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BIR promises to revise info-sharing deal with AMLC

Senators are concerned exchange of information between the two agencies may violate an individual's privacy rights

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) will revise an information-sharing agreement they signed last year after senators raised concerns it could violate an individual’s privacy rights.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on banks, financial institutions and currencies on Monday, June 4, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares said they will make the agreement specific, rather than just the general exchange of information regarding money laundering and tax evasion concerns.

“To give comfort to everyone that we’re not exceeding our authority, we will revise it,” Henares assured senators.

The BIR and AMLC signed in March 2011 a memorandum of agreement to report to each other financial transactions involving money laundering or related unlawful activities as well as violations of tax laws in order to facilitate the investigation and possible prosecution of parties involved.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he was worried this might violate the rights of a person being investigated, especially because the agreement allows the agencies to look into the person’s financial accounts without a court order.

“You might be running afoul to Section 2 of Article 3 of the Constitution, which is the right of the person to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures,” he said during the hearing. “Here, you are already giving the information that you gathered to another agency without the participation of the court, which is required under the Bill of Rights.”

Sen Joker Arroyo echoed the same concern. “I’m worried about the effect on our privacy laws on the Constitution,” he said, citing the bank secrecy law and the foreign currency deposit act.

Henares explained however that the agreement was meant for sharing of public documents only. For instance, the BIR would release information on whether an individual is a registered taxpayer or not, and not the individual’s tax records.

“We will revise it to indicate that it’s only for purposes of getting certified true copies of documents that were only submitted,” she told reporters.

She said her agency entered into the agreement after it expercienced difficulty getting the AMLC certified true copies of the records of former military comptrollers Jacinto Ligot and Carlos Garcia, who were charged with corruption.

AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino, for his part, said they will provide BIR “only information culled from the reports, not the reports themselves.” Banks are required to report to the AMLC transactions worth at least P500,000.

Corona’s case

Enrile recalled that he faced this issue when he presided over the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales presented a report by the AMLC on Corona’s peso and dollar accounts — information that factored heavily into senators’ decision to convict him.

Corona’s lawyers said the information were “illegal” because they were sourced without a court order. The impeachment court however allowed Morales’ testimony because it was the defense panel that presented her as witness.

“Any revelation done by her based on information she gathered from the AMLC, although ordinarily it should be covered by Section 2 of Article 3 of the Constitution, has been waived actually by the respondent himself through his lawyers,” Enrile said.

“That is different from the case where you have this memorandum of agreement then one agency reveals to another without complying with the requirements of Section 2, Article 3 of the Constitution,” he added. – Rappler.com

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