Had Senate Bill No. (SBN) 107 been passed into law, the current debate on the examination of bank deposits – whether local or foreign currency accounts – would have been averted, Senator Chiz Escudero said.
SBN 107, or the Submission Of Written Waiver or Permission in Favor of the Ombudsman to Look into All Deposits, has been put forward by Escudero since 2010 to ensure accountability and transparency of officials and employees already in government and those who plan to join government service.
The bill proposes that all public officials and employees, except those who serve in honorary capacity, shall consent to opening their financial assets to government audit through a written waiver submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Our law on bank secrecy prohibits disclosure of information relating to a customer’s bank account, unless under extreme circumstances as what the current impeachment proceeding has shown. But foreign currency deposit is an elusive and tricky matter, which is now a hotly contested issue transcending institutions,” Escudero explained.
The senator reiterated the importance of passing the legislation as a due diligence on the part of the government to ensure that civil servants do not use their positions to enrich themselves while in office.
“Any public official who fails to submit themselves to such shall not be allowed to enter upon or continue exercising the functions of his office,” he added. “Consent is tantamount to good faith effort and compliance.”
For the protection of the civil servant, however, the bill stipulates that only the Office of the Ombudsman may obtain or use the written permission or any other information gathered from it.
“It shall be for the exclusive use of the Sandiganbayan, which is investigating a duly signed and verified complaint. It cannot be used for fishing expedition and witch-hunting,” Escudero stressed.
Any person found violating the provisions shall be punished with a fine not exceeding the equivalent of one year salary or suspension not exceeding one year, or removal from office or disqualification to hold public office.
“We want to put in place a mechanism that promotes openness and transparency in the public sector. The signing of a waiver in favor of the government will allow the examination of the civil servant’s bank accounts and investments in government bonds,” Escudero said.
And those who would refuse to sign, Escudero said, they are “free to go to the private sector because working in the government is a privilege and not a right.”