De Lima bats for transfer of courthouses outside LGU-owned facility

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Sen. Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure seeking to transfer the courthouses from buildings or facilities owned and maintained by local government units (LGUs) to prevent any possible conflict and insulate court officials from partisan politics.

In filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 1346, De Lima said the three co-equal branches of the government must equally be capable to exercise their respective mandates without sacrificing their independence.

“Now, more than ever, when the temptation of corruption abounds, and politicians exert more and more pressure to our court officials, we need to affirm our commitment to provide for a strong and independent judicial system,” she said.

“Ours is a rule of law and we enforce it by strengthening our judicial institutions,” she added, stressing that the lack of independence would result in the inability of one branch of government to check the arbitrary or self-interest assertions of another.

Under SB 1346, to be known as “Judicial System Independence Protection Act,” the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice are mandated to prepare a comprehensive plan to transfer their offices out of any building or facility owned by LGUs.

It also seeks to remove the LGUs’ authority to provide for discretionary allowance and other benefits to judges and public prosecutors, amending Sections 447, 458 and 468 of Republic Act No. 7160, also known as the 1991 Local Government Code.

“The discretionary allowance to national government officials stationed in LGUs has been, in many situations, used by local governments to exercise political patronage over such officials,” De Lima explained.

“This is especially dangerous to judges and public prosecutors because they may be placed in a position in which they have to rule on or prosecute a case against the said LGUs or their officials,” she added.

According to SB 1346, one of the unintended effect of the discretionary allowance to judges and public prosecutors is that qualified candidates tend to prioritize more affluent LGUs who provide more allowances.

During her stint at the Department of Justice (DOJ), De Lima began the practice of prohibiting public prosecutors from receiving allowances and other benefits from LGUs as means to strengthen the integrity of the prosecution services.

The Senator from Bicol also said the existing set-up for allowances of local courts and public prosecutors compromises the integrity of justice sector workers.

To offset the lost income, she proposed that judges and public prosecutors stationed in LGUs would be entitled to an allowance equivalent to 10 percent of their basic monthly salary under her proposed Justice System Independence Allowance.

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