In lieu of the Criminal Case “People v. Estrada” for plunder, the Special Prosecution Panel filed before the Sandiganbayan a request for issuance of Subpoena Duces Tecum directing the President of Export and Industry Bank or his/her authorized representative to produce documents namely, Trust Account and Savings Account belonging to petitioner and statement of accounts of one named “Jose Velarde” and to testify thereon during the hearings. Sandiganbayan granted both requests and subpoenas were accordingly issued. Sandiganbayan also granted and issued subpoenas prayed for by the Prosecution Panel in another later date. Petitioner now assisted by his counsel filed two separate motions to quash the two subpoenas issued. Sandiganbayan denied both motions and the consequent motions for reconsideration of petitioner.
(1) Whether or not the trust accounts of petitioner are covered by the term “deposits” as used in R.A. No. 1405
(2) Whether or not plunder is neither bribery nor dereliction of duty not exempted from protection of R.A. No. 1405
(3) Whether or not the unlawful examination of bank accounts shall render the evidence obtained therefrom inadmissible in evidence.
(1) YES. An examination of the law shows that the term “deposits” used therein is to be understood broadly and not limited only to accounts which give rise to a creditor-debtor relationship between the depositor and the bank.
The policy behind the law is laid down in Section 1. If the money deposited under an account may be used by banks for authorized loans to third persons, then such account, regardless of whether it creates a creditor-debtor relationship between the depositor and the bank, falls under the category of accounts which the law precisely seeks to protect for the purpose of boosting the economic development of the country.
Trust Account No. 858 is, without doubt, one such account. The Trust Agreement between petitioner and Urban Bank provides that the trust account covers “deposit, placement or investment of funds” by Urban Bank for and in behalf of petitioner. The money deposited under Trust Account No. 858, was, therefore, intended not merely to remain with the bank but to be invested by it elsewhere. To hold that this type of account is not protected by R.A. 1405 would encourage private hoarding of funds that could otherwise be invested by banks in other ventures, contrary to the policy behind the law.
Section 2 of the same law in fact even more clearly shows that the term “deposits” was intended to be understood broadly. The phrase “of whatever nature” proscribes any restrictive interpretation of “deposits.” Moreover, it is clear from the immediately quoted provision that, generally, the law applies not only to money which is deposited but also to those which are invested. This further shows that the law was not intended to apply only to “deposits” in the strict sense of the word. Otherwise, there would have been no need to add the phrase “or invested.”
Clearly, therefore, R.A. 1405 is broad enough to cover Trust Account No. 858.
(2) NO. Cases of unexplained wealth are similar to cases of bribery or dereliction of duty and no reason is seen why these two classes of cases cannot be excepted from the rule making bank deposits confidential. The policy as to one cannot be different from the policy as to the other. This policy expresses the notion that a public office is a public trust and any person who enters upon its discharge does so with the full knowledge that his life, so far as relevant to his duty, is open to public scrutiny.
The crime of bribery and the overt acts constitutive of plunder are crimes committed by public officers, and in either case the noble idea that “a public office is a public trust and any person who enters upon its discharge does so with the full knowledge that his life, so far as relevant to his duty, is open to public scrutiny” applies with equal force.
Plunder being thus analogous to bribery, the exception to R.A. 1405 applicable in cases of bribery must also apply to cases of plunder.
(3) NO. Petitioner’s attempt to make the exclusionary rule applicable to the instant case fails. R.A. 1405, it bears noting, nowhere provides that an unlawful examination of bank accounts shall render the evidence obtained therefrom inadmissible in evidence. Section 5 of R.A. 1405 only states that “[a]ny violation of this law will subject the offender upon conviction, to an imprisonment of not more than five years or a fine of not more than twenty thousand pesos or both, in the discretion of the court.”
Even assuming arguendo, however, that the exclusionary rule applies in principle to cases involving R.A. 1405, the Court finds no reason to apply the same in this particular case. Clearly, the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine presupposes a violation of law. If there was no violation of R.A. 1405 in the instant case, then there would be no “poisonous tree” to begin with, and, thus, no reason to apply the doctrine.
Additional Note: (This case is to be contrasted with Marquez v. Desierto)
The Marquez ruling notwithstanding, the above-described examination by the Ombudsman of petitioner’s bank accounts, conducted before a case was filed with a court of competent jurisdiction, was lawful.
For the Ombudsman issued the subpoenas bearing on the bank accounts of petitioner about four months before Marquez was promulgated on June 27, 2001.
When this Court construed the Ombudsman Act of 1989, in light of the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Law in Marquez, that “before an in camera inspection may be allowed there must be a pending case before a court of competent jurisdiction”, it was, in fact, reversing an earlier doctrine found in Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank v. Purisima.
Banco Filipino involved subpoenas duces tecum issued by the Office of the Ombudsman, then known as the Tanodbayan, in the course of its preliminary investigation of a charge of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. As the subpoenas subject of Banco Filipino were issued during a preliminary investigation, in effect this Court upheld the power of the Tandobayan under P.D. 1630 to issue subpoenas duces tecum for bank documents prior to the filing of a case before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Marquez, on the other hand, practically reversed this ruling in Banco Filipino despite the fact that the subpoena power of the Ombudsman under R.A. 6770 was essentially the same as that under P.D. 1630.
The Marquez ruling that there must be a pending case in order for the Ombudsman to validly inspect bank records in camera thus reversed a prevailing doctrine. Hence, it may not be retroactively applied. The Ombudsman’s inquiry into the subject bank accounts prior to the filing of any case before a court of competent jurisdiction was therefore valid at the time it was conducted. In fine, the subpoenas issued by the Ombudsman in this case were legal, hence, invocation of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine is misplaced.