President Aquino shot down the antivote-buying scheme that bans the withdrawal of more than P100,000 in the run-up to Election Day, calling it a “shotgun approach” that kills good business.
It was the second hit in two days for the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which said Thursday it would not contest a Supreme Court order handed down on Wednesday rolling back its liquor ban from five days to two days.
“Under the Constitution, there is need for my concurrence on this matter (of the money ban) and I have not given the concurrence,” the President told reporters after a political rally in Quezon City.
He said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. had relayed Malacañang’s position to Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.
Getting the President’s message, the Comelec on Thursday relented and issued a supplemental resolution exempting from its ban cash withdrawals that the banks consider to be “routine and regular.”
However, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima urged the Comelec to recall the order and just enforce existing laws against vote-buying, saying the amendments were too late.
“Will there be time to ask for exemptions? How can we distinguish from those who intend to resort to vote-buying and legitimate businessmen as well as ordinary citizens?” De Lima asked.
The ban was supposed to have begun on May 8 and would last until May 13, Election Day. However, the banks would be open only until Friday.
Undue burden on banks
The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) said the “resolution unduly exposes banks to civil and criminal liabilities under election laws.”
Lorenzo V. Tan, BAP and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. president, said the amended Comelec resolution placed “undue burden on banks, which now are given ‘discretion’ to apply the money ban based on ‘regular’ and ‘nonregular’ clients.”
In a statement, he said “banks have a legal and contractual obligation to release deposits to all withdrawing clients.”
Tan noted that the “new Comelec resolution constitutes undue delegation to banks to determine whether a withdrawal will be used for vote-buying or vote-selling.”
Banks seek TRO
Earlier in the day, BAP asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order on the Comelec resolution, saying the ban would result in “irreparable injury” to businesses.
BAP, an organization of universal and commercial banks in the country, claimed that the ban was unconstitutional. Depositors, according to the group, have the constitutional right to withdraw their money anytime they want.
BAP said the ban would put banks in the “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation” because, on one hand, if it did not service withdrawals, depositors could press charges. On the other hand, if banks did not comply, they would face charges from the Comelec, BAP said.
It likewise claimed that the Comelec had committed grave abuse of discretion because technically the poll body did not have jurisdiction over banks.
“The commission resolved … to exempt withdrawals, which to the determination of the bank, are routine, regular and made in the ordinary course of business of the withdrawing client consistent with the prevailing ‘Know-Your-Client/Customer’ policy of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) requiring banks not only to establish the identity of their clients but also to have background knowledge of their normal business transactions,” the Comelec said.
“In essence, we are saying that we are concerned likewise about commerce and business,” Brillantes said.
In a bid to stop vote-buying, the Comelec prohibited the withdrawal of more than P100,000 from banks and other financial institutions. It also banned the possession, transportation or carrying of more than P500,000 in cash.
Opposition from banks
The BSP, BAP, the Chamber of Thrift Banks and the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines agreed that this would be highly disruptive to business, as it would adversely affect financial and trade transactions.
The President said that while the ban had a noble end, the money ban enforced by the Comelec would virtually bring the economy to a standstill.
He said the ban would clip the operations of say a Jollibee outlet or a McDonald’s branch that transacts P100,000 to P500,000 a day.
“We’re not even talking here of the public market. What about the drop-off points for fish? The concept is good; the idea is good, but maybe the manner of implementing it is not,” he said. “This is equivalent to saying: Let’s stop the economy during the ban. And I don’t think that’s the intention of the Comelec.”
In essence, Aquino likened the ban to a “shotgun approach” that may hit not only its target but also unintended targets.
“Maybe all the public markets in the Philippines transact such amount, and if you prohibit that, then you’d end up making things difficult, instead of helping them,” he said.
As an alternative to the money ban, Aquino said law enforcement agencies were closely monitoring reports of vote-buying with a view of filing charges against violators.
“Cases are being prepared especially those backed by witnesses that indeed vote-buying happened,” he said.
Addressed to banks
Asked what would happen if the BSP still refused to implement the Comelec order, Brillantes said the supplemental resolution was “really addressed to the banks.”
“If the [BSP] does not issue a circular to the banks, the banks will have to take some risk in allowing withdrawals worth more than P100,000 in violation of the resolution,” he said.
Brillantes said he and the other commissioners had yet to agree on what punishment to be meted out to violators but added that they could be charged with violating the Omnibus Election Code.
The supplemental resolution also said that those caught with more than P500,000 shall be presumed to be carrying the money for vote-buying and electoral fraud when they do not have any “tenable justification” or when law enforcers find “a genuine reason which can engender a belief that the money will be used for the purpose of vote-buying.”
“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,” the resolution said.
It said any search at any Comelec checkpoint must be made only by members of the unit designated to man it and should be done without violating human rights.
The Comelec said warrantless searches were allowed if the officer conducting the search had “reasonable or probable cause to believe” that either the car’s occupants were law offenders or that the evidence pertaining to the commission of a crime could be found in the vehicle to be searched.
It added that warrantless searches could also be conducted “on the basis of prior confidential information which are reasonably corroborated by other attendant matters.”
“We put in a provision which says that while we are still limiting it to P100,000 per day, we are giving discretion to the bank and the bank officials since they know who among their customers regularly withdraws more than P100,000,” Brillantes said.
De Lima said it was too late for the amendments because certain candidates who would resort to vote-buying had already withdrawn their money.
“What is important is for them to enforce all existing laws or provisions of the law and Comelec resolutions on vote-buying, and charge violators for this election offense,” she said.
“So it’s just a matter of enforcement. You don’t need to think of this kind of proposal that would have unintended consequences especially on the financial community,” De Lima said.—With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Doris Dumlao