City Hall releases new monthly allowances

05/30/2010 - Big checks for sums of P80,000 and more were received by Cebu City judges, part of the promised increase in City Hall's monthly allowance to the judiciary.

“The amount is available. It's ready for disbursement,” announced Cebu City Councilor Jose Daluz III, chairman of the City Council committee on budget and finance, yesterday.

From a modest P5,000 a month, the amount has been increased but the exact formula was stil unclear to Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges who received the checks last Friday.

Judges and justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) are entitled to receive the stipend from the city government and only have to present their official appointment papers from the Supreme Court (SC) to claim the allowance, which is retroactive to January, 2010, Daluz said.

Last Feb. 26, the City Council approved a supplemental budget, which includes P24 million for the Judiciary Financial Assistance.

While the extra pay was welcomed, it was not certain whether the increase introduced by Mayor Tomas Osmena, would be sustained by the new administration that takes over after June 30.

“There are doubts because (Mayor-elect Michael) Rama may have other policies. Majority of the (RTC) judges don't believe the financial assistance from the city will continue under the new mayor,” said Cebu RTC Executive Judge Meinrado Paredes.

In a phone interview, Vice Mayor Rama said he sees no problem as long as the budget is adequate.

“I still have to look at it (budget), in its entirety. If we have the budget, then it must continue; there will be no problem,” Rama said.

He said the allowance should not, in any way, affect the independence of the judiciary in resolving cases.

“It all depends on how they (judges and justices) receive their allowance. They should not abuse it. My policy for governance has been clear: work, work, and never use your position for personal gain,” Rama said.

Mayor Osmeña, for his part, said “I'm surprised that there are such apprehensions. Only Mike can answer that, but let me tell you that there is no financial pressure for cost-cutting.”

The increased stipend is supposed to “strengthen” the judiciary by reducing financial pressure on judges, so they can do their job of dispensing justice efficiently, and to minimize corruption.

The issue of judges' allowances from local government units became controversial in 2008 when Gov. Gwen Garcia had the monthly allowance of one judge withheld, ostensibly because he had ruled against the Province of Cebu in a civil case.

This triggered a debate over the independence of the judiciary, and saw a few judges publicly rejecting to receive any further stipend from the province or the city.

Last Friday, Judge Paredes confirmed receiving a check for P80,000 from the city government while newly appointed RTC Judge Samuel Malazarte reportedly got P101,000.

“I don't know why young judges received higher allowances than senior ones. (But) judges were very happy. We vow to maintain our independence,” Paredes told Cebu Daily News.

Paredes said he would decline any allowance from the city government if he handles a case involving Cebu City government. But since he's presently assigned to handle illegal drug cases only, he will continue to accept the monthly stipend.

Last February, Mayor Osmeña decalred he would increase the allowance to match the basic salary received by a judge.

RTC judges receive a basic monthly salary ranging from P25,000 to P40,000 depending on one's period of service in the judiciary.

The city's decision to increase allowances covers all 21 RTC judges, seven Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), and seven justices at the Court of Appeals (CA) in Cebu City.

Although judges are under the Supreme Courtr, which pays their salaries and beneifts, the grant of separate allowances by host local governments has been a long-standing practice as a matter of discretion.

Cebu province gives P6,000 a month, while the Cebu city government, until recentley, gave each judge P5,000.

The amount from the province is deposited in the judge's automated teller machine (ATM) account every month. For the city, payment is made in a check.

All 21 judges in Cebu City, except for one, agreed to accept the additional monthly allowance from City Hall, following a meeting in February 2010.

The judges based their decision on the Local Government Code of 1991 which allows the local government to "provide for additional allowances and other benefits to judges, prosecutors, public elementary and high school teachers, and other national government officials stationed in or assigned to the city" when its finances allow.

Only RTC Judge Gabriel Ingles of Branch 58, spokesman of the Palace of Justice, refused to accept the monthly stipends from the city and province, as an individual stand.

Ingles' decision came after the monthly P6,000 allowance of RTC Judge Bienvinido Saniel of Branch 20 was withheld by the Capitol after the province lost its court battle against Cebu City over the authority to name directors in the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) in 2008. At the time, Judges Ingles and Paredes waived their allowances from the province to protest what they said was an assault on judicial independence.

Another judge, who refused to be identified, also waived his allowance from the province.

In March 2009, the Supreme Court signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the city government which allocated a P1-million local government unit judiciary equalization fund (LGU-JEF) to cover allowances for judges.
(Inquirer)

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