Senate holds executive session on Bangladesh Bank fund heist

Chrisee Dela Paz
Senate holds executive session on Bangladesh Bank fund heist
The Senate blue ribbon committee grants the request of RCBC manager Maia Santos-Deguito, who has promised to tell all in an executive session

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate blue ribbon committee on Thursday, March 17, granted the request of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) manager Maia Santos-Deguito to testify in an executive session on the $81-million Bangladesh Bank fund heist.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto moved to convene an executive session, which was supported by a majority of the committee members, so that Deguito would be able to divulge all she knew about the incident.

Deguito had invoked her right against self-incrimination throughout the first hearing, as the Anti-Money Laundering Council had charged her with money laundering in connection with the bank heist.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile opposed holding an executive session and demanded that Deguito “tell the truth” at the public hearing.

“With all due respect, ako lang po ang may criminal case dito, kaya po sa executive session ko po sasabihin ang lahat (I am the only one here who has a criminal case, this is why I will tell all in an executive session),” Deguito told Enrile, who asked her repeatedly if someone was threatening her.

Enrile then made a motion to hold Deguito in contempt for declining to answer his questions. “Bakit ka nagtatago? Sino ka ba? Bakit ka humihingi ng executive session? (Why are you hiding? Who are you? Why are you asking for an executive session?) Tell the truth here.”

In supporting the move to hold an executive session, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano cited national security.

“National security includes security of financial system. If she says something that endangers the banking institution, it would be imprudent because we don’t want to damage our system. The determination if whether it should be revealed to the public or not, should come after the session,” Cayetano said.

At around 4 pm, or over 3 hours after the hearing began, the Senate blue ribbon committee decided to hold an executive session with Deguito, attended by Bangladesh Ambassador to the Philippines John Gomes as an observer.

The senators agreed to hold a caucus after the executive session to determine whether Deguito’s testimony would have any national security implications.

The Senate hearing resumed past 6 pm.

Witness: Deguito behind transactions

The motion to hold an executive session was made after the testimony of a reserve officer at RCBC Jupiter Branch, Romualdo Agarrado, who recalled the events that happened in his workplace on February 5.

RCBC chief legal counsel Maria Celia Estavillo said that on February 5, $22.7 million entered the account of businessman William So Go, which the bank later found out was fictitious.

“Between 6 pm to 7 pm, the teller placed P20 million, was withdrawn from So Go’s account, then a messenger loaded the money in Deguito’s car,” Agarrado testified at the hearing. 

The RCBC reserve officer then said that on February 9, Deguito called him into her office.

“She was saying a lot of things. But what I remember is that she told me: ‘I would rather do this than me being killed or my family,'” Agarrado added.

Deguito denied Agarrado’s statement without elaborating. “I will just tell all in an executive session.” 

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