Monday, February 13, 2012

Let's not break the law

This is my column today.

There is an important factoid that many people seem to conveniently gloss over regarding the temporary restraining order that the Supreme Court released last week. The order stopped the impeachment court from compelling the Philippine Savings Bank to divulge information on the foreign currency deposits of Chief Justice Renato Corona. It was PSBank that sought the TRO. It wasn’t Corona or his defense team that went to the Supreme Court to seek relief.

So I am aghast at the pronouncements of the bright boys from MalacaƱang that the TRO was “a brazen effort to derail the proceedings.” The TRO was issued because PSBank sought to protect its name and take up the cudgels for the banking industry. Peso deposits is another thing, but the law on foreign currency deposits in this country is clear and absolute: these deposits are protected by law and not even a court order can compel a bank to reveal information relating to these deposits. This law actually makes sense. Foreign investors need to be protected. Otherwise, they can be held hostage by competitors, corrupt judges and officials, and people with connections. Banking is primarily built on trust. If customers cannot expect banks in this country to safeguard the confidentiality of accounts, then we will be in serious trouble.

The TRO may be related to the impeachment, but the TRO issue is larger than the bank accounts of Corona. PSBank did not seek to derail the proceedings unless the President and his spokesperson are insinuating that PSBank - and Metrobank, the second largest bank in the country which is the mother bank of PSBank—are in cahoots with the Chief Justice, which, if we come to think about it, is ludicrous because no tycoon in his right mind would dare cross a President bent on staking everything to get Corona.

PSBank has courageously stood its ground, as it must. The reason may have nothing to do with Corona. The bank is not playing politics. It has to protect its name as a trustworthy repository of not just the money of its clients but of their trust as well. I am sure that all other depositors of PSBank are closely observing the impeachment wondering if PSBank can stand its ground for their sake.

If media will just bother and get the views of the leaders of the banking industry they will find that most if not all support the stand of PSBank. One pillar of the industry was overheard last week saying he would be more than happy to go to jail for the cause.

The President’s lecture about how the foreign currency deposit law was not meant to protect criminals is appreciated, but he used the wrong context. There is an anti-money laundering act in this country and there are ample safeguards to ensure that the system is not used for criminal purposes.

It is quite irresponsible for many pundits to insinuate that banks are doing the country a disservice by supposedly “not helping in the quest for the truth.” Oh please, this quest has long resembled a witch-hunt. Besides, such a quest does not have to result in wanton disregard for existing laws. We don’t have to burn the whole house down in order to flush out a suspected criminal—we just need to do our jobs better. The problem is, our leaders want to do things the easy way and strut around like everyone owes them a favor for doing their jobs.

Our senators and congressmen must be reminded that they have a solemn duty to uphold the laws in this country. They create the laws, for crying out loud. They should stop flailing around if banks adhere to the laws of this country; if they think the laws are wrong, they only have themselves to blame for not doing their jobs, which is to amend laws.

And there’s really an effective and quicker way to get out of this impasse. All our leaders—the President, members of the cabinet, senators, congressmen, local officials should all declare publicly to allow banks to reveal the contents of their foreign currency accounts. Until then, let’s stop the hypocrisy and stop asking banks to break the law.

No comments: