CHIEF Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sought bulletproofing for her brand-new, high-end Toyota sport utility vehicle (SUV) without authority from the full Supreme Court.
An investigation by The Manila Times found that only the purchase of the P5.1-million Toyota Land Cruiser had clearance from the full court, or the Supreme Court en banc.
“Mukhang pinalusot sa amin iyang bulletproof car na iyan, hindi ko matandaan [It looks like the purchase of that bulletproof car was sneaked past us, I don’t remember it,” one Supreme Court justice told The Times.
Another magistrate thought the procurement was for a regular or ordinary SUV just like those of other justices, but not the “high-end” model like the Land Cruiser.
“Ang alam ko ordinary SUV lang, mga P1.5 million, `yun kasi ang regular na binibili para sa mga justices. Hindi high-end SUV. Tapos bulletproof pa pala. Walang authority iyang bulletproofing sa en banc [What I know is that only an ordinary SUV would be bought, costing about P1.5 million. That’s the regular purchase of vehicles for justices. Not a high-end SUV. And it turns out it’s bulletproof. That bulletproofing has no authority from the en banc],” the justice said.
The bulletproofing of Sereno’s SUV, which industry experts have said could cost taxpayers up to P4 million, was included in the impeachment complaints filed against the Chief Justice at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te declined to comment on this story.
A court en banc resolution dated March 28, 2017 approved only the procurement of the pearl-white Toyota Land Cruiser for Sereno.
“The Court Resolved, upon the recommendation of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) for Goods and Services, to AWARD to Toyota Makati, Inc. the contract for the supply and delivery of a motor vehicle for the Supreme Court (1 Unit of SUV 4×4 — Toyota Land Cruiser 200) in the amount of Five Million One Hundred Ten Thousand Five Hundred Pesos (P5,110,500.00),” stated the resolution drafted by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.
The purchase was also contained in “AM (Administrative Matter) No. 17-03-06-SC (Re: Award of the Contract for the Supply and Delivery of Motor Vehicles for the Supreme Court (1 Unit of SUV 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser 200).”
The court’s BAC proceeded with the procurement of the vehicle after the passage of the resolution, which was signed by Felipa Anama, clerk of court.
Only Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe was on official leave when the resolution was passed.
Sereno asked the court’s Procurement Planning Committee and BAC to provide her a bulletproof SUV on December 2, 2016.
The first indorsement letter, addressed to Deputy Court Administrator Thelma Bahia, chairman of the BAC, was signed by Ma. Carina Cunanan, assistant chief of the Office of Administrative Services and chairman of the Procurement Planning Committee.
The SUV is already being used by Sereno, alternately with her old Starex van.
A Certificate of Availability of Funds, dated November 25, 2016, stated that the amount of P5,263,815.00 was available for the purchase of the Toyota Land Cruiser, “exclusive of vehicle bullet proofing.”
Palace hands off
On Thursday, Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte won’t meddle with the impeachment complaints against the chief justice.
“We respect the decision of whoever filed the case against the chief justice. And of course we stand by that the President respects the separation of powers of each of our government agencies (sic). If the House of Representatives will endorse [the complaints]then that is up to them,” Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag told reporters.
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution on
Wednesday filed impeachment complaints against Sereno for supposed culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes.
They accused Sereno of releasing administrative orders without the approval of the Supreme Court en banc.
The complaints against Sereno however will not be considered verified without the endorsement of a congressman.
Sereno’s predecessor, Renato Corona, was impeached and ousted in 2012 on allegations he misdeclared his wealth.
When Marcos loyalists and bloggers filed impeachment complaints against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo in May, Duterte spoke up, telling his allies in Congress to “lay off.”
Fariñas won’t endorse, yet
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas won’t endorse the impeachment complaint against Sereno, at least for now.
Larry Gadon, one of the complainants, disclosed that he had asked at least five lawmakers to endorse his complaint, which has 27 articles of impeachment, against Sereno.
“I read the Gadon complaint and I told Attorney Gadon when he came to my office yesterday that his allegations must substantially comply with the verification process, meaning that [those in the complaint]are of his own personal knowledge and/or culled from authentic records,” Fariñas told reporters.
Fariñas said Gadon should secure certified true copies of Supreme Court orders or circulars. Gadon’s complaints were based on newspaper reports, he noted.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND LLANESCA T. PANTI