By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE SENATE ended on Monday plenary debates on the proposed P57.79-billion budget of the Judiciary for next year, approving it along with the additional P2.25 billion for salary upgrades and the creation of new positions.

As the judiciary’s allocation from next year’s proposed P5.768-trillion national budget was settled, Senator Aquilino “Koko” D. Pimentel, III underscored the need for local courts to raise their case disposal targets and resolve aging lawsuits.

During the plenary session, Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” M. Angara, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said that based on Supreme Court (SC) data, Philippine trial courts resolved 98% of their case load or 235,000 cases out of 238,000 last year.

But Mr. Pimentel said: “Maybe it is about time that we increase the target figures for the other courts because we need to include different metrics since we still have a lot of pending cases.”

Driving his point, Mr. Pimentel cited as an example the prolonged illegal drugs case of detained former senator Leila M. de Lima who has been detained since February 2017. He also urged the SC to address instances when judges recuse themselves from politically charged cases.

“The Supreme Court should also look into the phenomenon of judges inhibiting from cases. This rule should be strictly enforced, and judges need to be able to handle politically loaded cases,” said Mr. Pimentel.

Last June, Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256 Judge Romeo S. Buenaventura inhibited himself from trying Ms. De Lima’s last drug case, a decision he voluntarily made because it turned out that his lawyer-brother, Emmanuel S. Buenaventura, had previously assisted the ex-senator’s co-accused and former driver, Ronnie Dayan, in executing his affidavits against her.

For his part, Mr. Angara noted that the SC has been closely monitoring cases in which judges are deciding to stop handling cases.

“There’s clearly an effort on the part of the Judiciary to dispose of their cases,” he said, adding that the SC had ordered lower courts to fast-track the resolution of aging cases.