By Hannah Torregoza
The Senate committee on banks, financial institutions and currencies is eyeing a separate inquiry into the allegations of ill-gotten wealth hounding Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista that his own wife earlier exposed.
The Senate inquiry may be separate from the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing sought by Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III, who earlier filed a resolution calling on the upper chamber to probe the claims of Bautista’s wife, Patricia, who alleged he had more than 30 bank accounts lodged in a rural bank.
According to Patricia, her husband failed to truthfully disclose his assets in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN), making him liable to be impeached.
In a DZBB Radio interview, Sen. Francis (Chiz) Escudero, head of the Senate banks panel, said his committee will center on these allegations with the aim of studying possible amendments to the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Charter and the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).
Escudero said he wants to know whether smaller banks are doing their part in reporting suspicious transactions to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
He said it could also be that some rural bank owners are in cahoots with politically exposed persons (PEPs) or government officials with potential to be involved in bribery and corruption.
“Banks have this KYC, or Know-Your-Client, rule. It would be good to ask these banks, one, are they reporting deposits, even though less than P500,000, to the AMLA even if these are suspiciously done everyday?” Escudero pointed out.
He said banks are supposed to ask their clients where they got the money by presenting documents and papers that would attest to the legality of the funds to be deposited.
Patricia claimed the Comelec chief has 35 passbooks with Luzon Development Bank (LDB) with a total balance of P329,220,962; a foreign currency account with Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) with $12,778.30, or P640,959.53; an RCBC peso account with P257,931.60; and an HSBC account with HK$948,358.97 or P6.10-million.
She also alleged Bautista has a condominium unit in One Bonifacio High Street at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig City and one in The District in San Francisco, California.
The senator pointed out that under the AMLA, banks are required to automatically issue a red-flag and report to the AMLC when PEPs deposit huge amounts of money in their bank accounts.
Escudero said it is imperative to look into the possibility corrupt government officials are using small banks or rural banks to hide ill-gotten wealth to evade the scrutiny of the AMLC.
“He (Comelec chairman) said the reason he deposited more with LDB is because he knew the owner. Does that mean he has no reason to trust bigger banks like Metrobank, or BDO?”
“I want to know whether there are politicians or government officials who are using smaller banks to hide their wealth so they wouldn’t get noticed or at least their illegal activities are below the radar,” Escudero pointed out.
“If this is true, then we should take a look into the rural banking industry so we can amend the law if it is necessary,” he said