Senators ask Comelec chief to waive bank secrecy rights
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A Senate panel on Wednesday, August 23, asked Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief Andres Bautista to waive his rights under the bank secrecy law.
Members of the Senate committee on banks, financial institutions, and currencies made the call in a hearing on Bautista's controversial deposits in the Luzon Development Bank, allegedly in violation of the anti-money laundering law.
The senators also invited the poll chief to attend the next hearing but stressed that it was more important for him to waive his rights under the bank secrecy law.
"The Chair directs the committee secretary to invite Chairman Bautista to shed light on this issue or matter, or in the absence thereof to submit a written waiver to the bank so we can proceed without any legal stumbling blocks. So ordered," ordered Senator Francis Escudero, committee chair.
It was Senator Grace Poe who moved to invite the poll chief to the still unscheduled second hearing after LDB representatives who attended the inquiry refused to discuss the poll chief’s bank accounts, citing the bank secrecy law.
"Sinabi na niya mismo na mayroon siyang mga accounts doon. Kung wala naman siyang tinatago, puwedeng siya mismo magsabi na o ilabas 'nyo 'yan (He said himself he maintains accounts at the bank. If he's not hiding anything, perhaps he himself can release them)," said Poe.
Escudero supported the motion, noting how the Bautista couple had released the financial documents to the public.
But LDB said the poll chief's waiver would not be enough to allow the bank to release details of the deposits. LDB lawyer Francis Lim said they would need the waiver of all depositors, referring to the chairman's siblings who are his co-depositors.
Two government agencies are investigating LDB – the National Bureau of Investigation and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) – following the allegations of the Comelec chief's estranged wife, Patricia, that he violated the anti-money laundering law. (READ: AMLC begins probe into bank of Comelec chairman)
Only representatives of the AMLC, NBI, and LDB were invited to Wednesday's hearing.
Going back to PCGG
Patricia claimed that the poll chief had at least 35 accounts at LDB, supposedly part of his P1-billion wealth. The poll chief said some of the accounts had been closed. (READ: Who's who in the Andy vs Tish saga?)
The NBI is also interested in other accounts previously maintained by Presidential Commission on Good Governance at the LDB when Bautista was PCGG chief.
Lawyer Minerva Retanal of the NBI Anti-Fraud Division said they discovered that sequestered and surrendered companies managed by the PCGG maintained accounts with LDB during Bautista's stint there. These accounts were supposedly closed when Bautista left the office.
Senator Franklin Drilon expressed concerns about the investigation of the NBI, cautioning the bureau to secure waivers from the depositors before it proceeds with its probe.
Patricia's lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, who attended the Senate hearing, disagreed.
"It is not true that the NBI cannot investigate. They have a directive from the Secretary of Justice to investigate the accounts. Nililito ang public sa ibig sabihin ng (The public is being confused on the meaning of) bank secrecy. She (Retanal) is not inquiring as to the amounts in the bank. She is inquiring as to the veracity of the affidavits," Kapunan said.
Patricia's affidavit listed down the account numbers of 35 LDB accounts allegedly maintained by the poll chief.
Prior to Patricia's exposé, the couple attempted to negotiate an amicable separation of properties. Talks collapsed in July, a month before Patricia went public with her allegations. (READ: The making of a scandal: Comelec chief Andy vs Tish Bautista) – Rappler.com