Graft court to look into Erap son’s bank

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The Supreme Court has given the Sandiganbayan the green light to examine the bank accounts of San Juan Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito at the Export and Industry Bank in connection with the plunder charges filed against his father, former President Joseph Estrada.

In a 24-page en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, the high court dismissed Ejercito’s petition assailing the Sandiganbayan resolutions dated Feb. 7 and 12, 2003 denying his motions to quash subpoenas duces tecum/ad testificandum, and resolution dated March 11, 2003 denying his motion for reconsideration of the first two resolutions.

The anti-graft court’s resolutions were issued in criminal case 26558, where the ousted president has been accused of committing the crime of plunder.

“In sum the Court finds that the Sandiganbayan did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the challenged subpoenas for documents,” the high court said.

Associate Justices Cancio Garcia, Consuelo Ynares Santiago and Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez dissented from the majority ruling, while three magistrates, Minita Chico Nazario, Adolfo Azcuna and Antonio Carpio did not take part in the deliberation.

On Jan. 20, 2003, the Special Prosecution Panel filed before the Sandiganbayan a request for the issuance of subpoena duces tecum/ad testificandum directing the president of Export and Industry Bank, formerly Urban Bank, or his authorized representative to produce the documents for Ejercito’s trust account no. 858, including the original or microfilm copies of Bank of Commerce manager’s check no. 0256254 in the amount of P2 million; Urban Bank Corp. MC no. 34181 dated Nov. 8, 1999 amounting to P10.87 million; Urban Bank Corp. MC no. 34182 dated Nov. 8, 1999 in the amount of P42.7 million; and Urban Bank Corp. MC no. 37661 dated Nov. 23, 1999 in the amount of P54.16 million.

The Ombudsman sought to subpoena savings account 0116-17345-9 and four more Urban Bank manager’s check dated Jan. 18, 2000 worth P75 million.

The Special Prosecutor also asked to subpoena the official of Equitable PCI Bank to testify and produce before the court the statement of accounts of the controversial “Jose Velarde” account. The Sandiganbayan granted both requests of the Ombudsman.

The high court stressed that “plunder being analogous to bribery, the exception to Republic Act 1405 applicable in cases of bribery must also apply to cases of plunder,” the high court said, referring to “the Secrecy of Bank Deposit Law.”

In his motion to quash, Ejercito said his bank accounts are covered by RA 1405 (The Secrecy of Bank Deposits Law) and do not fall under any of the exceptions stated in the said law.

Ejercito said the identification of documents in the subpoenas, including details of dates and amounts, could only have been made possible by an earlier illegal disclosure of the details by the bank and the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. in its capacity as receiver of the now defunct Urban Bank.

Since disclosure of the bank accounts is illegal, Ejercito insisted that the prosecution may not be allowed to make use of the information.

In ruling against Ejercito, the high court said RA 1405 is broad enough to cover trust accounts and that “the protection afforded by the law [RA 1405] is not absolute.”

The high tribunal noted that among the recognized exceptions to the secrecy of deposits are that “the examination of bank accounts is upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials” and when “the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of litigation.”