Sereno camp asserts vehicle purchase approved by SC en banc
MANILA - The purchase of a "predetermined" luxury vehicle for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is a violation of the Government Procurement Act, a lawmaker said Wednesday.
ABS party-list Rep. Eugene Michael De Vera stressed that even before bidding was held for the vehicle on December 9, 2016, the Supreme Court already knew it was getting a multimillion-peso Toyota Land Cruiser for the Chief Justice.
He said violation of the procurement law was tantamount to graft and corruption.
"Ngayon, nakikita natin na predetermined na pala na Land Cruiser ang bibilhin, may problema tayo kasi branding 'yun, in violation of Section 18 of the Procurement Act," De Vera said at the resumption of the House of Representatives' impeachment hearing against Sereno Wednesday.
The purchase of a luxury vehicle is among allegations in the impeachment complaint that lawyer Lorenzo Gadon filed against Sereno, among several other charges.
At the hearing, De Vera read a document dated November 25, 2016 about the Certification of Funds where a computation for the purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser was found on the back of the page.
"Kitang-kitang nga na talagang Land Cruiser ang bibilhin. Pati 'yung funds n'yo eksakto sa amount ng Land Cruiser during the opening of the bids of December 9, 2016," he said.
Carina Cunanan of the Supreme Court's Procurement Committee earlier explained that justices and the Chief Justice know the specifications of vehicles they would want to use.
In preparing for a procurement plan, Cunanan said they issue letters to different offices of the court to submit to them their needs for the incoming year.
"We had to ask the office of the end user what vehicle would she prefer in the event that we are to procure a vehicle for the end user. And it was them who said that it was a Land Cruiser po," she said.
Lawmakers also grilled Deputy Court Administrator Thelma Bahia and Fiscal Management and Budget Office chief Corazon Flores over the vehicle's procurement.
Flores said they do not name the brand but state the specifications in their procurement process.
She said the Office of the Chief Justice's initial request was for a Chevrolet Suburban but it cost more than the allotted budget.
"So no bidder attended our bidding process so that's why there was a failure of bidding," Flores explained.
Gadon had accused Sereno of using public funds to buy the luxury vehicle.
Meanwhile, Sereno's camp said that no less than the SC En Banc, in a resolution dated March 28, 2017, approved the purchase of the Land Cruiser for the price of P5,110,500.
It cited a circular from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which allows the country’s highest officials, including the Chief Justice, "to use a service vehicle for security reasons."
"The Land Cruiser was purchased to ensure the safety and security of the Chief Justice. Because of threats to her personal security, she had no choice but to acquire a vehicle that could be bulletproofed. It cannot be denied that judges, lawyers and prosecutors have been assassinated," her camp said in a statement.
It added that Sereno had been using inherited service vehicles from other justices or court employees.
“For years, the Chief Justice did not ask for a new service vehicle. This was the first time the Chief Justice had ever requested for a vehicle since she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2010," the statement read.
"The records of the Supreme Court will show that at the time of the procurement of the Land Cruiser, new vehicles had been purchased for eight of the other Justices of the Supreme Court. New vehicles for two other Justices are currently being procured,” her camp said.