What the return of Maria Lourdes Sereno’s P5-million SUV means

June 22, 2018 - 3:28 PM
The Toyota Land Cruiser formerly used by the ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. (Photo by The Philippine STAR/Edu Punay)

Maria Lourdes Sereno has returned the luxury SUV assigned to her when she was chief justice after her motion for reconsideration on the quo warranto petition was denied by her former Supreme Court colleagues.

Closed chapter?

The Supreme Court voted 8-6 to deny the motion to reverse the granting of the quo warranto petition against Sereno.

The P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser was returned on June 20, 2018, ahead of the June 30 deadline given by Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.

The SUV was at the heart of the controversy that would in turn spark the judicial upheaval the first half of 2018.

Lawyer Larry Gadon filed an impeachment complaint against Sereno in September 2017 for her alleged acts amounting to culpable violation of the 1987 constitution, corruption, and high crimes.

Among the acts that supposedly amounted to corruption was the order to purchase the P5-million vehicle for her use.

Sereno answered the allegations made by Gadon by saying that rest of the tribunal approved the purchase en banc, and that Section 3.1 of the Department of Budget and Management Administrative Order No. 233 exempted the chief justice from the prohibition against the use of luxury vehicles for security purposes by government officials.

The ousted magistrate also related how she had previously used a Starex van covered with a bullet-proof blanket as her security vehicle. The bulletproof Land Cruiser was hardly a luxury upgrade, said Sereno.

In March 2018, the House Committee on Justice voted 33-1 to approve the articles of impeachment on Sereno. Among the allegations was betrayal of public trust through misuse of a total of P18 million worth of public funds, including the P5 million used to purchase the Land Cruiser.

Sereno was eventually unseated by a quo warranto petition filed by the state’s top lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Shortly after the return of the vehicle, the Commission on Audit communicated to the Supreme Court that the purchase of the vehicle constituted a violation of Sec. 36, Rule X of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, according to a report by ABS-CBN News.

According to the auditing body, purchase of the vehicle came without market analysis or proper bidding.

A four-page Audit Observation Memorandum by the COA also mentioned that the contract for purchase of Sereno’s service vehicle was submitted 6 months late, according to the report.