Senator Francis Escudero on Wednesday expressed optimism that his proposal to mandate all government officials and employees to waive their rights under the Bank Secrecy Law (Republic Act 1405) and the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (RA 6426) will finally be approved under the 19th Congress.
The returning senator filed Senate Bill No. 56 as one of his priority legislation. The measure, he said, would make it mandatory for all government personnel, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, to submit written permission in favor of the Office of the Ombudsman to access and examine all their deposits, including foreign currency deposits, here and abroad.
Escudero first filed his pet bill in 2010 during his first term as senator. It was enrolled as SB No. 16. He again refiled this bill in 2013 and 2016.
The veteran legislator had always submitted to the Senate Secretary his Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN) together with a signed waiver on the secrecy of bank deposits to set an example to his fellow public servants.
As proposed in SB 56, it will however further include deposits in banks and other financial institutions both in and outside the Philippines, as well as investment bonds issued by the Philippine government, its political subdivisions, and instrumentalities.
To ensure that the waiver will not be used improperly for political persecution or “witch hunt,” Escudero stated in the bill that “only the Office of the Ombudsman shall obtain or use the written permission or waiver, or any other information or data obtained by virtue
SB 56 said the written permission or waiver will be used exclusively for investigating a duly verified complaint or for prosecuting a case before the courts.
The Escudero bill tasks the Office of the Ombudsman to have the primary responsibility in implementing the proposal if enacted into law, “provided, however, that it shall enlist the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP)
in the drafting of the written permission or waiver.”
In his Explanatory Note, the senator cited the need to introduce more exceptions from the secrecy of bank deposits as the existing ones are quite limited and exclusive.
“Currently, RA 1405 admits of four (4) exceptions while RA 6426 only one (1), which essentially treats foreign currency deposits with absolute confidentiality. The policy intent is quite tenable given that the above laws on bank deposits have passed the test of time and
remained unchanged,” he pointed out.
“However, such intent has its own unintended consequences – this is when banks are used as institutions to hide illegal wealth, fund illegal activities, launder money, evade taxes and commit other financial crimes under the mantle of a statutorily mandated secrecy. It is for this reason that all countries now, except the Philippines, have lifted the secrecy of bank deposits,” Escudero added.
According to Escudero, given the policy direction toward the lifting of the secrecy of bank deposits to address the commission of financial crimes, the government should spearhead the move by mandating its officials and employees to waive the secrecy of bank deposits as provided by law.
“In doing so, the government could effectively mitigate, if not resolve, the problem of graft and corruption in government,” he said.