Starting Wednesday until May 13, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is imposing a ban on cash withdrawals of more than P100,000 from banks and other financial institutions.
The Comelec announced Tuesday the unprecedented move, which it kept under wraps until five days before election. The Comelec said it wants to stop vote-buying on Election Day.
The commission also banned the “possession, transportation and/or carrying of cash” worth more than P500,000.
Exempt from the ban on carrying cash worth more than half a million pesos are farmers, merchants and other “persons similarly situated traveling to and from Manila or other business destinations” if they show proof of their occupation and the “transaction which generated the cash exceeding the threshold.”
In Resolution No. 9688, the Comelec said it “resolved to prohibit the withdrawal of cash, encashment of checks and conversion of any monetary instrument into cash from May 8 to 13, 2013 exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency.”
The Comelec said the order covered banks, finance companies, quasi-banks, pawnshops, remittance companies and institutions performing similar functions while “all other noncash transactions are not covered.”
“To implement the ban, all existing Comelec checkpoints all over the Philippines are directed to conduct a 24-hour money-ban checkpoint, in addition to the gun-ban checkpoint for the duration of the period,” it added.
The Comelec directed the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police-Intelligence Services to conduct operations against vote-buying, and if necessary, entrap vote-buyers and vote-sellers.
It said law enforcers or private individuals could arrest, without a warrant, any person who in their presence “has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit the election offense of vote-buying and selling.
All seven Comelec commissioners, including Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., signed the resolution. Commissioner Luie Guia signed with reservations.
“We are trying to prevent the circulation of cash which can be used for vote-buying. Historically, there are a lot of cash withdrawals during the last few days before elections,” Brillantes said in an interview.
All persons covered
“And if we limit it to P100,000 each, it will be very difficult to withdraw millions of pesos. All persons are covered. This is the first time Comelec is doing this,” he added.
Brillantes said the Comelec had been discussing since March a “money ban” to help prevent vote-buying and vote-selling on Election Day.
“We’re saying, ‘Let’s all keep quiet. Let’s draft a resolution but let’s take it up when Election Day gets close. Let’s keep quiet so no one would know about it,” he said.
“Because if they knew about it, everyone would withdraw (their cash) …. No one has been arrested for vote-buying. The only way to do it if we don’t jail people is to minimize vote-buying.”
BSP against ban
Brillantes said the Comelec issued the resolution despite opposition from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).
“The Monetary Board has advised us that they do not agree with the resolution and gave us the advice that if it is not that important, we should not promulgate that anymore (because among other things) commerce will be affected,” Brillantes said.
In its resolution, the Comelec en banc said that the BSP had raised “certain concerns.”
Pointing out that it had the power under the Constitution to deputize government agencies during elections, the Comelec ordered the BSP, the Anti-Money Laundering Council and other financial agencies of the government to implement the resolution.
It added that the Comelec en banc may exempt government agencies and private persons and entities from its “money ban” resolution but only “on valid and exigent grounds.”
“In urgent cases, the respective [Comelec] provincial regional director, or in the case of the National Capital Region, its regional director, may issue exemptions that shall be valid unless revoked by the Commission en banc or the chairman whenever it is not in session,” the Comelec said.
It said that all withdrawals of cash or encashment of checks or a series of these acts that would total more than P500,000 “within one banking day from the publication” of the resolution until May 13 shall be presumed to be for vote-buying and would be considered a “suspicious transaction” under the Anti-Money Laundering Law.
“For this purpose, the Anti-Money Laundering Council is hereby deputized to monitor and initiate investigations, and if necessary, inquire into and examine the deposit and related accounts involved in the suspected transaction,” the Comelec said.
Banks were confused and unaware of the details of the “money ban” ordered by the Comelec.
Edward Leandro Garcia, president of the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines, said members of the rural banking industry had not been formally informed of the Comelec guidelines and that banks had only heard about the ban from the press.
There are about 500 rural banks in the country.
“If there is such a directive, then the Comelec should be communicating this with the BSP, which in turn should be the one to give us (banks) the order because the BSP is our regulator,” Garcia said in a phone interview.
But reacting solely on what had been reported by the press, Garcia expressed doubt on the prudence of the money ban. “If this is true, this might adversely affect business and trade transactions,” he said.
Garcia said imposing the ban might not be the appropriate measure to achieve the Comelec’s objective.
“If money would indeed be used for vote-buying, the ban may already be too late. By this time, money allegedly for vote-buying is highly likely to be already in the hands of the politicians,” Garcia said.
A media relations officer of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), meanwhile, said BPI had not yet received any formal order in connection with the ban.
“We have not yet been officially informed about it as of this time. We have not received any directive from the BSP either,” the media relations officer said. She said BPI could not yet issue any notice to its clients as of press time in the absence of a formal directive from the BSP.
As of last night, the BSP had yet to issue a statement on the money ban but said it was preparing to do so.
Lorenzo Tan, president of the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP), said the group and its members had yet to receive any official directive on the money ban.
In a text message to the Inquirer Tuesday night, Tan said BAP, the organization of universal and commercial banks in the country, was reserving any comment on the ban until a formal order was given to its members.—With a report from Michelle V. Remo