Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon in his impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno alleged that Sereno failed to report her attorney’s fees and truthfully disclose her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) when she was first appointed to the Supreme Court.
Gadon alleged that Sereno earned a total of P37 million in lawyer’s fees as part of the legal team of the Philippine government in the arbitration case in Singapore filed against them by Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (PIATCO), but that these were not declared in her SALN.
But before focusing on how much Sereno earned as a private practioner at that time, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the lead government agency handling this case, should disclose how much the government paid the legal team handling the Piatco case.
You see, reports indicate that the legal team got paid an eye-popping sum of P 3 billion in salaries and allowances during the Aquino administration alone for handling the case.
According to my sources, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) was directed to pay the OSG the mind-boggling legal fees of those who lawyered for the Philippine government in the Piatco case.
The OSG should clarify whether it is true that Sereno was really the lead lawyer of the government in this never-ending court saga that so far has yielded no favorable results for the country. Did the government really spend P3 billion for legal fees? If so, how much legal fees actually went to her?
And if, indeed, Sereno received a multimillion-peso windfall, did she declare it as part of her income? Considering she only filed an income worth P17 or 20 million, observers are now saying that the amount is hugely disproportionate to the legal fees that the group received.
Incumbent Solicitor General Jose Calida should not hesitate from divulging details of the payments to the OSG since these happened during the term of his predecessors and not during his watch.
Calida may wish to ask former Solicitor-General Jose Anselmo Cadiz and MIAA General Manager Jose Aquino Honrado to be transparent; the people deserve to know how the funds drawn from the coffers of the MIAA were disbursed.
It will be recalled that Fraport and PIATCO sued the RP government for reneging on its contract to construct the multi-million dollar NAIA Terminal 3 airport facility in Pasay City.
Fraport lodged a complaint before the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), while PIATCO filed a damage suit at the International Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. ICSID ruled in favor of the RP government, but this was reportedly reversed by an Ad hoc committee in Washington.
To be fair, the PIATCO case goes as far back as the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Thus, the public would like to know: how much was paid for the legal fees of the lawyers during the terms of PGMA and PNoy.
Who are these “hotshot” lawyers? How many consultants, researchers and investigators were hired and for what services?
A few years ago, we saw documents sent to us, but the amounts in US dollars indicated as cash advances for payment of legal fees are astonishing.
We also saw a disbursement voucher a few weeks after the Aquino administration took over indicating the release of some US$ 496,233. 65 for expenses to be incurred by the OSG in the international arbitration cases involving the NAIA Terminal 3 project.
If these were cash advances, the present MIAA management headed by General Manager Ed Monreal should explain whether they were properly liquidated by the concerned officials and cleared by the Commission on Audit ( COA) .
Perhaps, COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo should look into this. Already, there are allegations that the legal team turned the government into a “milking cow” to pay for their international trips, lavish hotel accommodations, sumptuous meals in first-class restaurants and expensive salaries and other allowances.
We remember former government officials saying that the amount paid was not lavish since Sereno and Feliciano were paid based on time spent by them in handling the case. They even have the gall to say that the amount spent by government was worth it since the government is claiming $ 1 billion from Fraport and PIATCO.
In the light of all these allegations of impropriety involving staggering sums of money, perhaps we should guard against the lure of sirens who project a radiant image. Just like the sea nymphs who lured sailors with their beautiful singing voices in the book Odyssey of Greek mythology, she might not be what she appears to be.