IT consultant: ₱250,000 monthly fee from Supreme Court lower than previous salaries

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(L-R) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, IT consultant Helen Macasaet

Story updated to include statements from IT consultant Helen Macasaet.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 7) — The controversial information technology (IT) consultant involved in the impeachment case against the Supreme Court chief justice denied allegations her salary was excessive.

During the Wednesday hearing at the Lower House, Helen Macasaet said she received a monthly fee of ₱250,000 as consultant from October 2013 to November 2017, for a total of over ₱11 million. She was hired to help out in the court's computerization program or Enterprise Information Systems Plan. 

Macasaet said her pay at the Supreme Court was a lot lower than any of the salaries she received from working with big companies here and abroad in her three decades of professional experience.

She said she earned P925,000 monthly as consultant of the Government Service Insurance System from November 2008 to June 2010, amid a database crash which she described as a "major IT crisis." Macasaet said it was a successful project as she was able to help fix the country's pension fund system.

Prior to working for the Supreme Court, she was earning an annual salary package of P3 million as president and chief executive officer of local IT consultant company Pentathlon Systems Inc., "excluding other expenses for my car, gasoline, telephone and others."

Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora asked her, "You gave this up for your work in the Supreme Court?"

"(For) much less," Macasaet answered. She said she had to step down as president of Pentathlon after realizing there may be a conflict of interest with her job at the High Court.

"Excluding all those personal expenses which are related to performing my work, I would be getting more or less a net of P80,000," she said. She mentioned paying for her own Internet, gasoline and toll fees, and other expenses including buying some "decent clothes" to face Supreme Court judges and justices.

"It's not comparable to any of the salaries or the salary packages received by employees of the courts or government," she said.

But lawmakers have pointed out this was even bigger than Sereno's monthly salary of P233,857.

House Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali also said Macasaet cannot compare her pay at the Supreme Court from salaries she received in private companies and even the GSIS, a government-owned and controlled corporation, because the High Court has limited budget.

It was the first time Macasaet appeared at the House Committee on Justice's hearing of probable cause in the impeachment case against the Chief Justice. In the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon, Sereno is accused of betraying public trust when she hired Macasaet "with an excessive compensation without public bidding."

Sereno's chief of staff, Maria Lourdes Oliveros, admitted she has been friends with Macasaet but denied any hand in the hiring process.

"I have no knowledge of the contract, I have not seen the contract. I distanced myself out of my delicadeza because of my personal friendship with Ms. Macasaet," Oliveros said. She added choosing Macasaet was purely the Chief Justice's decision.

"I cannot influence the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice cannot even be influenced by presidents," Oliveros said.

Macasaet, meanwhile, denied reports she had been hiding. She said she had even asked a friend to arrange an appointment with House Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas so she could present herself.

"That's just to show that in all good faith, I'm never in hiding," said Macasaet.

Justice Committee Chairman Umali has directed Macasaet to submit a written report of all her accomplishments.

"We want to hear your viewpoint... So we also direct you to submit to us your viewpoint of how the work impacted the IT system of the Supreme Court," he said.

Sereno's camp earlier said there was nothing irregular in Macasaet's hiring which was done through "negotiated procurement."

"Her services are highly technical in nature and, therefore, exempted from public bidding under Section 53.7 of the 2009 Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 9184," Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said.

In the impeachment case, the Chief Justice is also accused of violating the Constitution, corruption, betrayal of public trust, and other high crimes. Sereno has denied the allegations, and asked for the complaint to be junked.