A big gray area now looms over the Senate impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona after the questioning yesterday (the 8th of Feb) of prosecution witness Pascual Garcia III who is president of Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) raised the ugly heads of the Philippines’ bank secrecy laws further. During questioning conducted by private prosecutor Demetrio Custodio, Garcia revealed details of Corona’s five peso accounts with PSBank but declined to present (and presumably refrained from bringing with him) documents associated with five dollar accounts allegedly kept by Corona with the bank. The five dollar accounts along with the five peso accounts were within the scope of a controversial subpoena to PSBank issued by the impeachment court.
The subpoena of the PSBank accounts traces its roots to an “anonymous source” described by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali as a “small lady” who handed to him an envelope allegedly containing Corona’s bank documents. The revelation made by former lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr the previous day (the 7th Feb) highlighted yet another instance of the prosecution team pre-empting any authorisation from the Senate impeachment court to mount such actions.
Section 8 of Republic Act 6426 (“Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines”) states that foreign currency accounts are “absolutely confidential”…
Section 8. Secrecy of foreign currency deposits. All foreign currency deposits authorized under this Act, as amended by PD No. 1035, as well as foreign currency deposits authorized under PD No. 1034, are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositor, in no instance shall foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative, or any other entity whether public or private; Provided, however, That said foreign currency deposits shall be exempt from attachment, garnishment, or any other order or process of any court, legislative body, government agency or any administrative body whatsoever. (As amended by PD No. 1035, and further amended by PD No. 1246, prom. Nov. 21, 1977.)
Given the formidable measures in place that make access to information on a foreign currency account in the Philippines extremely difficult, it seems that the prosecution team and in particular Umali and the “small lady” he implicates can be charged for serious offenses on the basis of this law.
Interestingly, “social news network” Rappler.com “online reporter” Magtanggol de la Cruz published the balance of one of those foreign currency deposits in an article that bears the ironic title ‘Secrecy in foreign currency deposits‘ dated the 8th of Feb…
The latest one that has grabbed my attention has to do with whether or not a Philippine bank can be compelled via a subpoena to disclose information relating to a foreign currency bank deposit of its depositor, in this case, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The scuttlebutt, of course, is that Justice Corona has a US$[bleep] deposit held by the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) and that the prosecutors even know its account number.
…refering to a previous article dated the 4th of Feb where “online reporter” Carmela Fonbuena reveals not only that dollar amount but the account number where it is deposited as well…
The $[bleep] deposited in account number [bleep] is supposedly just one of 14 accounts that the Chief Justice and his wife Cristina individually and jointly own with daughter Carla Castillo and her husband Constantino III. Prosecution wants the branch manager of PSBank Katipunan branch to appear before the court and bring the bank documents on February 7, Tuesday.
These potential criminal acts will surely reflect upon the integrity of the Senate impeachment trial court which, it can be argued, became party to violations of bank secrecy laws when it allowed admission of evidence obtained by unlawful means.
Perhaps it is high time that the Supreme Court of the Philippines gets involved before things get out of hand.
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