Groups vow to intensify protest vs budget cuts

Various groups opposed to budget cuts in state universities and colleges (SUCs), health and social services have linked-up with government employees who are fighting against the P800 million ($18 million) slash on the 2012 budget for the country’s judiciary.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – As the national budget is about to be sponsored on the reopening of the Senate this coming Nov. 15, groups under Kilos na Laban sa Budget Cuts or Kilos Na demonstrated their unity and vowed to intensify protest actions against the “anti-people” budget of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

“The 2012 budget was passed in Congress with almost no changes. And once again, the government wants to railroad the passage of the national budget as the Senate targets to finish the deliberations before the year ends,” said Vencer Crisostomo, convenor of Kilos Na and national president of youth and students group Anakbayan in a press forum held on Nov. 10, Thursday.

Various groups opposed to budget cuts in state universities and colleges (SUCs), health and social services have linked-up with government employees who are fighting against the P800 million ($18 million) slash on the 2012 budget for the country’s judiciary.

“We are extremely dismayed that Congress passed the budget with little changes. We need to link up our protests to send a strong message to Senate and the Aquino government that we will not allow them to railroad a budget that puts priority on banks, corporations, and profits over people’s welfare,” said Crisostomo.

Budget cut on judiciary

The Judiciary Employees Association (Judea) expressed outrage over the budget cut saying that the government has completely ignored the judiciary’s fiscal autonomy. Judea is an association of court employees from the Supreme Court, Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals and the lower courts.

The budget of the judiciary was slashed to P15 billion ($347 million) from their proposed budget of P20 billion ($463 million). “The government wants a world class judiciary, but the budget is third world,” said Jojo Guerrero, president of Supreme Court Employees Association (SCEA).

Like other government employees, Guerrero said, court employees also receive low salaries. “Cashiers were the only ones who have overtime pay and other employees don’t,” Guerrero said. He also added that the judiciary has also shortages of judges.

Aside from the slash on the judiciary’s proposed budget, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) would also impound P2 billion ($46 million) in the MPBF or the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Funds under the control of the Office of the President. The allocation for the unfilled/vacant positions in the judiciary will be placed in the MPBF, Nene Rafael of Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila explained. “The question is where would they spend it?” Rafael told Bulatlat.com in a separate interview. She said there is no explanation as to where the money will be used.

Court employees question the constitutionality of the MPBF saying that it is clear in the constitution that the “appropriations for the judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year”.

The judiciary currently has a P14.3 billion ($331 million) budget, if the P2 billion ($46 million) will be slashed from the P15 billion ($347 million) budget for 2012, the judiciary will only have a total of P13 billion ($302 million) budget for 2012. “This meager budget will be shared by the courts in the entire country,” Rafael said.

In a news report, SC spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez also expressed disagreement with the impounding of funds saying the constitutional provision on the judiciary’s budget was clear. In a news report, Marquez was quoted saying, “I don’t think it can be subject to interpretation, only application, because of its clarity.”

Section 3 Article 8 of the 1987 Constitution stipulates that ““The judiciary shall enjoy fiscal autonomy. Appropriations for the judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released.”

“His mother, the late president Cory Aquino was the one who created this law and his (Benigno Aquino III) government should comply with that law,” Rafael told Bulatlat.com.

As a sign of protest, court employees in the previous months have held their Black Monday protest. In Thursday’s forum, Guerrero said, the judiciary will continue their protest together with other sectors also affected by budget cuts.

Collective action against budget cut

Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International said the budget cut is like an epidemic, the effects of which are spread widely. “The budget cut affects not only us, but Filipino migrants outside the country as well.”

For the year 2012 according to Migrante, the government allocated a measly P3.14 billion ($73 million) for overseas Filipino workers.

“There are Filipino migrants in 239 countries around the world but there are only 66 Philippine embassies and 23 consulates. OFWs would die with the P3.14 billion allocation of funds for services of OFWs. What will happen to the 122 migrants in death row, to the 7,000 migrants in prison? What about the justice to the migrants who died under mysterious circumstances? How can Aquino say that he takes care of OFWs when many seafarers were held hostage? Everyday there are families and relatives of OFWs coming in our office crying and asking for help,” Martinez said.

Benjie Santos of All UP Workers Union also said the government’s reduced spending on social services such as health will also lead to the people’s death. “Health services in public hospitals are deteriorating. At the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) alone, services like laboratory tests are now being charged to patients unlike before whet it was for free,” Santos said. He added that inside PGH, there is a private institution called the UP-PGH Faculty Medical Arts Building (FMAB) where doctors hold private clinics. “Soon enough public hospitals will be privatized.”

“Instead of social services, the government prioritizes and allocates bigger budgets for debt servicing and the military. This is enraging. It is time that we unite and fight for the people’s welfare,” said Matinez.

The groups announced the conduct of waves of anti-budget cut protests until the year ends, especially in anticipation of the railroading of the 2012 budget by Aquino’s allies in the Senate when it resumes its session on Nov. 15.

“The people are angry and extremely frustrated. We are issuing a serious warning to the Aquino government. The groups are poised to take action and send a strong message of dissent,” said Crisostomo.

Starting Nov. 14, Monday, groups opposed to the budge cuts will hold a Metro Manila-wide Black Monday protest in which students, teachers, and government employees will wear black to express their disgust over the 2012 national budget. The next day, Nov. 15, there will be a caravan to the Senate during the re-opening of its session to lobby Senators to stop the budget cuts. The groups also plan to march to the Senate during the bicameral conference on Nov. 29.

Protests will intensify up to Dec. 6 onwards. According to Crisostomo, students will “camp-out against cuts and the crisis at Mendiola bridge. Inspired by the worldwide movement against “corporate greed,” Crisostomo said they are also preparing for “mass camp-outs” throughout the country to send a message that they reject the “system of favoring foreign powers and the elite few.” ()

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