THE kind of vehicles used by people in power says a lot about the person being transported. Former President Benigno Aquino 3rd learned this the hard way – first when he got a bulletproof Toyota Land Cruiser as his service vehicle and second, when he betrayed his predilection for fast rides with his controversial acquisition of a secondhand Porsche worth P4.5 million.
Aquino let it slip that his uncle, San Miguel Chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, gave him the Toyota sport utility vehicle (SUV), only to walk back when questions of propriety were raised. As for the 2007 Porsche, he had to sell it a year later, because “security concerns” of his presidential guards left the sports car unused in the garage.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should thus not be surprised that the same questions are being raised with her acquisition of a bulletproof Land Cruiser, the SUV model favored by Aquino, who appointed her to office.
Unlike Aquino, however, Sereno is using taxpayers’ money so she could ride in style. Documents obtained by The Manila Times showed that her Toyota SUV cost taxpayers P5.1 million.
The hefty price tag, however, seems to have not deterred the Chief Justice from asking for a pricey upgrade; it is reported that she declined to use the pearl-white Land Cruiser without bulletproofing.
If the car experts are correct, this will cost taxpayers another P3 million to P4 million, or a total of up to P9 million, and will fly in the face of President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for simple living in government.
Sereno and her supporters could argue that she’s the head of the judiciary, a co-equal branch of government, and is entitled to a vehicle befitting her lofty office.
But this is the first time the Supreme Court is acquiring this type of vehicle, and a bulletproof one at that.
Her predecessors and colleagues didn’t find it necessary, as there were no serious threats to their lives as magistrates. The same is true, we’re told, for Sereno, who has no death threats to warrant an expensive and armored Toyota SUV.
Sereno is not even in the line of presidential succession, so there will be no nightmare scenarios like those in the hit Netflix series “Designated Survivor” and “Madam Secretary.”
There’s no harm for Sereno to take her cue from Pope Francis, who does have serious threats on his life, notably from the Islamic State whose ultimate goal is to sack the Vatican.
Yet Francis eschewed the papal limousine and uses a Ford Focus to go around Rome. When he visited the Philippines in January 2015, the Pope used a Volkswagen Touran, which in Europe is a multipurpose vehicle like the all-too-common Toyota Innova.
She could well be reminded of the principle of “simple living” in Republic Act 6713, or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,” which states: “Public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”
If Sereno is enjoined by law not to display private wealth, all the more she cannot use taxpayers’ money for her ostentatious display of power and privilege.