Public officials must lead the way.
This was the call of Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero amid growing pressure to lift the country’s stringent bank secrecy law in the wake of the laundering of some $81-million in stolen funds belonging to the government of Bangladesh.
The dirty money, which slipped into the Philippines through a commercial bank, is now the subject of a Senate investigation and has prompted the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to call for the lifting of the bank secrecy law to help authorities probe suspicious money transactions.
“We, the people in the government, must show the way. Let’s take the first step: waive our rights under the bank secrecy law and let the public scrutinize our bank deposits,” said Escudero, an independent candidate for vice president.
“This way, we can convince the public that the government is serious in addressing the money-laundering problem that is undermining the country’s banking system,” he added.
Escudero has been pushing for the lifting of the bank secrecy law on bank deposits of public officials and employees through Senate Bill No. 16 he filed in 2013 to compel people in government, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, to submit a written permission or waiver in favor of the Office of the Ombudsman to look into all deposits of whatever nature with banks within and outside the country, including investments in government bonds.
He filed a similar bill when he was first elected into the Senate in 2007.
Since 2010, Escudero has been submitting together with his sworn Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), a written waiver on secrecy of his bank deposits filed every year with the Ombudsman’s office.
Recently, he took a step further by challenging all national and local candidates seeking elective posts to waive this right under Republic Act No. 1405, or the Bank Secrecy Act of 1955, which prohibits disclosure of or inquiry into deposits with any banking institution, as well as provides penalties of imprisonment or fine for offenders.
If candidates commit to this waiver, Escudero said, it will preempt those who will seek to amass illegal fortune at the expense of taxpayers and assure the public that they are not keeping any ill-gotten wealth and won’t enrich themselves once elected into office.
“In that sense, we do not only adhere to the principle of leadership by example, but also remove any doubts the public may have on those working in government,” Escudero pointed out.
“Public office is a public trust and government officials and employees are accountable to the public,” Escudero said. “To ensure that a civil servant does not use his position to enrich himself, it is necessary that we put in place a mechanism that will enable the government to audit the finances of the civil servant.”
Under his proposed measure, the waiver will be submitted 30 days from the date of assumption into office by a government official or employee.
Those who are already working in government, upon the effectivity of the law, will have to submit the waiver not later than 30 days from promulgation of the rules and regulations implementing the law.
Any public official or employee who fails or refuses to submit such waiver will be barred from entering or continuing the functions of his or her office, it said./Office of Senator Chiz Escudero