That President Benigno Aquino III ordered the theft of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s bank records has emerged as a distinct possibility if it was in fact an Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) operative who procured the documents.
“If you understand how sensitive the AMLC’s work is, only and only the president or his known alter ego can dare ask somebody there to get confidential bank records for him, and justify it as part of ‘his crusade against corruption’,” a veteran official of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas explained. “A bureaucrat won’t risk his career and even a jail term—unless it is a very popular president who asked him to do so,” he added.
PSBank, a subsidiary of Metrobank, the country’s biggest bank, has undertaken an intensive investigation, even contracting foreign security and handwriting experts, to find out the source of the leak of Corona’s signature card. The bank’s conclusion: It was a BSP examiner deputized as an AMLC operative who was given access to its Katipunan Avenue branch records who photocopied Corona’s signature card when he was a part of an audit team in 2010.
The BSP was too quick to deny the allegation, and didn’t even examine the controversial signature cards submitted by the prosecution panel. The BSP claimed its examiner named Jerry Leal, who was with its Anti-Money Laundering Specialist Group, had only asked the bank to comply with the BSP’s policy of identifying certain depositors as “politically exposed persons” (PEP)—defined as those “in prominent public positions”—after discovering that Chief Justice Renato Corona and a few other depositors were not in its PEP list.
PSBank president Pascual Garcia III and its Katipunan branch manager Annabelle Tiongson however testified under oath in the trial that the AMLC operative did access Corona’s signature card, and may have even photocopied it.
Three things give credibility to the PSBank officials’ views.
First the photocopy of Corona’s alleged signature card had the PEP notation, handwritten and underlined. However, the actual signature card presented by the bank did not have such notation.
Consider now that the BSP statement claimed that the sole concern raised by its AMLC-deputized examiner was that the bank was not properly maintaining its PEP list. The only conclusion would be that the BSP examiner put the notation “PEP” on a photocopy of Corona’s signature card, and on several other signature cards, as his way of telling the bank that these depositors, whose card he marked as such, should be included in the bank’s PEP list. It was his photocopy that the prosecutors got.
Unfortunately for the BSP examiner and the anti-Corona cabal, especially for congressmen Rey Umali and Jorge Banal who dimwittedly admitted possession of the stolen photocopies of the signature card, that “PEP” notation has become the marker establishing its source, in the way police use “marked money” to set-up blackmailers or extortionists.
Second, the BSP claimed that its examiner learned that Corona was a depositor only when a bank official informed him that the Chief Justice won P1 million in a bank raffle in 2008. But that is exactly how the prosecutors alleged they learned that Corona had bank accounts—and even their numbers—in PSBank. That an unprepared, bungling prosecution was able to unearth on its own the fact that Corona won a raffle back in 2008—which is nowhere posted in the Internet—is incredible.
And third, the photocopied signature card of the prosecution had no entries after 2010, an incontrovertible evidence that it was photocopied only that year, which was during the BSP audit.
The BSP noted that its “regular examination of the bank” was from October 2010 to December 2010, “long before the impeachment trial,” implying that the probe could have no connection at all to Corona’s prosecution.
This however raises more, very worrying alarms. As early as a month before he assumed office, President Aquino announced to the world he wanted Corona out. In July 2010, Liberal Party president and losing vice-presidential candidate Mar Roxas filed his electoral protest at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which is the Supreme Court. By October that year, Malacañang realized that the Corona-led Court would strike down his flagship project, the Truth Commission, as unconstitutional. In August 18, Corona ordered oral arguments at the Supreme Court on the Hacienda Luisita issue, a signal that the Chief Justice will not knuckle under the Cojuangco clan’s demands.
It’s just too coincidental, even inexplicable that out of its 200 branches, it was the bank’s Katipunan Avenue branch—known to cater mainly to the university-based crowd there—which the AMLC decided to probe. Why not its branches in the nearby Cubao area and even Chinatown, which would be the usual suspect as money laundering depositories? Or was this branch picked, as it would be the logical branch for Corona to bank with, as his known residence was in Xavierville Village, just a stone’s throw away?
The inescapable question: Given Mr. Aquino’s less than deep respect for the rule of law and his obsession to remove Corona, did he order at that time the theft of his bank records, with the aim either of blackmailing him out of office, or if he refused to step down, to present these in an impeachment trial? Did he give the documents to his minions in Congress, which is the reason for their inexplicable but now obviously foolhardy confidence?
For the President of the Republic to break the law for personal gain is the height of betrayal of public trust. I hope the Senate pursues its search for truth.
The first step would be to put that AMLC operative on the witness stand.