Comelec, BSP clash over money ban

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It's Constitution versus Constitution.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) asserts that its money ban, which it begins to implement Wednesday, May 8, is constitutional. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), on the other hand, questions its legal basis, saying it is reluctant to implement the money ban.

The Comelec says it has the power to deputize the BSP, while the BSP stresses it is independent.

How then will the Comelec implement this unprecedented rule, which limits cash withdrawals to P100,000 starting Wednesday until election day, May 13?

The Comelec is meeting on Wednesday to reconsider its ban on withdrawals. "We're discussing whether we should recall it, amend it, supplement it, or simply retain it," Brillantes said in an interview. (Watch more in the video below.)

Comelec Resolution No. 9688, which covers the money ban, invokes Article IX-C, Section 2.4 of the Constitution. The provision says the Comelec has the power to “deputize, with the concurrence of the President, law enforcement agencies and instrumentalities of the government, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for the exclusive purpose of ensuring free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections.”

The resolution also invokes Article IX, Section 4 of the Constitution. Based on this provision, the Comelec, during the election period, has the power to “supervise or regulate... all grants, special privileges, or concessions granted by the government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including any government-owned or controlled corporation or its subsidiary.”

The Comelec says this “supervisory and regulatory authority” covers “all banks and quasi-banking institutions operating under the authority granted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.”

In an interview, Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr said the BSP opposes the money ban on the basis of another constitutional provision. The BSP invokes its independence, Brillantes said.

Article XII, Section 20 of the Constitution states about the BSP: “The Congress shall establish an independent central monetary authority, the members of whose governing board must be natural-born Filipino citizens, of known probity, integrity, and patriotism, the majority of whom shall come from the private sector.”

Constitutional ang aming basis. Constitutional din daw ang basis nila,” Brillantes said. (Our basis is constitutional. Their basis is supposedly constitutional as well.)

Brillantes explained that the Comelec is more powerful than the BSP "in matters of elections," while the BSP is more competent in "matters involving money." "Pero since we're in the election period, kaya nga may konting diskusyon sa aspect na 'yan," he said. (But since we're in the election period, there's a discussion on that aspect.)

Ready for defiance

Brillantes admitted the BSP may defy the money ban. Under Comelec Resolution No. 9688, the task of implementing the money ban falls on the BSP, as well as other government financial agencies.

If the BSP chooses to defy it, however, it would be a risk on their part, Brillantes said.

“They will have to take some risks also. If we are correct, they can be held liable under the Omnibus Election Code,” he explained.

Based on his experience as an election lawyer for over two decades, Brillantes defended the money ban. He said to buy votes, politicians usually withdraw huge amounts close to election day.

Comelec commissioner Grace Padaca said the Sunday before election day, for instance, is not a rest day. Padaca said she witnesseed this herself when she ran for Isabela governor. "That's when they buy votes," she said. (Read: Campaign homestretch: 5 things to expect.)

On Tuesday, the BSP said it is “constrained from enforcing the Comelec resolution because this would necessarily entail looking into bank deposit accounts." It criticized the resolution as “essentially unsound.”

Brillantes, however, said the BSP's possible defiance will not prevent the Comelec from implementing the other provisions of the money ban. (Read the full money ban resolution below.)

Comelec Resolution No. 9688 also prohibits "the transportation and/or carrying of cash exceeding P500,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency from May 8 to 13, 2013." The resolution says carrying or transporting such amount "shall be presumed for the purpose of vote buying and electoral fraud in violation of the money ban."

It also allows warrantless arrests against vote buyers and sellers. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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