MANILA – Senator Raffy Tulfo urged his colleagues Monday to restore the judiciary's proposed allocation for its operations next year, particularly the hazard pay of judges and establishment of more family courts.
During the plenary debates for the proposed 2024 budget of the Supreme Court and lower courts, Presidential Electoral Tribunal, Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals and Court of Tax Appeals, Tulfo made a manifestation asking for the restoration of PHP221.8 million for the hazard pay of lower court judges.
He also asked for more funding in modernizing the lower courts.
"Our judiciary being the third constitutional branch of the government serves a distinct purpose that renders our work here in the legislative more effective especially to the people to whom our laws are being applied to. And an independent judiciary is crucial in the delivery of justice, where they are not beholden to anyone," Tulfo said.
He said that if courts can sustain themselves apart from other bodies, especially from local government units, they can avoid being influenced in handling of cases.
Tulfo also mentioned the PHP537 million which was supposed to be allotted for the creation of family courts in Regions 2 (Cagayan Valley), 8 (Eastern Visayas), 10 (Northern Mindanao) and 12 (Soccsksargen).
"Family courts also handle all cases handling children including drug cases, adoption, annulment, guardianship, custody, acts of lasciviousness, support, and legal separation. We need family courts," he said.
The lawmaker noted there are currently 2,397 family court cases in Region 2; 762 in Region 8; 2,381 in Region 10; and 1,310 in Region 12, all being handled by designated regional trial courts which he said are "overburdened."
Based on the 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP), the proposed budget of the judiciary is PHP57.79 billion, an increase of 5.26 percent compared to its PHP54.9 billion budget this year.
Court Administrator Raul Villanueva previously said they proposed a budget of PHP71.91 billion but the NEP slashed it by PHP6.7 billion.
Senators, meanwhile, are determined to push for the retention of the PHP5.1 billion emergency repatriation fund (ERF) of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), which is being proposed to be realigned for the implementation of its various programs.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, during the plenary debates of the DMW's proposed budget on Monday, vowed to push for the retention of the ERF with the DMW still experiencing "birth pains" after two years since it was created.
"This representation would like to state and put into the records that I will fight for the budget of the DMW and I support our good sponsor that it be retained," Villanueva said.
"No need to add. The original budget just needs to be retained because this was studied thoroughly. This is badly needed by our Department," he added.
According to budget sponsor Senator JV Ejercito should only PHP3.7 billion out of the PHP5.1 billion total ERF will be approved, the programs that would be affected would include:
- Expansion and improvement of Migrant Workers offices and resource centers in view of the transfer of assistance to the national's (ATN) function from the Department of Foreign Affairs which costs PHP1 billion;
- Provision for food and other basic necessities to distressed workers and members of their families amounting to PHP100 million;
- Hiring of additional local hires to perform ATN functions, including training and other developmental activities which amounts to PHP500 million;
- Operational expenses, including repatriation brought by natural calamities, armed conflict, civil strife, and other incidents in the host country and neighboring areas amounting to PHP250 million;
- Assistance to OFWs affected by the Philippine government's suspension/deferment of deployment and/or host country regulations such as suspension of the issuance of new work and entry visas and other related restrictions amounting to PHP250 million;
- Cancer assistance and relief expenses which amount to PHP100 million; and the creation of Migrant Workers, Welfare and Services Bureau which would cost PHP6.323 million.
- Additional PHP55.177 million for the agency's general management and support.
Under the National Expenditure Program, the DMW was proposing to spend PHP15.308 billion in 2024 but only PHP12.752 billion was approved, or almost PHP2.6 billion reduction in the 2024 General Appropriations Act.
However, the Senate is eyeing to increase it to PHP13.754 billion in its version which includes PHP6.999 billion for the Office of the Secretary and PHP6.755 billion for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. (PNA)