Re COA opinion on computation (A.M. No. 11-7-10-SC; July 31, 2012)

CASE DIGEST: IN Re: COA Opinion on the Computation of the Appraised Value of the Properties Purchased by the Retired Chief/Associate Justices of the Supreme Court

FACTS: In June 8, 2010, the Legal Services Sector, Office of the General Counsel of the Commission on Audit (COA) issued an opinion which found that an underpayment amounting to P221,021.50 resulted when five (5) retired Supreme Court justices purchased from the Supreme Court the personal properties assigned to them during their incumbency in the Court. The COA attributed this underpayment to the use by the Property Division of the Supreme Court of the wrong formula in computing the appraisal value of the purchased vehicles.

ISSUE: Did the COA err when it issued its June 8, 2010 opinion?

HELD: The COA's authority to conduct post-audit examinations on constitutional bodies granted fiscal autonomy is provided under Section 2(1), Article IX-D of the 1987 Constitution. This authority, however, must be read not only in light of the Court's fiscal autonomy, but also in relation with the constitutional provisions on judicial independence and the existing jurisprudence and Court rulings on these matters.
One of the most important aspects of judicial independence is the constitutional grant of fiscal autonomy. While, as a general proposition, the authority of legislatures to control the purse in the first instance is unquestioned, any form of interference by the Legislative or the Executive on the Judiciary's fiscal autonomy amounts to an improper check on a co-equal branch of government. If the judicial branch is to perform its primary function of adjudication, it must be able to command adequate resources for that purpose. This authority to exercise (or to compel the exercise of) legislative power over the national purse (which at first blush appears to be a violation of concepts of separateness and an invasion of legislative autonomy) is necessary to maintain judicial independence and is expressly provided for by the Constitution through the grant of fiscal autonomy under Section 3, Article VIII.

In Bengzon v. Drilon, we had the opportunity to define the scope and extent of fiscal autonomy in the following manner: "as envisioned in the Constitution, the fiscal autonomy enjoyed by the Judiciary, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Elections, and the Office of the Ombudsman contemplates a guarantee of full flexibility to allocate and utilize their resources with the wisdom and dispatch that their needs require."

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