The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Friday debunked allegations of irregularity in the use of the Supreme Court’s funds for her business class travels, use of a presidential villa in Boracay, and purchase of a security vehicle by the high tribunal.
In a statement, Sereno’s spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao said there was “nothing irregular, illegal and extravagant” in the use of the SC funds.
“All transactions pertaining to the purchase of the security vehicle, use of the presidential villa and business class trips of the Chief Justice were above board and went through the correct procedures,” Lacanilao said.
He said the chief magistrate has been “very prudent in handling the judiciary’s resources” and there is no truth to allegations she has been living a luxurious life using public funds.
Lacanilao noted that the SC rules recognize the necessity of allowing the Chief Justice to travel on business class.
“This is in recognition of her position and the need to provide her with the resources to ensure that she is fully prepared for all her international and local speaking engagements,” he pointed out.
Lacanilao said the SC Human Resource Manual, which was approved by the Supreme Court en banc through A.M. 006-6-1-SC on Jan. 31, 2012 —or barely four months before Sereno assumed the top judiciary post—allows the Chief Justice to travel on “full business class.”
“It was the SC that created the rules on the official travels of the Chief Justice and other SC justices. In fact, the rules were recently amended to benefit all the justices, and it was the Chief Justice who introduced the amendment to the rules on official travels to give other justices the same privilege to travel on business class,” Lacanilao said, citing an en banc resolution dated July 11, 2017.
The lawyer-spokesman also justified the use of the presidential villa in Shangri-la Boracay during the gathering of the ASEAN chief justices in March 2015, saying the budget was approved by the 15-member SC en banc.
In fact, Lacanilao said the en banc approved a P2.6 million budget for the three-day event but only P1.9 million was actually spent, because the Chief Justice and her team were able to maximize the use of the presidential villa.
“By using the presidential villa, the Chief Justice actually saved public funds,” he said, noting that the resort charged only P134,192 for use of the presidential villa, and not the regular rate of P280,000.
“Instead of vilifying her, she should get a medal for actually saving money for the government,” Lacanilao explained.
The SC-approved budget specifically included the use of the villa to be used as a “function space” for the meeting of the 10 ASEAN chief justices.
Instead of booking additional rooms, the Chief Justice and her staff and part of the secretariat were allowed to spend two nights in the presidential villa without the government incurring additional expenses, Lacanilao stressed.
He noted that the villa was intended for a high-level meeting, and “not for an extravagant and luxurious sleepover.”
Lacanilao also explained that Boracay was the ideal venue for the event because it was also where most of the ASEAN meetings were being held.
“Security-wise, it was the most appropriate venue for the meeting of the ASEAN chief justices. Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa was chosen because it was the only resort that offers the right facilities and capabilities to secure those attending the high-level meeting,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lacanilao said the purchase of a service vehicle for the Chief Justice was in keeping with security protocol that the highest judge of the land be protected in a security vehicle.
“The purchase of 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser was in conformity with government procurement processes and policy,” he said.
The policy, he said, includes the choice of vehicle that would provide protection for the fifth highest official of the land as provided under Section 3.1 of Department of Budget and Management Administrative Order No. 233 and Section 2.2 of DBM Budget Circular No. 2010-2.
Lacanilao said no less than the SC en banc itself approved the acquisition of the Land Cruiser in a resolution dated March 28, 2017 in A.M. No. 17-03-06-SC.
“There was nothing rigged, nothing predetermined, and no instructions given to actually say this is what I want,” Lacanilao said.
Since her appointment to the high court in 2010, Sereno has been using the old service vehicles she inherited from retired SC justices.
“Bullet-proofed blankets were installed inside these vehicles and sometimes, the CJ wears bullet-proofed vest that was given to her by her husband as a gift,” Lacanilao said.