News / September 24, 2021

No end to corruption unless bank secrecy law is repealed


By: Norman Cabrera, September 23, 2021.

Pharmally delivered 2 million surgical masks without request from the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management. Test kits with limited shelf life were also delivered. Pharmally also had same-day delivery of 500,000 face masks.

How did this company break procurement requirements in the P8.7 billion pandemic contracts with DBM? What is Pharmally Pharmaceuticals? Who controls it?

These questions and revelations will go nowhere for one reason—the bank secrecy law.

More than half a decade ago, Republic Act No. 1405, otherwise known as the bank secrecy law, was approved. At that time, it was enacted to encourage individuals to deposit their money in banks instead of hoarding them.

Banking is a private matter and transactions are akin to one’s personal activities which, as RA 1405 provides, should not be easily accessible to anyone. Put simply, no one can go to your bank and ask for your bank balance.

While there are exceptions, securing them is not an easy task. The easiest way is to waive the secrecy in writing, but it’s not that simple. As a matter of practice, banks will require the depositor to state in his waiver the specific bank account, bank branch, name of depositor, period covered by the transactions, and the name of the person authorized to access the bank account.

Imagine, then, the difficulty in going after politicians, government officials, or rent-seekers suspected or accused of corruption without any money trail.

In 2014, the top 10 cases in the anti-graft court involved P9.4 billion, most of which were either dismissed or would remain pending. We can only wonder how much more this amount has ballooned to by now.

The ongoing Senate hearing on Pharmally will likely end the same way many other similar investigations “in aid of legislation” ended — with suspected perpetrators running scot-free with the people’s money.

The Philippines is among only three countries in the world (Lebanon and North Korea are the other two) that have ultra-strict bank secrecy laws.

When asked during a hearing of the committee on banks in 2016 if the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) would support a repeal of the bank secrecy law, then BSP chief Amando Tetangco Jr. replied: “Our main concern, Mr. Chairman, with respect to the bank secrecy law is in terms of being able to ensure that existing regulations are being complied with. That’s number one. And number 2, to provide some form of deterrent for possible fraud, unlawful activity or irregularity…”

There are stories affixed to banking transactions. They are not just empty figures. So, unless congressional investigations lead to a realization of the need to repeal this age-old law, no end to corruption will ever be in sight.

Interestingly, why is it that up to now, the Senate and the House keep missing the point that the best legislation to aid all their investigations on corruption is to repeal the bank secrecy law?

Kapatiran Party,