Contempt? Binays might sue media over freeze order story
MANILA, Philippines – Did the media violate bank secrecy laws in reporting about the Court of Appeals (CA) freeze order on the bank accounts of Vice President Jejomar Binay?
Senator Nancy Binay said her family's lawyers are studying legal action against the media outlets that reported about the order, and those that leaked the ruling to journalists.
Binay said the reports about the order violated confidentiality rules in the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA). The freeze order was based on the investigation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on the bank transactions of the elder Binay, his wife Elenita, son Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, and alleged dummies.
“They (media outlets) are not supposed to publish na may ganoong investigation na ginagawa ang AMLC,” Senator Binay said on Wednesday, May 13. (The media outlets are not supposed to publish that the AMLC is doing that kind of investigation.)
“Kasi mayroong kasama sa AMLA ang breach of confidentiality may criminal offense so siguro maganda, 'di ko alam sinong agency ang dapat mag-imbestiga ng leakage.”
(Because the AMLA says that breach of confidentiality is a criminal offense so it's better if a government agency investigate this leakage.)
Binay was referring to the freeze order the CA issued on Monday on the bank accounts of her father and his alleged dummies over “large and frequent” transactions that took place during the construction of the allegedly overpriced Makati parking building and Makati Science High School. (READ: Nancy Binay on freeze order: Roxas 'so desperate')
Senator Binay said she was surprised that news agencies reported on the order on Tuesday when her family has not even received a copy yet.
“At some point, somebody has to be accountable paano nagka-leak iyan. Katulad namin, 'di pa nga namin alam ano bang account ang na-freeze. Buti pa itong mga media outfits, nakuha na nila. Wala kaming copy,” she said.
(Somebody has to be accountable for the leak. Like us, we do not even know what accounts were frozen. Media outfits have it better, they got a copy. We don't have a copy.)
Section 9 of the AMLA states that banking institutions and their officers are prohibited from communicating to any person and the media the contents of the report and that “a covered transaction report was made.”
“Neither may such reporting be published or aired in any manner or form by the mass media, electronic mail, or other similar devices. In case of violation thereof, the concerned officer, employee, representative, agent, advisor, consultant or associate of the covered institution, or media shall be held criminally liable,” the AMLA stated.
'Press freedom primordial'
Senate President Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, said that confidentiality rules do not apply to the freeze order. He said that the court order was a public document.
“The confidentiality rule does not apply because then you already infringe on the freedom of the press. There is no more public interest to be served by prohibiting the publication,” said Drilon, a staunch administration ally.
Drilon explained that the confidentiality clause in the AMLA applies only to employees and officials of banks and insurance agencies. “They are prohibited from revealing to the public what they report to the Anti-Money Laundering Council.”
The Senate chief added that secrecy covers only the filing of the AMLC petition before the CA.
“That is prohibited, because a revelation of that or a publication of that will allow the subject or the person against whom the petition is filed to just close the account. The filing of the petition cannot be revealed in public, and they are prohibited from making that public,” Drilon said.
He added: “However, once the order is issued for the freeze, there is no prohibition.”
Drilon said journalists who reported on the order cannot be held in contempt.
“The freedom of the press is primordial in that case ….The freedom of the press is guaranteed under our Constitution.”
'Little girl' like Corona case?
This is not the first time senators are debating on bank secrecy laws, and the disclosure of public officials' bank records.
In the 2012 impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, senator-judges asked how the prosecution secured Corona's specimen signature card with 10 bank account numbers. Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali of the prosecution then claimed that a “little lady” supposedly gave him a copy.
While the senators questioned Umali's source and doubted his explanation, they did not penalize him. Media outlets who reported on the document also did not face liability.
This time around, Senator Binay said the “script” was similar.
She said investigations on her father and brother followed the same “template” as the Corona impeachment trial where the AMLC, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and other government agencies were involved.
“Eh 'di ba kasi BIR, AMLC. Naghihintay na nga ako baka magkaroon ng little girl din somewhere. Ang source pala ng isang newspaper ay little girl,” Binay said. (Because this is again the BIR, AMLC. I am just waiting for a little girl to come out somewhere. Maybe the source of one newspaper is a little girl.)
At least one media outfit disclosed its source of the freeze order. GMA News said that it got a copy of the freeze order from former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, a whistleblower and respondent in the case.
Still, Senator Francis Escudero backed Drilon's opinion that the confidentiality rule does not apply to court orders.
“If the media is quoting the freeze order of the CA, that's a public instrument or a public document. No law is violated,” said Escudero, also a lawyer.
Escudero said only bank employees and officials can be held criminally liable.
“But if the information comes from the court itself or the AMLC, this is not covered by the law.” – Rappler.com
Where do you stand on the debate? Should media outlets be held liable for reporting the freeze order? Let us know in the comments section below.