MANILA, Philippines – The purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser for Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may be basis to charge court officials of graft, ABS Partylist Representative Eugene Michael De Vera said on Wednesday, January 17.
Without specifying who would be liable, De Vera said that the SC had its eyes on the off-road vehicle even before they bidded out the purchase, supposedly a violation that would fall under Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft Law.
De Vera has earlier pointed out that “branding” or specifying the brand of a bid subject is not allowed under Section 18 of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Act.
“Maliwanag po ‘yan, kapag may instruction na Land Cruiser yung bibilhin, papasa na ‘yan sa (it's clear that if there is an instruction to buy a Land Cruiser, that would fall under) R.A 3019, influencing, or persuading a lower officer to enter into a wrong contract,” he said.
Sereno is entitled to a luxury vehicle, a privilege afforded by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to the Chief Justice, the President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of the House.
It’s the specification of a Land Cruiser that’s in question.
SC’s procurement head Ma Carina Cunanan said there was an “instruction" from Sereno’s office to buy the Chief Justice a vehicle that suits her security needs.
“When we prepare the procurement plan, we issue letters to the different offices to tell the procurement committee what their needs are for the incoming year. Since 2014 up to 2016, the procurement of a vehicle for the Chief Justice has always been included because when she was appointed, she never requested for one,” Cunanan said.
Cunanan added: “It was the Office of the Chief Justice who said [specifically a] 'Land Cruiser.'”
However when it came to the procurement documents, SC’s chief fiscal management and budget officer Thelma Bahia said there was no mention of a brand.
But for Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, that’s just a way to circumvent the law.
‘Sereno’s not the first’
Sereno’s spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao said Sereno never specified Toyota Land Cruiser.
“Hindi siya kasi ang kausap ng committee, ang kausap ay ang staff niya. Walang record na sinabi na Land Cruiser,” Lacanilao said.
(Sereno was not the one talking to the committee, it was just her staff. And there's no record of specifying a Land Cruiser.)
Lacanilao said what Sereno just wanted was a vehicle that suits her security needs, including bullet proofing. He added Sereno is not the first justice to have a vehicle preference.
“Yung bang justices nga, may preference for a pearl white color. Ang preference po ni CJ ay security vehicle. Pero 'yun po ay preference lang, not an instruction, however the committee took it, sa kanila na po ‘yun,” Lacanilao said.
(Other justices have a preference for a pearl white color. CJ preferred a security vehicle, but that's just a preference, not an instruction. However the committee took it, that's on them.)
Asked for any other past chief justice to have a luxury vehicle, Cunanan said that in 1999, the SC bought former chief justice Andres Narvasa a P1.5 million Toyota Crown.
Lacanilao maintains it is not an impeachable offense, calling it a “nothing burger.”
“Where’s the beef?” Lacanilao said.
A source from the judiciary said that among all the issues hounding Sereno, the most controversial of which are the testimonies of her fellow justices, the strongest accusation would still be those that involve bidding.
The source added public officials find themselves facing charges in Sandiganbayan for the smallest violations of bidding they initially think were harmless. – Rappler.com