CoA: Davide illegally diverted JDF funds
MILLIONS EARMARKED FOR COURT EMPLOYEES SPENT ON MANSIONS, LUXURY CARS AND MORE
By Dona Policar
Wednesday, 09 10, 2003
Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. was yesterday found to have illegally diverted public funds to finance a retirement mansion, luxury vehicles and even overpriced chairs.
Davide, the sole administrator of these special public funds, will have a lot of explaining to do after the Commission on Audit (CoA) yesterday admitted that millions of pesos in funds from the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which by law should have gone to the court employees, have been spent instead on buildings, including a Baguio resthouse for retired high court justices, expensive cars and overpriced justices' chairs for their en banc sessions, and all for the exclusive use of Davide and his justices.
This was bared after the CoA submitted to the House committee on justice its partial audit report on the JDF, disclosing that the SC leadership had “diverted” portions of the funds for the procurement of property and other equipment.
Cecilia Caga-anan, supervising auditor of the SC, in her report to the committee, admitted the renovation of the SC session hall and the Baguio cottages was funded from the JDF.
Davide, as chief justice, has the sole authority to disburse JDF funds, but only according to the law covering the JDF, which states that 80 percent of the fiduciary funds are to go directly to the court employees as augmentation of their wages, with 20 percent going to the courts that had contributed to the fund for their renovation and office equipment and supplies.
The law clearly states that the JDF funds cannot be spent for anything else.
Davide stands accused by court employees of gross mismanagement of the JDF.
Moreover, it was also discovered through CoA reports that hundreds of millions in the JDF account remain unaccounted for.
Last year, a total of P32.098 million was spent by the SC using the JDF for the renovation alone of the Baguio facilities or mansions, which were built for the exclusive use of the retired SC justices.
A total of P58.5 million was also spent by the SC using the employees' JDF for the renovation of the high tribunal's session hall.
These brought a total of more than P90 million in funds illegally diverted from the JDF on just the renovation of the facilities.
Based on documents obtained by the Tribune, the high tribunal allotted on Dec. 16, 2002 a total of P32.098 million to Gulf Builders and Development Corp. which Davide contracted to renovate the Baguio cottages, while P56.2 million went to Filipinas Systems Inc., again assigned by Davide, as administrator of the funds, to renovate the SC main building. The remaining P2.3 million was allocated to Siemens (Trans-Asia Phil), a construction management firm.
Apart from these illegal expenses, millions were also spent for the purchase of motor vehicles, 10 of which are luxury cars said to have been intended for the use of the justices of the high tribunal.
The documents also showed that four units of Toyota Super Grandia costing more than a million pesos each were procured on Feb. 28, 2002 , for a total of P4.632 million, again coming from the JDF.
Six more units of Toyota Super Grandia were acquired in April and May for a total of P6.9 million.
While the purchased vehicles were intended for the justices, two motor vehicles were said to have also been purchased for the use of certain employees.
At the same time, P4.285 million for shuttle buses was also disbursed in January 2002. Two months later, another shuttle bus was also acquired for the same amount.
During 2000 and 2001, more than P8 million and 1.7 million, respectively, were spent for the purchases of motor vehicles.
Aside from the infrastructure renovation and motor vehicles, the commission also found that portions of the funds were used to buy executive and clerical chairs.
The details are, however, not quite ready, according to CoA's Caga-anan since the commission “is still preparing a schedule of chairs procured during the period.”
Earlier reports by the Tribune stated that the SC purchased the chairs at bloated prices. The chairs, particularly those used by the justices in their en banc session, were reportedly purchased for P120,000 per piece.
Opposition Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, at the hearing, expressed doubts that expenses made by the SC justices for “their personal use” exceeded the 20 percent share for infrastructure provided under the law.
These purchases, as well as the construction of the mansions for the retired justices, have not been allocated under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
The JDF, under Presidential Decree 1949, provides that only 20 percent of the total collection will be allocated for the office equipment and infrastructure purposes and can only be availed of by the courts in the same percentage of the funds remitted to the JDF.
But with these expenses alone revealed by the commission, Dilangalen said “it cannot be discounted that they (SC) have gone beyond the 20 percent share.”
Last year, total JDF collection was pegged at P1.3 billion, 80 percent of which was supposedly for the augmentation of the salaries of court employees all over the country. The court employees have been complaining about their JDF share which they claimed has dropped from P7,000 from previous years to only P1,800 this year despite the fact that collections were notably high.
In 2000 and 2001, JDF total collections were pegged at P1.7 billion and P1.5 billion, respectively.
“It is unbelievable that the justices of the Supreme Court have spent more than P34 million for the Baguio mansions using the JDF and yet these are just for their exclusive use,” the Maguindanao lawmaker said.
Camarines Sur Rep. Felix William Fuentebella, who asked for the investigation on the claimed mismanagement by the SC of the employees' JDF, said the admission of the CoA on the lavish spending of the SC only proves there is something wrong with the way the chief justice disburses the JDF, and as such mismanages it while flouting the law.
The commission, meanwhile, exonerated the Supreme Court from allegations that the justices utilized funds from the JDF for their foreign and local travels.
“Expenses for foreign travel of officials and employees of the SC were not charged to the JDF during the period,” Caga-anan said.
JDF, the report said, was not also utilized for the publication of books. Nevertheless, the amount of P93,250 appearing in the Statement of Income and Expenses referred to purchase of supplies for the use of the Printing Office.
Dilangalen and Fuentebella slammed CoA for being too submissive to the high court.
This is the first time the commission was ordered to make a separate audit report on the controversial funds. Traditionally, the commission only comes up with one consolidated audit report which is comprised of the SC's general and fiduciary funds and JDF.
Apart from this irregularity, the chief justice along with seven other associate justices of the high tribunal, is facing impeachment complaints filed by detained President Joseph Estrada.
They stand accused of crimes ranging from culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for legitimizing the allegedly illegitimate administration of President Arroyo.
The complaint's form will be deliberated by the committee in today's hearing.
Malacañang also yesterday quickly distanced itself from the issues hounding Davide, who is expected to be the subject of a congressional probe over the missing P2 billion from the JDF.
In a telephone interview, deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the Palace will not comment on the merits of the Davide case which is pending before the House committee on justice.
Earlier, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye as well as Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin said the SC should answer the allegations as what is at stake is the trust and confident of the public.
“It's high time they (SC) answer all the issues that are hounding them,” Bunye said.
For her part, Boncodin explained that the executive department has no jurisdiction over how Davide, administrator of the JDF, spends the said funds and that if Congress decides to conduct an inquiry on the matter, the Palace would pose no hindrance.