Philippine economy

Bidding issues hound Sereno in impeachment hearing

Lian Buan
Bidding issues hound Sereno in impeachment hearing
Lawmakers raise possible violations of the anti-graft law

MANILA, Philippines – Bidding issues being linked to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno were the highlights of the House justice committee’s hearing on Wednesday, January 17, on the impeachment complaint against the top magistrate.

They involve 3 things: the purchase of a land cruiser for Sereno, the hiring of an IT consultant, and the presidential villa in Boracay booked by the SC during an ASEAN event for chief justices.

For complainant Larry Gadon, they hold fast against Sereno because they have clear corresponding provisions in the law.

IT consultant

SC’s procurement head Ma Carina Cunanan said when Helen Macasaet was hired as an IT consultant, it was done through something called an alternative method of procurement.

Upon the pressing of a lawmaker, Cunanan said it was the decision of the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) that Macasaet’s hiring go through the alternative method.

An alternative method of procurement is allowed by the Government Procurement Act under the clause of negotiated procurements, but it should satisfy the requirements.

Cunanan said Macasaet was considered a ‘highly-technical consultant,’ one of the requirements under the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the procurement law.

Cebu 3rd District Representative Gwen Garcia said, however, that the law itself doesn’t mention anything about highly-technical consultants.

“I’m sorry but I cannot clarify any further because this matter is one of the subject matters, the legality, that is pending before the court,” Cunanan said.

Like Cunanan said, the SC en banc is still resolving an administrative case related to Macasaet.

Presidential villa

In 2015, the Philippines hosted in Boracay the meeting of judiciary leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Corazon Ferrer-Flores of the SC’s fiscal management and budget office said the court spent P1.9 million for the 3-day affair held at the Boracay Shangri-La.

Cunanan and Thelma Bahia, also of the SC’s fiscal management and budget office, said the Shangri-La accommodation did not go through bidding.

Furthermore, the initial complaint was that Sereno booked a lavish P280,000 a night presidential villa, apart from the 29 deluxe rooms. Sereno said in her verified answer that Boracay Shangri-La gave the villa to the SC at no additional cost.

But for Leyte 3rd District Representative Vicente Veloso, that constitutes graft.

Specifically Section 3(b) of the graft law that prohibits “directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the Government and any other part, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law.”

“She received a benefit, dahil hindi siya siningil, this is a violation of the anti-graft act,” Veloso said.

Earlier on, lawmakers also pointed out that the supposed specifications of the Toyota Land Cruiser in the purchase of a vehicle for Sereno may constitute graft.

Constitutional violation?

Committee chairman Reynaldo Umali acknowledges that whether or not Sereno committed graft is not relevant to the hearing at this point.

“They don’t matter until and unless she is removed, so we cannot file administrative, criminal or even civil cases because she has immunity,” Umali said.

But, these may constitute impeachable offenses if they find that these are also violations of Article XI of the Constitution or the section about accountability of public officers.

Section 1 says: “Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

One of the grounds for impeachment is culpable violation of the constitution, as well as graft and corruption.

Umali was uncertain whether they can still stick to their original timeline to transmit the complaint to the Senate by March, seeing that they also have hearings on the proposed constitutional amendments. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.