Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has blasted the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) for supposedly not bothering to investigate how a photocopy of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s signature cards from a private bank ended up in the hands of prosecutors in the Corona impeachment trial.
The prosecution team of the House of Representatives has accused Corona of non-disclosure of millions of pesos of bank deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), as required by law.
“I would like to ask especially those enforcing banking laws and the Anti-Money Laundering Act, are you not disturbed by this event?” Enrile said. “Are you not concerned that, in spite of all the supposed efforts to protect the confidentiality of bank deposits, things like this could happen and of all people, to the person under investigation by the impeachment court?”
Enrile trained his guns on the BSP and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) officials during the hearing on Thursday of the Senate’s banks committee looking into the supposed leak of Corona’s photocopied signature card kept in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank).
BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. was in a meeting on Friday and could not be reached for comment.
But a BSP source, who asked not to be identified for having no authority to speak to the media, said there was no truth to the allegation that the central bank was not doing anything to unearth the truth about the accusations that the bank secrecy law had been violated.
The source said a fact-finding committee had been formed to investigate the matter and that the BSP might issue an official statement later.
Enrile warned that approval by the Senate of a bill amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla) to give the AMLC more powers could be jeopardized by the development.
Several senators have expressed concern that Malacañang could abuse the AMLC’s expanded powers to harass political opponents.
The prosecutors have presented witnesses and documents to prove that Corona kept at least five accounts containing P24.6 million between 2007 and 2010. Corona only reported deposits of P3.5 million in his SALN.
Enrile said there had been no known effort by either the BSP or the AMLC to probe the leak despite suspicions aired by some senators that BSP examiner Jerry Leal might be responsible for the leak.
Senators said Leal was “caught lying” when he denied during the first hearing that he had seen a photocopy of Corona’s signature card but admitted at the second hearing that he had seen it.
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III told senators Leal had instructed BSP examiner-in-charge Elmer Damasco to look into the signature cards of Corona and seven other depositors during the BSP’s audit of the bank in 2010.
Leal admitted seeing the photocopy after Enrile moved to cite him in contempt.
“Why is it that until now, the BSP and the AMLC have not taken pains to get to the bottom and look into this? Why? It is strange to me,” Enrile said. “To be frank with you, if I were in (the BSP’s) place, in charge of the banking system and enforcer of the AMLC, I would exercise every power, every means to find out the truth about this.”
Enrile did not spare PSBank in his tirade, asking whether it too spared “any effort to find out how this happened.” He warned of severe repercussions in the banking system should the mystery go unexplained.
“You will be answerable to the people, the depositors, the banking system of this nation and of the world… If this happens in other countries, they will go hammer and tongs, even use the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) to find out. Yet here, in this country, nothing,” Enrile said.
Enrile also noted that special concern should be given to the fact that the photocopied signature card that Quezon City Representative Jorge Banal showed PSBank Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson appeared to have been doctored.
At the impeachment trial, Tiongson testified she was shocked when Banal showed her Corona’s photocopied signature card but noted that it “seems fake.”
While Enrile and banks committee chairman Sergio Osmeña III hinted in interviews that the photocopy of Corona’s signature card attached to a supplemental request for subpoena would be admitted by the impeachment court, the method by which it was acquired would still pose questions.
“We are going to judge one of the highest officials of the country… And we are now in a quandary as to how to deal with this problem,” Enrile said.
Osmeña noted that even if Tiongson insisted the photocopied signature card was fake, there remained the question of how information about Corona was accessed and written on that card.
Osmeña said it was possible the Senate’s decision on whether to approve two pending bills granting the AMLC expanded powers would be adversely affected by what happened.
“The biggest objection is what (provisions) will (guarantee the) protection of the individual,” he said.
Leal told the committee he specifically asked for documents concerning 112 “high volume” depositors. To qualify under that category, a depositor must engage in transactions of P500,000 or more.
Osmeña said it appeared the BSP “is only watching the bank” while the AMLC was more concerned with specific private transactions.
AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino said monitoring larger than usual transactions helped the government detect crimes like kidnap for ransom, drug trafficking and terrorist acts whose financing and profit involve huge sums of cash.
Enrile dismissed this explanation, saying the Amla was actually an accommodation to powerful countries targeted by international terrorists. He warned he could “forego amending the Amla against the wishes of the international community” if doing so would be more beneficial to local bank depositors.
“Who benefits from the Amla, the Philippines or our (foreign) masters? I would rather choose the security of the people of this country… I am responsible for the security of our people,” he told the AMLC head.
Aquino insisted that amending the law would “bolster the chances of the government in fighting against money laundering and terrorist financing.”
Enrile countered that if doing so would “not assure” that the assigned agencies could maintain the bank secrecy laws, “why not just let this country be an open society and repeal bank secrecy laws?” With a report from Michelle Remo