OPINION: REMOVE BANK SECRECY SHIELD FROM OFFICIALS

MANILA, MAY 26, 2012 (MANILA TIMES)

CHIEF Justice Renato Corona, last Tuesday, signed a waiver allowing the impeachment court to look into all his bank accounts.

Then he challenged the 188 congressmen who filed the impeachment cmplaint to also waive their legal right to keep their bank accounts secret.

Many of these congressmen had actually perjured themselves.

They had neither read the impeachment articles nor possessed personal knowledge of the acts the CJ is alleged to have committed.

The CJ also challenged Senator Franklin Drilon, who had made himself a hero to the prosecution side by assiduously functioning like a prosecutor not a judge.

Except for three congressmen, all the others in the group of 188, and Sen. Drilon, ignored Mr. Corona’s challenge.

They said the challenge was irrelevant because they were not on trial.

They did not mention that CJ Corona issued the challenge not to support his defense but to dramatize a call for transparency among government officials and honorable members of the two august chambers of Congress.

Yesterday, Mr. Corona handed over the waiver he had signed to the Impeachment Court. He announced that he was issuing it without conditions.

Some senators and media commentators found the CJ’s waiving his rights to secrecy meritorious.

Others, the same people who have been participants in the virulent campaign to malign the CJ and to pressure the fair-minded senator-judges to share Malacańang’s hatred of him, continued to attack Mr. Corona.

Palace Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said of the waiver and CJ Corona’s admission that he had dollar accounts that Mr. Corona had given proof that he had left out facts in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth.

These words and opinions were exactly what the prosecution panel’s spokesmen were telling GMA News TV and ABS-CBN.

These were also the very same words spoken by radio and TV talking heads to convince their listeners of Mr. Corona’s guilt.

The CJ explained in his statement and in answer to senators (including Sen. Drilon) who stood up to ask him pointedly about his four—not 182— US-dollar accounts that the law explicitly protects the secrecy of such accounts.

For true transparency amend the law Chief Justice Corona is right. He cannot be held guilty for doing something compliant with the law.

He cannot be considered apart from the other officials who file their SALNs and, as an annual practice, do not include their dollar deposits.

The CJ cited the expert opinion of Ms. Estrella Martinez, a lawyer and Certified Public Accountant who had worked at the Bureau of Internal Revenue for 32 years and has a master’s in taxation policy from a US university.

She was interviewed by the Inquirer last week and gave that paper a copy of her study from which the Inquirer quoted the sentence, “in all my 32 years as a tax collector, I have never encountered a government official declare his dollar deposits in his SALN.”

Some senators yesterday wanted to make the CJ look remiss by not including his dollar accounts worth approximately $2.4 in his SALN.

They seemed to be trying to portray Mr. Corona’s adherence to the secrecy law a reason to find him guilty of the “crime” of not volunteering information about his dollar accounts.

They would seem to be creating a new category of crime for which an official should be found guilty in an impeachment court.

We, however, see in these senators’ line of attack against the Chief Justice, a need to advance the cause of transparency by amending the bank secrecy laws. The amendment should be to remove bank secrecy protection from employees and officials of the three branches of government.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero praised the CJ for signing his waiver. He spoke of his and other lawmakers’ efforts to amend the bank secrecy laws so that there would be no need for officials to sign a waiver because they would be obliged to disclose all their bank accounts.

These amendments proposed by Sen. Escudero should be enacted soonest.

FATF waiting for amendments Meanwhile, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is the international organization to which the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC, sometimes AMLAC) reports, has given the Philippine government until the end of the month to pass amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

If the amendments are not enacted, the Philippines would suffer sanctions. Under FATF’s behest, banks involved in handling remittances to and from the Philippines will make transactions more cumbersome and perhaps expensive. OFWs and their families would be hurt.

To this we say, “Up yours, FATF! You will make the common people of the Philippines suffer—while the wealthy elite won’t be affected because they can easily afford the effect of your sanctions. Up yours, FATF! You will hurt our export industries and our imports of raw materials and tools while you, rich bastards in the West, deserve to be pilloried for you were the ones whose decisions caused the birth of terrorism in the first place.”

We agree with Senator Joker Arroyo: There is no need to rush passage of the law amending the AMLA. Let the FATF and the Bangko Sentral be more specific about the sanctions FATF will impose on the Philippines before we do anything.

And the Senate should investigate the way the Anti-Money Laundering Council operates. Investigate how the AMLC has been abused in the case of its illegal investigation into the bank accounts of Chief Justice Corona and its passing on “raw intelligence” and unauthenticated findings to the Ombudsman, which she then publicized at the impeachment court.

The law specifies certain steps, like the issuance of a warrant, the finding of probable cause of terrorist money-laundering, etc. These were apparently not observed in the Corona case.

How many other personalities in our country were abused by the AMLC?


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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