MANILA - Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is among the top government officials allowed to purchase a luxury service vehicle, Supreme Court justices said amid accusations that the chief magistrate is living a lavish lifestyle.
During the House impeachment hearing Monday, Justice Mariano del Castillo said the other officials exempted from the law prohibiting government officials from purchasing luxury service vehicles are the President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of the House.
"There is the legal basis for that if it is being purchased for security reasons," the magistrate said, noting Administrative Order No. 233 series of 2008.
Del Castillo said the bullet-proof service vehicle for the Chief Justice was already in the procurement plan in 2014 but it only pushed through in 2016.
The Supreme Court en banc approved the purchase of a P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser for the Chief Justice, who requested the vehicle for security reasons. Lawyer Larry Gadon used this as a basis for his impeachment complaint against Sereno.
Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro also confirmed that the Chief Justice is allowed to have a luxury service vehicle. She said Sereno is the first chief magistrate to avail of the privilege.
"I was appointed in 2007, and I've not encountered anyone trying to secure a Land Cruiser or a similar category of vehicle... There was a memo from the Bids and Awards Committee, I think, saying the Chief Justice is entitled to special treatment. And that she is exempted from the limit imposed on associate justices," she said.
SC justices, not just Sereno, asked about preferred vehicle
Meanwhile, Justice Del Castillo said he was not aware of reports that the Chief Justice had mentioned her preference for the specifications of the service vehicle before it was approved by the Supreme Court en banc.
He told lawmakers that the procurement process appeared to be in order and there was no legal basis for him to deny the request for the service vehicle.
Asked why Sereno was asked about her vehicle preference, Del Castillo said: "That prerogative is not exclusive to the Chief Justice."
"We are also asked if for instance kami na ang mabibigyan ng service vehicle, tinatanong din naman kami e, 'ano bang gusto niyo? Camry, Fortuner?' Ganyan din e. We are also asked kasi kami ang gagamit ng vehicle e," he pointed out.
Carina Cunanan of the Supreme Court's Procurement Committee earlier explained that justices and the Chief Justice are asked about the specifications of vehicles they would want to use in the preparation for the procurement plan.
ABS party-list Rep. Eugene Michael De Vera said this could be a a violation of the procurement law. He also showed a 2016 Certification of Funds where a computation for the purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser was found on the back of the page.
"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, noting this could be tantamount to graft and corruption.