By Hannah Torregoza
The Senate committee on banks, financial institutions and currencies urged Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista to issue a waiver that would allow the Luzon Bank Development (LDB) to open his bank accounts.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chair of the banks panel said, it is best that the poll body chief, as the depositor, initiates the issuance of a waiver so the committee can freely investigate his alleged 35 bank accounts with the bank and scrutinize them for possible liabilities or violations on the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).
Escudero’s committee started its investigation into Bautista’s alleged hidden wealth on Wednesday, Aug. 23, and also to determine whether LDB failed to report to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) any suspicious transactions committed by a Politically Exposed Person (PEP).
But the committee failed to get any new information regarding the supposed bank accounts of Bautista despite the presence of LDB officials and resource persons from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
All sectors cited the prohibition under the Bank Secrecy Law to divulge confidential information when asked to confirm whether the 35 passbooks Bautista’s wife, Patricia earlier produced and showed in media interviews, indeed belonged to the Comelec chair.
David Sarmiento, LDB president, reiterated that the bank complied with its duty to file suspicious transaction reports (STRs) regarding deposits, and insisted that they strictly follow all necessary procedures when it comes to the opening of accounts by PEPs, their immediate family and close associates.
“Clearly the BSL poses a big hindrance, and the only way to overcome this, even on the part of the banks, who I am sure they are more than willing to answer our questions is for a court order, or an impeachment case, or if the depositor himself issues a waiver,” Escudero said during the hearing.
“That is why I am asking Chairman Bautista, together with his whole family, to issue a waiver, so everyone can freely provide an answer to pertinent questions and not make them (resource persons) look like they are evasive or hiding something,” he pointed out.
It was Sen. Grace Poe who moved to invite Bautista to attend the Senate probe, saying it would be an opportunity for him to clear his name.
But Escudero said he would rather not have the Comelec chief appear at the legislative inquiry; he said the committee would be “more than satisfied with the submission of a waiver to the bank.”
“Even if he does not attend, we would be more than satisfied with the submission of a waiver to the bank, copy furnished to the committee, so we can all ventilate all the issues involved in this case, without any worries of violating the Bank Secrecy Law holding accountable officials of the LDB,” Escudero stressed.