Justice grinds to a halt for one day

MANILA -- The wheels of justice practically came to a halt Monday as some judges in the National Capital Region (NCR) and other parts of the country walked out of their salas and went on mass leave to press for a salary increase and other benefits.

The judges in NCR went straight to the halls of the Senate to ask legislators to pass the bill that will give them bigger pay.

They arrived while senators were discussing a proposal granting a 25 percent increase in the salary and annual allowance of judges spread over four years.

The judges did not stay long, though, and left in protest of Sen. John "Sonny" Osmena's continued objection to the proposed increase.

Osmeņa, in an ABS-CBN Manila TV Patrol report, cited many cases involving judges as basis for his objection. He also criticized the judges for staging the mass leave.

Pasig City RTC judges expressed their support to the demand of their colleagues, but they said they are opposed to boycotting their work.

The mass action of judges in the country has practically crippled operations.

In Cebu City, policemen could not file cases against suspected criminals arrested over the weekend as the courts' receiving sections refused to accept them.

Neither were the bondsmen able to make business as judges also refused to sign bail and commitment orders.

The raffling of cases filed last week was also not done. Monday is the regular raffling day.

RTC Executive Judge Pampio Abarintos, however, said that cases in which policemen could be held liable for arbitrary detention and petitions for writ of habeas corpus were filed in one court.

Court activities proceeded normally in Mandaue City, Cebu Monday but courts in Lapu-Lapu City, also in Cebu, decided not to hold hearings as a "gesture of sympathy" for their colleagues.

The Philippine Judges Association, Philippine Trial Judges League and the Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines are pressing for the passage of a bill pending before Congress for a 25 percent increase in judges' salaries and allowances stretched over four years.

The bill is a watered-down version of an original proposal authored by Sen. Francis Pangilinan that seeks the exemption of judges from the Salary Standardization Law.

Mandaue Municipal Trial Court (MTCC) Executive Judge Rogelio Lucmayon said, though, that he did not receive any memorandum on the scheduled mass leave. He only read about it in the newspapers.

All three MTCC courts in Mandaue carried on with their normal court activities Monday.

Abarintos said more than 200 cases in the Cebu RTC branches alone were affected by the mass action staged by more than 1,000 judges all over the country.

The judges fear that if the bill is not immediately acted upon by Congress, it will have to be re-filed again next year after the May 2004 elections.

"One year and 10 months, representing the time the bill has spent waiting for it to be ratified, would have been wasted," Supreme Court Administrator Presbitero Velasco Jr. said.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City and Cebu Province chapters passed a joint resolution supporting the mass activity of the judicial branch.

Democrito Barcenas, IBP Cebu City chapter president, said the request of judges for higher pay is reasonable.

"If you are an honest judge, it will really be hard to live on a P30,000 monthly salary," he said.

The joint resolution will be sent to President Arroyo, Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Jose de Venecia and the Supreme Court.

Their colleagues in Baguio City, along with their staff, also skipped lunch and staged a protest in front of the Justice Hall.

Judges in Davao City supported the nationwide protest against Congress' failure to pass the measure, but did not join the nationwide mass leave.

The reasons: the text message urging judges and court workers to go on mass leave came too late, and individual judges believe going on mass leave is a disservice to the public.

"We are members of the Association of City Judges, and we'll just wait for whatever decision our officials come as a group. For now, we'll just go on with our scheduled hearings," said Judge Antonina B. Escovilla of the MTCC Branch 2 in Davao City.

Claudio E. Hoybia, national president of the Philippine Association of Court Employees, said they support the move for the increase the budget for the judiciary development fund to be used to fill up the vacancies in various offices.

Hoybia said it would be unfair to increase the salaries only for those occupying higher posts in the judiciary system but the court employees must not be left behind.

"There are about 26,000 court employees nationwide and more than 2,000 of them are employed in Region 11. They contain the bulk of the work force in the courts," he added.

The judges said the proposed P7.8-billion budget for the judiciary only represents 0.9 percent of the proposed P864.8 national budget for 2004.
They are getting between P25,000 and P30,000 in monthly salary.
The Supreme Court administrator said he saw nothing wrong with the protest of the judges because in law everyone has the right to petition for their grievances.

Judge Abarintos said that as an RTC executive judge he is receiving a monthly salary of P27,000.

The only other amount given to him is the representation and traveling allowance and the P5,300 allowance given by both the city and provincial governments.

However, the allowances given by the local governments, for example in Cebu, are relatively lower compared with Quezon City's P20,000 per month and Manila's P40,000 per month.

The bill, Rationalizing the Pay Scale of the Judiciary, seeks to raise the compensation package to competitive levels in order to attract competent private practitioners to join the judiciary. Sunnex/AIV/GAN/ROV(PNA)

07/10/2003

Bron : Sun Star

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