What the TRO meant: keep status quo

The SC's temporary restraining order on the impeachment court's subpoena does not touch on issue of accountability

Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate voted on February 13 to heed the High Tribunal’s decision to bar the disclosure of the dollar accounts owned by Chief Justice Renato Corona. But the Senate resolution carried a strong assertion: it reserves its right to “vigorously defend before the SC the issuance of the subpoenas on foreign currency.”

The Supreme Court seemed to have anticipated this pronouncement. In his concurring opinion, Justice Arturo Brion said that what the SC issued on February 9 was just a temporary restraining order to maintain the “status quo.” 

The SC, on February 9, voted 8-5 to grant the temporary restraining order sought by PSbank, which was subpoenaed by the impeachment court to provide information on the dollar accounts belonging to Chief Justice Renato Corona. The SC said that the Foreign Currency Deposit Act or Republic Act 6426 clearly provides the “absolute confidentiality” of foreign currency deposits.

Brion categorically said, however, that the issuance of the TRO did not in any way ruled on what should be disclosed by public officials or not in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth – an issue contained in Article 2 of the impeachment complaint against Corona. 

Brion said that the TRO was issued because it met the condition of “extreme urgency,” as the possible testimony of PSBank president Pascual Garcia III on February 9 coud have implications on the bank’s reputation, “given media coverage and the non-legal slant it can give.”

Brion said the Foreign Currency Deposit Act or Republic Act 6426 clearly provides the “absolute confidentiality” of foreign currency deposits. If the bank violates this, Brion wrote, the bank runs the risk of being subjected to criminal liability.

Brion added that the Court acted based on what the current facts and the law provided – for one, he said, no actions from the Congress merited the amendment of the absolute confidentiality clause stated in RA 6426. He also said that bank account laws were not specified as those covered by the public’s right to information in Article III, Section 7 of the Bill of Rights. 

In his dissenting opinion, however, Justice Antonio Carpio said that the issuance of the TRO sends the wrong message to public officials – that they have “no obligation” to disclose their foreign currency accounts to the public even as Republic Act 6713 (or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials) mandates the disclosure of all assets. 

Carpio went on to say that it encourages public officials to stash ill-gotten wealth in foreign currency deposits, adding that then President Ferdinand Marcos “would have gotten away with his loot under the ruling of the majority.” Marcos was accused of keeping millions of dollars in his Swiss bank accounts. 

Brion, however, disputed this.

“The object of a TRO, as earlier mentioned, is to simply maintain the status quo,” he wrote in his concurring opinion.

“The TRO to be sure, is not a ruling encouraging public officials to use foreign deposits to legally evade the correct SALN report,” he clarified. – Rappler.com

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