The savings and loan cooperative of Philippine Air Force (PAF) personnel invoked Tuesday the bank secrecy law amid an allegation by pork barrel scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy that his former boss, Janet Lim-Napoles, controlled P510 million worth of accounts in the thrift unit.
Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol, PAF spokesman, said the cooperative was a “private enterprise run by private individuals,” including retired Air Force personnel. He stressed that the PAF was not involved in the thrift unit.
In a statement to the Inquirer, the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association Inc. (AMWSLAI) said:
“Since current banking laws prohibit the disclosure of deposits under Section 6 of RA No. 8367, any information re: subject accounts can only be examined upon the orders of a competent court.
“AMWSLAI would like to assure its members that all transactions are aboveboard and within the confines of the regulations of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Further, all accounts are duly reported as covered transactions in compliance to the reporting requirements of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.”
Luy’s lawyer, Levi Baligod, said he was not surprised at AMSWLAI’s stonewalling because its president and chair, retired Col. Ricardo L. Nolasco Jr., had refused to heed the central bank’s order to verify the accounts under the name of Luy and his mother, Gertrudes.
Baligod said that three months ago, he initially wrote AMWSLAI that his clients wanted to withdraw all funds under their names—Benhur claimed to have P25 million (deposited Oct. 22, 2009) and his mother P50 million (P25 million deposited in April 2009 and another P25 million deposited in April 2011) with a yield of 13 percent.
The lawyer said that AMWSLAI in its reply to the letter declared that mother and son were neither depositors nor members. “This is proof that my clients did not earn from this scam. This is part of our gambit to prove the existence of these accounts and test the credibility of our whistle-blowers,” Baligod said.
Next, Baligod wrote the BSP that his clients had executed a waiver of the bank secrecy protection on their accounts to force the association to confirm the existence of these multimillion-peso deposits.
Baligod said the BSP in reply instructed the AMWSLAI to verify his clients’ accounts “but up to now, AMWSLAI has to make a response.”
Aside from the terse AMWSLAI statement, Nolasco has declined to answer the Inquirer’s question on the alleged Napoles funds and charges that he has a huge beach resort in Northern Luzon.
Based on the leisure property’s website and several media reports, Nolasco started Hannah’s Beach Resort and Convention Center (named after his daughter) in 2008. Nolasco had originally envisioned the property as a “retirement house” but it has since developed into a world-class facility with 112 villas worth roughly P400 million.
Also on Tuesday, the Inquirer learned that the daughter of Agrarian Reform Director Teresita L. Panlilio had a P30-million placement in the savings and loans association.
Panlilio, one of the subjects of an ongoing Ombudsman inquiry into a P200-million agriculture fund scam involving seven Napoles NGOs in 2007 and 2008, is the mother of Karen Panlilio-Pantoja who, according to Luy, placed P30 million in AMWSLAI on Dec. 6, 2010.
The placement is for three years, or up to December, with a tax-free yield of 10 percent annually. Based on Luy’s records, the Pantoja account had earned P7.5 million in interest as of June.
Luy did not explain why Pantoja’s account earned only 10 percent while the rest of the P510 million worth of accounts allegedly controlled by Napoles in the thrift unit were given the standard yield of 13 percent.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has formed a five-member panel to investigate the graft charges against Panlilio, her boss, former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, chief accountant Angelita Cacananta, budget officer Ronald Venancio, cashier Nilda Baui, three notaries public and three accountants.
The Ombudsman probe also covered Luy and 23 other private individuals who were stockholders of the seven NGOs that received P200 million worth of funds from the agrarian reform department’s “agribusiness development,” “microlivelihood project” and “agricultural production.”
The funds were supposed to be released to farmers in Cagayan, Pangasinan, Cavite, Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur but the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office found that the taxpayers’ money did not reach their target.
In another racket in 2009, Luy claimed that Pangandaman, Nieto and Napoles conspired to funnel P900 million worth of Malampaya fund to a livelihood project which used bogus NGOs as conduits.—With a report from Nikko Dizon