By Mao Hermitanio
The Makabayan bloc of progressive partylist representatives in the House of Representatives today signed unconditional waivers of right of confidentiality and secrecy of bank deposits in response to the challenge for greater transparency and accountability in government brought about in part by the impeachment trial of convicted Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, Rep. Neri Colmenares, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, Gabriela Womens Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, Emmie de Jesus, ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio and Kabataan Party Rep. Raymond Palatino waived their rights under Republic Act No. 1405 or the Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits, which guarantees the absolute confidential nature of all deposits of whatever nature with banks or banking institutions in the Philippines including investments in bonds issued by the Government of the Philippines, its political subdivisions and its instrumentalities and Republic Act No. 6426 or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines, which guarantees the absolute confidential nature of all foreign currency deposits authorized under the laws.
The said waivers will allow the Office of the Ombudsman to look into their assets and bank accounts for the purpose of investigating any report or complaint against them for graft and corruption.
“As signatories to the Corona impeachment complaint and representatives of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors in Congress, we feel it is our duty and moral obligation to set an example in complying with the Constitutional mandate on public office as a public trust,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.
The solons also authorized the Secretary General of the House of Representatives to release to the public copies of their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for all the years that they served as representative of Congress.
The militant solons challenged their fellow public officials, including President Benigno Aquino III to sign a waiver and disclose all their local and foreign currency bank accounts.
“We challenge our fellow officials in government, starting with the President and his Cabinet, our colleagues in the House and the Senate, to do no less. It has been observed that President Aquino and his Cabinet have not signed any waiver despite the strong clamor from the public to do so. The President and his Cabinet should set the example. Sign the waiver now,” Casiño said in a press conference at the House of Representatives.
“If President Aquino has nothing to hide, he should be ready to sign a waiver,” said Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano.
While admitting that indeed President Aquino made a campaign promise that he would waive his bank secrecy rights, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was quoted in news reports saying that it is no longer necessary as the president has already submitted his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and that he should not be put in the same plane as former chief justice Renato Corona who was found guilty of non-disclosure and betrayal of public trust by the Senate acting as impeachment court.
Senators Sergio Osmena III and Teofisto “TG” Guingona II defended President Aquino’s decision claiming that he has the “right to privacy.”
Pursue cases vs. Arroyo
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of the prosecution panel in the Corona impeachment trial, said the Aquino government must also go after the ill-gotten wealth of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “There is no lack of cases that can be filed against the former president if Aquino is only willing to do it,” he said.
“After Corona’s conviction, Arroyo should be the next. There are pending cases filed against Arroyo that must be pursued,” Colmenares furter added.
Arroyo is facing graft and corruption charges before the Sandiganbayan regarding the botched $329-million NBN-ZTE broadband deal and electoral sabotage case with regard to allegations of fraud during the 2007 election.
“We reiterate that the same standards of transparency and accountability and the same dogged zeal to weed out grafters witnessed in the Corona impeachment should be applied to all agencies of government,” the solons said in a joint statement
According to Mariano, Arroyo is still the biggest plunderer and violator of the Philippine Constitution. “Throughout her term as president, Arroyo amassed ill-gotten wealth, committed plunder and other heinous crimes and human rights violations against the people. We wish to remind President Aquino, the Senate and the Office of the Ombudsman that Arroyo is still the mastermind of all plunder and must be the main target of the government’s anti-corruption crusade.”
“The impeachment trials showed that the Ombudsman can look into the bank accounts of government officials accused of a crime. The Ombudsman should do the same with former president Arroyo. There is nothing to stop Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to ask the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to open the accounts of former president Arroyo. If they were able to do it to Corona, they could also do it to Arroyo.”
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan said Corona’s conviction is significant but provides no assurance against corruption. “The impeachment trial is not the end all and be all of the anti-corruption campaign. It does not in any way assure us that the Aquino government will not be as corrupt as its predecessor.”
Rep. Emmie de Jesus challenged Aquino to pursue with the same zeal and gusto the prosecution of the plunder and human rights cases against Arroyo. The lady solon further said the government must address other people’s issues and concerns sidetracked by the Corona impeachment trial.