Fiscal autonomy of constitutional bodies

I RECEIVED an unexpected call at around 2:00 p.m.  last Monday, October 17 from my law school bosom buddy, Manila RTC Judge Antonio M. Eugenio, Jr. of the Manila Regional Trial Court.

Just in case the name doesn’t yet ring some bell  on most of you, Judge Tony is the President of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA).

Over the years we have constantly been in touch, over  professional and personal matters.

But he never called me in the afternoons, except when  there was an important game for the San Beda Red Lions.

Monday, at 2pm, was an important ‘final four’ game for San Beda against Jose Rizal University.

I was watching that game that had just began in my office cable TV when my ringing cell phone flashed  the Judge’s name.

I immediately thought  he would resume interrogating me abut this Alex Almario   JRU  standout whom he observed to have been playing exceptionally well against San Beda.

I was wrong. It was about Judge Eugenio, Jr.’s  disgust over Malacañang’s imposing conditions on the Judiciary’s: imposing conditions on the judicial department’s use of its funds.

“You know pare that the act, per se, of setting those conditions is unconstitutional, for being violative of the judiciary’s fiscal autonomy as expressly set forth in the Charter, as well as the principle of separation of powers among the three branches of the government,” Judge Tony griped.

“We are hard pressed in instituting desired reforms because they invariably entail expenses which the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Commission On Audit (COA) and Malacañang  effectively restrain us from undertaking, using  our own budget provided in the General Appropriations Act.”

Well, pare ko, from the strictly academic vantage point, I have to concur with you.

The provisions in the Constitution  on fiscal autonomy for every constitutional body appears to be clear.

But the wisdom of the restrictions on the use of public funds to serve the interest of many in society  appears to me to be the prerogative of the executive department, as the implementor of the provisions of laws and the constitution.

We both learned, Judge Tony,  from Justice Isagani Cruz that in situations the interests of departments clash, the balancing of interests should come into play, and each department’s resort to it is political issue very much outside the scope of judicial inquiry.

I asked him why he called on this, Judge Tony said he hopes I could be instrumental in personally transporting to PNoy’s consciousness the judges’  unified, if strong, concern over this issue, because I campaigned so hard for the President in the May 10, 2010 presidential elections and believes I have private clout and access to Malacañang.

How can I convince the Judge that I lost that ‘clout’ even before I could have it..  Malacañang’s  cordon sanitaire never allowed me access to the President from day one of the latter’s reign in office.

But don’t worry,  Judge. We will use Remate in  transporting to the Office of the President  the judges’ legitimate concern.

Let’s hope PNoy will do a “second reading’ and finally see your point. Incidentally, the other Alex Almario over there at  JRU scored 12 points, but this Alex Almario’s alma mater,  SBC, as expected won the game,  83-74.

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