the 610 judges who attended the assembly voted to approve the MOA.

“We will no longer proceed with the protest. Our members have accepted the MOA,” PJA president and Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Antonio Eugenio Jr. said in an interview after the assembly held at the Century Park Hotel in Manila.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was expected to sign the MOA but sent a representative, Director Tina Rose Marie Canda, instead as he reportedly had to attend an emergency meeting at the Palace on the Middle East crisis. The announcement of his absence elicited boos from the judges.

Canda told reporters after the meeting that the DBM stands by its interpretation that subsequent increases in salaries following the RA 9227’s full implementation in 2007 should be taken from the Special Allowance for Justices, Judges and Court personnel (SAJJ) funds.

But the judges insisted that the SAJJ funds should be untouched and that their basic salaries should come from national government coffers.

Eugenio revealed that some 50 judges still believed that the Palace’s action was a “mere palliative” and that they should still pursue their demand for accumulated salary increases and benefits under the SAJJ law that had been unpaid over the past four years.

The Supreme Court ruled that the claim of judges may be drawn from the P27.1-billion proposed budget for the judiciary for 2011. But Congress and President Aquino cut the proposed budget by almost half and approved only P14.65 billion despite lobbying from the SC.

The judges had warned of a “black Monday” protest, including possible march to the Palace, if their demands would remain unaddressed.

President Aquino 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 DBM to allocate funds for the SAJ in compliance with Republic Act 9227 of November 2003 granting additional compensation to members of the judiciary. The orders cover over P900 million.

The court orders were submitted to both the Palace and the Congress during deliberations on the proposed national budget, but were apparently ignored. The orders have remained unimplemented since the previous Arroyo administration.

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 Order Nos. 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 SC also ordered 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.”

Judicial reforms

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they were in constant dialogue with the DBM and other concerned agencies so they can ultimately address the judiciary’s budget concerns and set into motion judicial reforms.

He said President Aquino “has always viewed improving the justice system as an important foundation in improving our people’s lives.”

“Our approach to the budget has been to support the needs of the judiciary,” Lacierda said over the weekend.

“We have always been open to a frank and constructive dialogue with our judges on their budgetary concerns,” he said, adding that “we are engaged in a discussion between the DBM and the Philippine Judges Association on these concerns.” –-Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) with Aurea Calica

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