[Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. casts his vote on the second day of the local absentee voting at the poll body's head office in Intramuros, Manila on Monday. Government officials and workers, including police and military personnel, and, for the first time, approved, media practitioners who will be on duty on Election Day, are allowed to exercise their right of suffrage in advance. Danny Pata]

MANILA, MAY 10, 2013 (DAILY TRIBUNE) Written by Angie M. Rosales - BAP: Poll body encroaching other bodies.

The Commission on Elections’ (Comelec’s) imposition of a ban on large cash withdrawals and possession of more than half a million pesos in cash is treading on unconstitutional grounds by interfering with the flow of private money, senators warned yesterday.

Aside from the warning, the poll body’s directive contained in a resolution issued Tuesday also received numerous flak from senators, ranging from calls of being “crazy” to the most serious tone, that of being in violation of the existing provisions of the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

Lawyers of the Bankers’ Association of the Philippines (BAP) are carefully studying the legality and options for the universal and commercial banking (UKB) industry about the ban on withdrawing P100,000 and up starting yesterday , May 8, until May 13, election day.

In a lengthy cellphone call to the Daily Tribune, BAP president Lorenzo Tan said Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes might have overlooked that Comelec resolution 9688 “encroaches on the mandate of other regulatory bodies.”
“This (money ban) will hamper the commercial and business transactions of banks in general. Workers and suppliers of certain industries are paid weekly. Public markets operate on cash basis only,” Tan, who is also president of the very prestigious Asian Bankers Conference, explained to the Tribune.

The Comelec money ban, according to Brillantes, covers all persons and all bank classifications—universal, commercial, thrift, savings, rural banks, micro finance firms—are mandated to oblige.

The ban also covers finance companies, quasi-banks, pawnshops, remittance companies and institutions performing similar functions while “all other non-cash transactions are not covered.” Aside from the ban to withdraw P100,000 and up, transportation and possession of P500,000 in cash also is prohibited during the period.

Although Tan said he has no personal objection on the resolution, he said that “we will comply with the directives of our regulatory bodies, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and Securities and Exchange Commission.”

President Aquino and his men have vowed to track down the cash flow of money to be used for rampant vote buying within the five remaining days before the actual election on Monday nationwide.

Presidential Deputy spokesman Abigail Valte claimed yesterday that the Palace has been receiving reports and complaints from various individuals following the impositions of the poll body’s money ban.

“Since the news yesterday hit the airwaves on the money ban being imposed by the Comelec, we have been receiving several complaints and concerns about it. And, as such, the President has asked the relevant, the appropriate Cabinet Secretaries to look into the matter,” Valte said.

Aquino has tasked his Cabinet members to coordinate with the Comelec commissioners and allegations on controlling the flow on cash money as the resolution was expected imposed yesterday.

Valte neither confirmed nor denied that Aquino would back up the Bangko Sentral position opposing the resolution that they will not enforce it.

“The position of the BSP is one of the concerns that I mentioned earlier. When the resolution was broadcast, the BSP already manifested its objections to the certain parts of the resolution. It will be taken into consideration,” Valte said.
Valte added that the opinion given by Secretary de Lima would,” of course be considered”.

Valte said that Aquino understands the primary intention of the Comelec in issuing the resolution to impose a money ban, but the need to study the imposition would be necessary.

Valte said since the Comelec is an independent body and separate from the executive branch, no pressures could be exerted to the Comelec to reconsider their resolution.

“While the Comelec, we understand perfectly the objective as their main target is to prevent vote-buying and nobody will disagree that that is an objective that is under the mandate of the Comelec,” Valte said.

“However, given the concerns that have been raised, not just by the BSP but also by several groups from the time that the news broke, these consequences will have to be looked into,” Valte said.

Another top banker, Lourdes Jocelyn Pineda, president of Rizal Microbank, one of the biggest thrift banks in the Philippines, said “Comelec has to understand that there is a cost involved when you make a withdrawal with a bank.”

UP Professor Harry Roque, in a text message said it is Comelec’s ignorance of the law.

Another banker said that the resolution will also affect medium enterprises that may need to pay for importations will not be able to meet their obligations, according to the banker.

Even the BSP has aired its objection about the resolution. In an emailed statement, the BSP said its position is based on the following grounds: limiting cash withdrawal and check clearing beyond P100,000 may disrupt normal business and commercial transactions in the Philippines; and the BSP is also constrained from enforcing the Comelec resolution because this would necessarily entail looking into bank deposit accounts.

This is essentially unsound and in violation of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 1405, as amended, (secrecy on peso deposits) and R.A. No. 6426 (secrecy on foreign currency deposits).

The Comelec resolution should be immediately revoked,” Sen. Ralph Recto said, adding that the Comelec may have just usurped the regulatory function of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Sen. Francis Pangilinan joined Recto in asserting Comelec resolution No. 9688 as “unenforceable”, especially to private depositors who have nothing to do with the elections or politics, saying that it would only prove to be futile exercise to ward off voting-buying scheme.

“Rather than limiting bank withdrawals for all depositors, which is fraught with complications and extremely difficult to implement, it would be simpler to cause the immediate arrest of those engaged in the practice of vote-buying, which happens in broad daylight anyway. The Comelec should likewise cause the filing of criminal and administrative charges and the disqualification of vote-buying politicians before election day. It is a more effective way of putting an end to this practice,” Pangilinan said.

“It will have an adverse impact on business and will not stop or minimize vote-buying. It will only make it difficult for everyone transacting with banks and others when most are not involved in political activity,” Recto said.
Easily, he stressed, the poll body’s money ban is curtailing the freedom of Juan de la Cruz to do what he wants with his hard-earned money.

“This has never been done in any part of the world — only in the Philippines,” the Recto said.

He stressed: “It will be difficult to implement. Banks and depositors may not be able to read or understand it.”

Recto said the money ban is already assuming that every one with bank transaction beyond P100,000 is out to buy or rig votes.

“Why are we penalizing innocent bystanders or depositors who just want to transact their usual business unhampered and without government intervention?” the senator, who chairs the Senate ways and means panel, asked.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III echoed the position of his colleagues saying that not everyone in the country is involved or even interested in the coming mid-term polls.

“I wish the Comelec would be less swashbuckling in their moves. It can be compared to a security guard given an area to man and he thinks it’s his kingdom,” Sotto said in criticizing the poll body executives.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed with Recto on the Comelec directive as tantamount to violating the AMLA since there exists a section in the law “exempting candidates from the provisions of AMLA particularly on the threshold amount deposited and withdrawn during the election period.”

“It is found on paragraph 2 sec. 16 of RA 9160 which deals with the protection against political harassment by exempting candidates from its provisons on the threshold amount and freezing of bank deposits among others during election period,” he said.

“A mere Comelec resolution cannot contravene the law,” Lacson even pointed out.

Meanwhile, Team PNoy campaign manager Sen. Franklin M. Drilon urged registered voters not to sell their votes.

He made this warning in the wake of reports that certain quarters are out to lure voters into selling their votes with six days to go before the polls.

“I appeal to the electorate not to accept money from candidates or their emissaries in exchange for your votes,” said Drilon.
He said these practices in the past should not be resurrected under the watch of President Aquino, who is strongly against electoral fraud.

“Let us safeguard our votes against cheaters and poll manipulators, whether they will come from the opposing party or the ruling party,” Drilon advised voters.

He also warned voters not to accept, free of charge, directly or indirectly transportation allowance, food, and drinks during Election Day as these undermine the integrity of the election.

Drilon dismissed allegations that the administration is poised to manipulate the results of the elections, saying “insofar as the President and Team PNoy are concerned, cheating is out of the equation.” With Ed Velasco, Paul Atienza and Alvin Murcia

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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