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A matter of trust

Banks, like governments, exist only in so far as the people trust them to do their job. And that trust is more than the sum of all the provisions of any legal contract or agreement between a bank and its clients.

When one of the country’s oldest and biggest banks, the Ayala-controlled Bank of the Philippine Islands, announced that it was shutting down its online transactions, including its ATM facilities, due to internal technical glitches, it not only inconvenienced a small number (according to BPI) of customers whose accounts were directly affected. It also endangered the trust reposed in it by all of its eight million clients, who have begun to wonder if their money was really safe in the bank’s hands.

BPI spokesmen have promised that the technical problems, which covered accounts active during a certain period, would be resolved by the end of Wednesday, when the glitches were discovered. When the clients’ offline woes persisted throughout yesterday, with no clear indication that they would be fixed soon, BPI started to really test the strength of its relationship with its customers.

I don’t think BPI is unduly straining its ties with its big clients, who understand that technical problems can happen any time to any bank and who can easily weather the inconvenience of not being able to access their money electronically. Over-the-counter transactions, after all, continue in BPI’s branch network; while the branches are quite naturally swamped with customers, there is no reason to believe that clients have actually lost money yet as a result of the online problems.

But as is common in incidents where a big group of people are indiscriminately affected by a technical snafu, those who can afford to suffer the least are the ones who get it in the neck. BPI is also a consumer bank, after all, handling huge financial transactions while also serving a big base of economically marginal clients (including payroll accounts of all sizes); its going offline hurts those who have the smallest amounts in the bank the most.

And while the actual peso value of the transactions of BPI’s small clients may be small compared to its more affluent customer base, the bank could lose a lot of the goodwill that it has accumulated over the more than a century that it has been in business if it doesn’t act quickly. This not something that the bank can bury its head in the sand about, even if not one centavo is lost in the account of its poorest ATM card-holder.

In the meantime, BPI must stop announcing deadlines for the resolution of its online woes and just get them fixed as soon as possible. If it can’t do that, the bank will quickly realize that lost trust will not be easily regained—never mind if it’s just among low-paid employees who really don’t get to decide which bank gets to pay out their salaries. 

* * *

I’ve not been an admirer of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, whom I consider too eager to give in to the temptation of shooting from the hip. For instance, I still find myself shaking my head when I think about the blustery, bombast-prone speaker insisting, against all available evidence, that the Resorts World Manila incident was a case of terrorism.

Even when I agree with what he says, I can’t help but wonder if Alvarez couldn’t use a little (or a lot) more calmness and deliberation in his delivery. His warning about tearing up the Constitution if the Supreme Court orders Congress to convene about President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao is a case in point.

You’re in the right here, I find myself telling the photo of the speaker on my computer screen. There’s really no need for theatrics that merely dilute the importance of what you’re trying to say.

What the speaker said is that a Supreme Court decision telling Congress to convene will force a constitutional crisis. This is because not even the highest court in the land can tell Congress what to do, when what it is doing is really its province and not that of the court, like the political question of deliberating Duterte’s Proclamation 216 declaring martial law in Mindanao.

Whether we like it or not, there really are certain things that are entirely Congress’ call. The impeachment of certain government officials, including the president, the vice president and yes, the justices of the Supreme Court, among other office-holders, is one of them.

A group of seven congressmen, 300 lawyers and even a Manila auxiliary bishop want the Supreme Court to convene and give its stamp of approval (or not) to Duterte’s martial law proclamation. But the 1987 Constitution, in the relevant passage about the declaration of martial law, clearly states that Congress has the exclusive power to review such declarations—if it wants.

That Congress “may” instead of “should” convene in joint session to deliberate on such proclamations, according to the charter, is significant. In statutory construction, that “may” means that Congress can also decide not to convene, which is what the current lawmaking body under Alvarez has decided to do.

But sometimes, even Alvarez’s most important declarations are lost in the noise that the speaker generates. Alvarez would do well to speak a little more softly, especially when he carries the proverbial big stick of the truth.

Topics: Jojo Robles , A matter of trust , Bank of the Philippine Islands , BPI , online transactions , ATM facilities , internal technical glitches ,
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