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Aquino on waiver: What for? I’ve done it already

There will be no Palace waivers or public disclosure of bank deposits. Whatever for? He’s already done it.

President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said he does not need to sign a waiver giving up the confidentiality of his bank accounts as suggested by allies and foes alike, claiming that he had already signed one when he filed his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

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Mr. Aquino acknowledged that he did promise to waive his bank secrecy privileges as a candidate for President but that he already fulfilled that campaign pledge when he filed his SALN and gave the Ombudsman authorization to look into pertinent government documents on his wealth.

“I have already done it. If I’d do it again, drama na lang ’yun (it will just be dramatics),” he told reporters in an interview after addressing the First Philippine International River Summit in Jaro city, Iloilo.

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Corona’s challenge

Now that the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona is over, speculation has focused on the unrevealed assets of the President, who had actively campaigned for Corona’s removal, and for other government officials to follow Corona’s lead and sign bank waivers as well.

In the first media interview he gave after the Senate impeachment court voted to convict and remove Corona for failing to declare all his assets in his SALN, the President refused to be moved by calls for him to meet Corona’s challenge to his accusers to waive their confidentiality privileges.

“What I said during the campaign was ‘will sign as President.’ All of us sign our SALN. At the end, it says ‘I authorize the Ombudsman to view all of my accounts,’ doesn’t it?” Mr. Aquino said.

“So what do I still have to sign? I have signed,” he stressed.

The pro-forma waiver at the end of the SALN form actually reads: “I hereby authorize the Ombudsman or his duly authorized representative to obtain and secure from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents that may show such assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests and financial connections, including those of my spouse and my unmarried children below 18 years of age living in my household, covering previous years, including the year I first assumed office in government.”

Same level as ex-Chief Justice

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Earlier on Thursday, Malacañang made it clear that the President would not be signing any waiver as it would put him in the same category as the ousted Chief Justice, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

The President’s net worth as of Dec. 31, 2011, according to his SALN, was more than P65 million. He stated that his cash on hand and in banks was P26.2 million.

According to Valte, the President does not have any dollar deposits.

Mr. Aquino was also not in favor of the suggestion that each government official come out with a print ad stating all his bank account details, including the account number.

He said that if he were to publish his bank account number, somebody could put in money in his account without his knowledge, which would leave him with some explaining to do.

‘Overacting’

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will not be signing any waiver either.

“I don’t have a dollar account. I have little money in the bank because my salary now is smaller compared to my income when I was still in private practice. It was a sacrifice, financially. It’s a good thing my Dad is here. I borrow from him sometimes to make ends meet. Because, you know, those in government do not earn that much,” De Lima told reporters on Friday.

“If I receive the go-signal from the President, I will sign the waiver,” she said.

De Lima criticized the “waiver challenge” of Corona.

“It’s not good that he (Corona) will involve everyone in his challenge. His suggestion [that everybody sign a waiver] is somewhat OA (overacting). Point out who you suspect as having ill-gotten wealth,” De Lima said.

Made to be broken

At the Senate, one of the President’s allies gave a disingenuous argument for not putting Mr. Aquino to task for his unfulfilled campaign promise to sign a bank waiver.

“You know, political promises are made to be broken once in a while. Not all the time, but once in a while,” said Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, one of the 20 senators who voted to convict Corona.

Osmeña and Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, a member of the President’s Liberal Party, struggled to parry questions about the alleged “double standard” being displayed by Mr. Aquino on the issue of bank waivers.

Osmeña suggested that the President was reluctant to have his bank deposits examined probably because “the guy wants to be private.”

“You’re looking into his love life, you’re looking into his car life, you’re looking into his gun life—he has no more privacy,” the senator said.

Privacy

Guingona and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said it was up to the President to decide whether to sign a bank waiver or not. But they said they had no problem doing the same.

“I guess that’s really up to him. That’s the level of privacy that he wants to maintain,” Guingona said.

Osmeña did not think that Mr. Aquino was “hiding anything” in refusing to submit a waiver.

“He can have it deposited in his sisters’ accounts. Why would he put it in his account? A person really has an innate aversion to letting the whole world know what you’re doing, even the color of your underwear,” he said.

Osmeña expressed fear that publicly disclosing one’s bank accounts could subject a public official to “blackmail.”

He said an official’s enemies could use his waiver to claim that, say, a P10-million deposit in his account had been illegally sourced when in fact it could have been temporarily parked in his account by his grandmother.

“So this can really be twisted to hurt you,” he said.

“The thing is, don’t show it (your bank account) to everybody. Leave it to the courts. Don’t tell the whole world that I only have P5 in the bank. It would be embarrassing,” he said.

Asked if he was presuming that Corona had stolen his $2.4-million deposit, the senator said: “The presumption is he didn’t trust anybody so he put it in his name. He was comfortable that the foreign currency deposit law would protect him forever.” With reports from Christian Esguerra and Jerome Aning

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TAGS: Aquino SALN, First Philippine International River Summit, foreign currency deposit law, Palace waivers, President Benigno Aquino III
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