Controversial ICT consultant testifies for the first time
MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) did not need to hire an information and communications technology (ICT) consultant paid P250,000 a month, an official said Wednesday as he faced the House Committee on Justice's proceedings on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Lawyer Carlos Garay, current Acting Chief of the SC Management Information Systems Office (MISO), said that despite the employment of ICT consultant Helen Macasaet, the effects were "not substantial" in terms of improving the efficiency of the judiciary's ICT system.
"I do not need a generalized ICT consultant. Probably a specialized ICT consultant," he said.
Garay, however, clarified he came on board in the MISO only in 2016 and is not aware of the terms of reference and scope of services of Macasaet, who was hired in 2013.
Macasaet's allegedly questionable hiring is among grounds cited in lawyer Lorenzo Gadon's impeachment complaint against Sereno. The complaint alleged that Macasaet was employed without bidding and paid with excessive fees - acts that Gadon said constitute betrayal of public trust, an impeachable offense.
Garay, who admitted receiving only P30,000 when he was hired as an SC information technology consultant in 2015 before he joined MISO, said he raised the issue of Macasaet's hefty pay with Sereno and her staffer Michael Ocampo, but claimed this was ignored.
"I repeatedly protested personally to Atty. Mike and CJ (Sereno) why there's a continuing need for a consultant. I tendered my resignation last year because that was a red flag for me as a lawyer. But I was prevailed upon to continue," he said.
Ocampo, who is secretary at the SC's Committee on Computerization and Library, denied Garay's claim, saying the latter only raised personal issues about Macasaet.
"I am surprised your honor. He intimated to me his reservation about personal qualities of Ms. Macasaet because Ms. Macasaet is a straight talker, straight shooter," he said.
Ocampo defended Macasaet's hiring.
"Ms. Macasaet has more than 20 years experience in the industry," he said, adding that she was responsible for fixing the ICT system of the Government Service Insurance System following its database crash, considered the worst ICT disaster in the Philippines.
Ocampo said Macasaet also earlier worked as an ICT consultant in various companies.
For the judiciary, Macasaet's tasks included crafting a master plan to automate 2,700 courts nationwide, Ocampo said.
"No one in the Supreme Court has handled a nationwide computerization program," he said. "Macasaet computerized UCPB (United Coconut Planters Bank) and GSIS. That's the kind of expertise SC needed at that time."
During Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers questioned how Macasaet was eventually selected, pointing out at different points in the proceedings how the Office of the Chief Justice seemed to have decided unilaterally in hiring her.
Ocampo explained that instead of public bidding, the hiring of Macasaet went through negotiated procurement, authorized under the Government Procurement Reform Act, because Macasaet's services were highly technical.
Ocampo admitted Macasaet is a friend of Sereno's Chief of Staff, lawyer Maria Lourdes Oliveros.
Oliveros confirmed her friendship with Macasaet but denied that the latter was hired because of this connection.
"I never suggested hiring Ms. Macasaet," she said, explaining that she was in no position to recommend because she had little knowledge about IT.
"The most I can recommend is a person's character," she added. "I cannot influence the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice can't even be influenced by Presidents."
Oliveros clarified that Sereno had met Macasaet first at a public function.
Ocampo also defended the fees Macasaet received initially at P100,000 monthly for the first contract, and P250,000 a month in the succeeding 7 contracts.
"We conducted market research regarding her fees," he said.
Appearing for the first time before the House Committee on Justice, Macasaet testified that in her previous engagement with the GSIS, she was paid P925,000 monthly from November 2008 to June 2010.
Prior to joining the SC as principal consultant, she was president and CEO of local IT company Pentathlon Systems receiving a P3-million annual salary package, plus subsidies for transportation and other expenses.
At the Supreme Court, she said she received much less. After the initial P100,000 monthly pay, she asked for higher compensation, which the Supreme Court managed to raise to P250,000 monthly.
"I figured I can make a decent living with P250,000. I have to be able to support my work. Ang matitira sa akin, P80,000, ok na 'yun," she said, adding that the pay cut was her way of paying back the government.
In a statement, Sereno's camp said the private sector rate for IT consultants is at P800,000 a month.