Is CJ Sereno entitled to a luxury vehicle?

MANILA, Philippines – Did Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno violate any laws when she ordered the purchase of a P5.1-million vehicle using Supreme Court (SC) funds?

It is one of the grounds being cited against her in the impeachment case buildup being prepared by former Arroyo counsel Larry Gadon. 

Other grounds include alleged concealment of millions worth of earnings in Sereno's Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) and the supposed impropriety in the Chief Justice's actions which were not sanctioned by the court en banc. (READ: VACC seeks Chief Justice Sereno impeachment)

Documents obtained by Gadon show the SC approved the purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser Model (200 4.5 L V8 A/T Premium) for P5.1 million for Sereno's use.

Asked by reporters after the House hearing on the judiciary's budget on Monday, August 7, Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva said: "Let me just put something on record, there are budget circulars regarding this matter. There is a definition of what a luxury vehicle is, and there is a budget circular that says who are exempted and who are not entitled."

Villanueva was referring to Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Budget Circular No. 2010-2 issued in March 2010 by then budget secretary Rolando Andaya.

The circular has a 4-point definition of luxury vehicles; Sereno's land cruiser – a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) – falls under one of the definitions.

The circular says the acquisition and use of a luxury vehicle is prohibited except when it is used for the security of the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, and Chief Justice.

The circular also exempts the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs but only when the luxury vehicles are used by visiting foreign dignitaries.

A procurement document from the SC shows the P5.1 million is still exclusive of bullet proofing. 

"Heto munang nilabas ko 'yung sa car, kasi malaki ang public interest dito kasi si President Duterte nga hindi nga bumili ng bagong sasakyan," Gadon told Rappler in late July. (I'm only releasing the car documents for now because there is high public interest here, because even President Duterte did not buy a new car.)

Dbm Budget Circular Luxury Vehicle by Lian Nami Buan on Scribd

Security

During Monday's hearing on the judiciary budget, 1-CARE Party List Representative Carlos Roman Uybarreta raised the need to provide court personnel security.

This is in light of the recent killing of Butuan City regional trial court judge Godofredo Abul Jr. Abul's vehicle was fired at by unidentified gunmen on August 5.

Villanueva said there is no specific item, even in the proposed 2018 budget, for security of judges, justices and other court personnel. Villanueva said the court staff has been coping "on a need basis."

"We can only do so much, we do not have a specific item to provide security to our judges other than allowing some of our court personnel to serve as escort for our judges, and only if that personnel agrees," Villanueva said.

Uybarreta said a judge does not have to ask for security to be provided with one, and said he supports any move to increase the budget of the judiciary to address the problem. – Rappler.com

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.

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