A COURT of Appeals associate justice on Tuesday said Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno ordered CA justices to defy the House of Representatives in connection with the “Ilocos 6” case, and said the action was “irregular” and lacking in propriety.
At the resumption of the impeachment hearings conducted by the House committee on justice, CA Justice Remedios Salazar Fernando was among the resource persons to speak about Sereno’s alleged “obstruction of justice” on the “Ilocos 6” controversy.
The impeachment complainant, lawyer Larry Gadon, accused Sereno of committing other high crimes when she met with the presiding justice and associate justices of the Court of Appeals and instructed them to ignore the show cause order from the House of Representatives and question it before the Supreme Court.
Fernando refused to say whether Sereno’s action would constitute intervention in the CA. But at the very least, Fernando said the action constituted a “lack of delicadeza, or lack of propriety.”
“Propriety dictates that it should not be the case,” Fernando said when asked if Sereno’s action was proper.
On June 20, 2017, the House committee on good government issued the show cause order against the Special Fourth Division of the CA in connection with the court’s order to release six Ilocos Norte officials that the committee ordered detained for refusing to cooperate with its investigation.
Fernando said that on June 21, 2017 CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes called the CA justices to an emergency meeting and told them that he had just come from a meeting with Sereno where they talked about the case of the Ilocos Norte officials.
“According to our presiding justice he was given an assurance by the CJ that the SC will protect the CA,” Fernando said.
“According again to our presiding justice, in his talk with the Chief Justice, she advised the 3 (CA) justices to file a petition before the Supreme Court with a TRO and she would take care of it. And everybody was silent about it,” she added.
The three CA justices of the special Fourth Division who handled the habeas corpus case of the Ilocos Norte officials were Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela.
Fernando said the committee could confirm her testimony once fthe ormer CA presiding justice testifies before the panel.
Continuing her testimony, Fernando said that a day after the June 21 meeting, Reyes again called the CA justices to another emergency meet.
“He again informed us that he came from the Supreme Court and he already signed a joint statement with the Chief Justice regarding that particular case. According to him we will have Mass the next morning and after the Mass he will host a lunch and the Chief Justice will join us for lunch,” Fernando said.
However, Fernando said there was a specific directive from Sereno for the three CA justices handling the case not to join them for lunch.
“According to our presiding justice, the Chief Justice instructed our Clerk of Court to tell them not to include the three because there might be a case filed before the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice might be asked to inhibit herself from the case,” Fernando said.
Fernando said that Sereno indeed joined them for lunch where she informed them that since a joint statement on the issue had already been released, any statement on the matter should emanate from the SC spokesperson Theodore Te.
Also on Tuesday, the Sereno camp said there was no irregularity in the Court’s hiring of IT consultant Helen Macasaet, whose contract expired in November 2017.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, said the engagement of Macasaet was done in accordance with the Government Procurement Reform Law and that her compensation was “reasonable and not excessive.”
“The Supreme Court hired Ms. Macasaet from among three choices through negotiated procurement because 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,” Lacanilao said.
Lacanilao also explained that it was the Supreme Court, not the Chief Justice, who hired Macasaet in October 2013 to review and assess the implementation of its Enterprise Information Systems Plan (EISP) and to implement the e-Courts and automated hearing projects for the entire judiciary.
The Sereno camp denied the allegation made by Gadon in his verified complaint that Sereno unilaterally, without public bidding, hired Macasaet as an ICT consultant with an allegedly excessive compensation of P250,000 a month, which is higher than the P150,000 monthly salary of an SC justice.
At the House hearings, Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva, head of the Court’s bids and awards committee, said the Supreme Court had paid a total of P12 million to Macasaet from 2013 to 2017.
Villanueva noted that Macasaet’s consultancy fee was the “highest for an individual contract.”
Villanueva said Macasaet was initially given a P100,000 monthly fee. The fee was later upgraded to P250,000, which was never sanctioned but ended up in a “negotiated procurement,” where the “main criteria was the trust and confidence of the procuring agency” or end-user (Sereno), he added.
Villanueva said the BAC considered two other names for the position. However, Macasaet’s name was supplied by the Office of the Chief Justice, being the procuring office along with the Management Information System Office.
Villanueva also testified that BAC only considered the October 2013 and May 2014 contract of Macasaet, who served at the SC from 2013 to 2017. The subsequent renewals, were done by Sereno’s office.
Villanueva revealed Macasaet’s consultancy contract was renewed six times, amounting to P1.5 million each, or a total of P9 million. Other payments also made to the IT consultant, he added.
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