Lawmakers: Sereno purchase of Toyota Land Cruiser violates law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 17) — Some lawmakers said the Supreme Court's purchase of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) for Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno circumvented the procurement act, and may be a case for graft and corruption.

The House Justice Committee on Wednesday resumed the the impeachment hearing against the Chief Justice, focusing on the P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser bought for her use.

Ma. Carina Cunanan, procurement head and assistant chief administrative services, said while the SUV brand is predetermined, their office did not specify a brand.

"As far as the procurement plan is concerned, walang brand na nakalagay po," Cunanan told lawmakers.

(Translation: As far as the procurement plan is concerned, there was no brand stated.)

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas said the purchase of the vehicle may have "skirted the law" as the purchase had a specific brand in mind.

"When you initiated for the procurement process, it asked for a Toyota Land Cruiser, di po ba?" Farinas asked, to which Cunanan answered yes.

The Government Procurement Reform Act states "specifications for the procurement of goods shall be based on relevant characteristics and/or performance requirements."

"Reference to brand names shall not be allowed," the law further states.

ABS party-list Representative Eugene De Vera said violation of the procurement act will fall under graft and corruption.

"Pag may instructions na Land Cruiser ang bibilhin beforehand, papasok na yan sa R.A. 3019, influencing or persuading a lower officer to enter into a wrong contract. Sa umpisa pa lang, sinasabi na sa inyo, may instructions na sa Office of the Chief Justice na ang bibilhin, land cruiser," De Vera said.

(Translation: If there are instructions beforehand to purchase a Land Cruiser, it will fall under R.A. 3019, influencing or persuading a lower officer to enter into a wrong contact. Since the beginning, you said yourself that there are instructions from the Office of the Chief Justice to buy a land cruiser.)

Republic Act 3019 is the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

But Sereno's camp said the purchase of a Land Cruiser was covered by law, and was purchased for security reasons.

"For years, the Chief Justice did not ask for a new service vehicle. This was the first time the Chief Justice had ever requested for a vehicle since she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2010. She had always used vehicles 'inherited' from other Justices or court employees," Sereno's camp said.

Boracay accommodations also questioned

Apart from the purchase of a luxury vehicle, lawmakers also pressed resource persons on accommodations used by Sereno during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chief Justices Meeting in 2015.

Representative Ching Veloso insisted Sereno violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act when she hosted the ASEAN Chief Justices meeting at Shangrila Hotel in Boracay with a budget allocation of ₱2.6 million in total.

Veloso asked whether it went through a bidding process, but the Fiscal Management Chief of the Court said all documentary requirements were strictly complied with.

Lawyer Larry Gadon accused Sereno of corruption over the issue of her stay at the Boracay hotel, and Veloso said the Chief Justice proved this to be true when he claimed she failed to dispute it.

In September 2017 Sereno addressed the allegation in an 85-page verified answer filed before the House of Representatives.

In it she said, "No fee, in addition to what had been paid for the 'Room Block' of which the 'Presidential Villa' was already part of, was charged and paid for by the Supreme Court for the use of the villa during the 3rd [ASEAN Chief Justices Meeting.]"

Lawmakers also pressed the court representatives on the allegation that Sereno brought her team with her on trips where they took business and first class tickets.

Resource speakers did not give a definite answer, only saying Sereno would have been immediately questioned had it been the case.

However, Court Administrator Midas Marquez confirmed on Monday that Sereno flies business class with her staff and security.

RELATED: Court administrator confirms Sereno flies business class with staff, security

He recalled a trip where he took the same flight from Cebu as Sereno and her staff.

"Pabalik ho, sabay-sabay kaming pabalik ng Maynila, kasama si Chief Justice at yung staff niya at security. Nandun ho ako sa economy. Yung mga staff and security, nandun sila sa business class lahat," Marquez said.

[Translation: We went to Cebu one time, then when we got back to Manila, the Chief Justice was with her staff and security, and I was in economy class. The staff and security were all in business class.]

CNN Philippines Correspondent Tricah Terada and Digital Producer Yvette Morales contributed to this story.