MANILA—The Supreme Court en banc on Tuesday voided all the contracts it entered into with an information technology (IT) consultant hired by former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Voting 11-3, the high court invalidated the contracts of Helen Macasaet because it violated the Procurement Law, according to 2 reliable sources.
The court also ordered Macasaet to return all her consultancy fees, amounting to more than P10 million covering a period of 4 years.
Macasaet was hired as consultant in 2013 to work on the judiciary’s Enterprise Information Systems Plan (EISP) and other related computerization and ICT projects. Among her tasks was to automate 2,700 courts nationwide. Her contract ended in November 2017.
Macasaet’s hiring, which did not go through public bidding, and her allegedly excessive fees were among the grounds raised by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon in his impeachment complaint against Sereno.
Gadon alleged these acts constituted betrayal of public trust, a ground for impeachment.
It was revealed during the hearings before the House of Representatives early last year that Macasaet earned as much as P250,000 a month and it was the office of the then-Chief Justice who handled her hiring, in violation of procurement rules according to an internal investigation report of the high court.
It was also divulged Macasaet was a friend of Sereno’s then-chief of staff, lawyer Ma. Lourdes Oliveros.
But Oliveros told lawmakers Macasaet, who had more than 3 decades’ experience in the industry, was hired on her own merits.
Sereno’s camp defended the hiring, saying it went through negotiated procurement, a process authorized under the Government Procurement Reform Act, because Macasaet’s services were highly technical.
It credited Macasaet for fixing the IT system of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) following its database crash.
It also said her fees were much lower compared to the private sector rates for IT consultants, which was pegged at P800,000 a month.
Macasaet herself told lawmakers her P250,000 salary with the high court was way below the P925,000 monthly salary she earned with the GSIS from 2008 to 2010 and her P3 million annual salary package as CEO of a local IT company. But the lesser pay was, she said, her way of giving back to the government.
Another court official, lawyer Carlos Garay, the acting chief of the SC Management Information Systems Office (MISO), however told lawmakers that despite Macasaet’s hiring, the effects were “not substantial” in terms of improving the efficiency of the judiciary’s IT system.
The Supreme Court has yet to release details of the decision but a source told ABS-CBN News the renewal of Macasaet’s contracts did not go through the court en banc.