OPINION: REFUGE

MANILA, MAY 26, 2012 (PHILSTAR) Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, requires government officials, including justices of the Supreme Court, to file an annual Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN plus a financial disclosure of, among other things, “real property, its improvement, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value.”

RA 6713, passed in February 1989, states that “the public has the right to know” these assets and liabilities.

The law requires the declaration of “all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like.”

RA 6713 makes no distinction between peso and foreign currency bank deposits.

Meanwhile, the martial law-era Republic Act 6426, or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines, guarantees the “absolutely confidential nature” of foreign currency deposits, which can be examined by another person or entity “only upon the written permission of the depositor” – meaning the confidentiality clause is addressed to banks, not the account holder.

Chief Justice Renato Corona has another interpretation of RA 6426: it prohibits even account holders from public disclosure of their own foreign currency deposits.

Never mind if it was passed way back in April 1974; he cited the law as the reason for not declaring four dollar accounts in his SALNs, which he said contained a total of $2.4 million.

He also admitted having three peso accounts, with a total of P80 million, that he also did not declare because, he told the Senate impeachment court yesterday, the deposits were merely placed under his name and actually belonged to his relatives.

Since this is the Chief Justice giving his interpretation of two laws affecting public accountability, Congress should study if the laws need amendment and if other remedial measures are needed to prevent foreign currency accounts from being used as a haven for dirty money.

This is not to say that Corona’s dollar deposits are ill-gotten; he has insisted they are not.

But he did concede the potential for abuse of that confidentiality clause by money launderers and other crooks. From this impeachment trial, corrective measures must be initiated by Congress.

Dollar accounts cannot serve as a refuge for dirty money.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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