SC Associate Justice: Chief justice allowed to purchase luxury vehicle for security reasons

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 29) — Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo on Monday said the Chief Justice is allowed to purchase a luxury vehicle for security reasons.

Del Castillo cited a 2008 administrative order prohibiting government offices to acquire or use luxury vehicles for their operations, with the exemption of the top five officials of the country namely, the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, and the Chief Justice.

When asked if the safety of the top magistrate is compromised, Del Castillo said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno does not necessarily discuss threats directed to her.

The Associate Justice said even he, as a former Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge, received death threats.

"It comes with the territory, Your Honor," Del Castillo said.

The Associate Justice said other Supreme Court (SC) justices who get threats also ask for additional security.

"With additional security, you need an additional vehicle. Maybe not a luxurious one," del Castillo said.

The House of Representatives Justice Committee on Monday resumed the impeachment proceedings against Sereno, after lawyer Lorenzo Gadon filed a complaint accusing the top magistrate of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes.

The panel zoomed in on the purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser worth more than P5 million, excluding bulletproofing, which was also estimated to cost P4 million.

Although Associate Justice Teresita Marquez said although she knew the Chief Justice is entitled to a special treatment when procuring a vehicle, she has "not encountered anyone trying to secure a Land Cruiser or a similar category of vehicle."

Del Castillo, however, said the Land Cruiser is not owned by the Chief Justice.

"Just like our service vehicles, they are not in our names. It is in the Supreme Court," del Castillo said.

He also said no one from the SC en banc raised any irregularity regarding the purchase of the service vehicle.

In addition, it was not only the Chief Justice who was made a request for a preferred service vehicle.

"The prerogative is not exclusive to the Chief Justice. We are also asked, if for an instance, kami na ngayon ang mabibigyan ng service vehicle. Tinanong din naman kami. Camry, Fortuner, ganyan din eh. We are also asked. Kasi kami ang gagamit ng vehicle," del Castillo said.

(Translation: We were also asked if for instance, it is our turn to be given a service vehicle. We were also asked: Camry, Fortuner. We were asked since we are the ones who will use the vehicle.)

SAGIP Partylist Rodante Marcoleta said the top magistrate's choice of vehicle is not in accordance to public officials' mandate to live modestly.

"As chief magistrate of the Supreme Court, giving for herself the best vehicle that she deserve compared to the plight of the employees of the Supreme Court whose convenience will also be taken into consideration," Marcoleta added, comparing Sereno's vehicle to the shuttle vehicles for the employees which are in a "state of disrepair."

Marcoleta also said the Chief Justice acquired the vehicle "not in the proper procedure as required by the rules of the SC."

ABS Partylist Representative Eugene De Vera also showed Del Castillo some documents which show there was a predetermined intention to purchase a specific type of vehicle.

"Baka napapalusutan po kayo as far as yung presentation po ng mga bid documents sa inyo, para hindi maging intelligent yung inyong magiging desisyon sa purchase ng Land Cruiser. Kasi tignan niyo po, prior to bidding lahat po yan," De Vera said.

(Translation: Some people may have failed to present the right bid documents to prevent you from making intelligent decisions regarding the purchase of the Land Cruiser. Look at all those documents, all of those were prior to bidding.)

READ: Lawmakers: Sereno purchase of Toyota Land Cruiser violates law

CNN Philippines correspondent Joyce Ilas and digital producer Yvette Morales contributed to this report.