SC: AMLC Can Examine Bank Accounts; Binay Law Firm Denied Due Process

Manila Bulletin, January 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

SC: AMLC Can Examine Bank Accounts; Binay Law Firm Denied Due Process


by Rey G. Panaligan

The Supreme Court (SC) has declared constitutional the power of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to file an application before the Court of Appeals (CA) to inquire into and examine bank accounts and investments, including related accounts, even without notice to or hearing the side of the depositors and investors.

In a unanimous full court decision written by Justice Jose Portugal Perez, the SC dismissed the petition filed by the Subido, Pagente, Certeza, Mendoza, and Binay Law Office (SPCMB) which challenged the constitutionality of Section 11 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act under Republic Act (RA) No. 9160 as amended by RA No. 10167.

SPCMB filed the petition after the law firm was investigated by AMLC on allegations that its accounts were related to former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay.

But the SC said the ex-parte application, without notice and hearing, was unconstitutional for violation of its rights to due process and privacy, client-lawyer privilege, a fishing expedition, and political harassment.

Section 11 of RA 9160 provides that the "AMLC may inquire into or examine any particular deposit or investment, including related accounts, with any banking institution or non-bank financial institution upon order of any competent court based on an ex parte application."

When the pleading filed by AMLC before the CA seeking authority to examine the bank accounts of SPCMB was published in a newspaper, the law firm wrote the CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes to inquire about the case and to request copies of the documents.

But Justice Reyes denied the requests and said AMLC cases with the CA are confidential under the rules.

When the CA allowed AMLC to examine SPCMB's accounts, the law firm elevated the issue before the SC which the High Court treated as a challenge to Section II of the Anti-Money Laundering Act under RA No. 9160 as amended by RA No. 10167.

The SC said that "while no grave abuse of discretion could be ascribed on the part of the appellate court when it explained in its letter that petitions of such nature 'is strictly confidential in that when processing the same, not even the handling staff members of the Office of the Presiding Justice know or have any knowledge who the subject bank account holders are, as well as the bank accounts involved,' it was incorrect when it declared that 'under the rules, the Office of the Presiding Justice is strictly mandated not to disclose, divulge, or communicate to anyone directly or indirectly, in any manner or by any means, the fact of the filing of any petition brought before [the Court of Appeals] by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, its contents and even its entry in the logbook.'"

"As a result, the appellate court effectively precluded and prevented SPCMB of any recourse, amounting to a denial of SPCMB's letter request," it said. …

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