MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers are now keen on amending the law on foreign currency deposits following the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court's temporary restraining order (TRO) on the disclosure of the bank accounts of impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada and Camarines Sur Rep. Salvio Fortuno filed separate bills seeking to relax the secrecy of foreign currency deposits.
Estrada filed Senate Bill No. 3120, saying it is high time Congress amends the four-decade old Republic Act 6426 or an Act Instituting a Foreign Currency Deposit System in the Philippines.
Fortuno said he is confident House Bill No. 5838 will get the backing of his Lower House colleagues who have supported Corona's impeachment.
Estrada said lawmakers should widen the scope of the law to allow, upon orders of an impeachment court or any competent court on cases involving government officials charged with violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, to open their bank accounts including their foreign currency deposits.
He said it is imperative public officials, specifically those who hold an impeachable position, be exempted from the confidentiality clause of the law.
Under Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) of the 1987 Constitution impeachable positions include that of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman.
"The said law is being used as an excuse and as a refuge to hide alleged illegally acquired wealth of public officials and employees," said Estrada in the bill's explanatory note.
Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero backed Estrada's move, saying that any public official who fails to submit himself or herself to such investigations "shall not be allowed to enter upon or continue exercising the functions of his office."
"Our law on bank secrecy prohibits disclosure of information relating to a customer's bank account, unless under extreme circumstances as what the current impeachment proceeding has shown. But foreign currency deposit is an elusive and tricky matter, which is now a hotly contested issue transcending institutions," Escudero explained.
Congress, he said, had failed to pass a similar bill he filed before.
Escudero had filed Senate Bill No. 107 which, when passed into law, would compel government officials to submit and sign a written waiver or permission addressed to the Office of the Ombudsman allowing anti-graft agencies to look into their bank accounts, peso or dollar deposits.
"We want to put in place a mechanism that promotes openness and transparency in the public sector. The signing of a waiver in favor of the government will allow the examination of the civil servant's bank accounts and investments in government bonds," Escudero said.
Estrada said that in filing the bill, his aim is to discourage private individuals who may intend to hide their unlawful incomes by converting their illegal income into foreign currency deposits.
Senate Bill No. 3120 has been referred to Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies for consideration.
Fortuno said HB 5838 will grant the impeachment court, courts of competent jurisdiction, and the Ombudsman the authority to examine and inquire into foreign currency deposits of public officials and employees.
He said the bill also seeks to delete a proviso which states that said deposits shall be exempted from attachment or garnishment, and limited only to the impeachment courts, courts of competent jurisdiction, or the Ombudsman.
"This will make the provision of the law clear and will leave no room for interpretation," Fortuno stressed.