(Article published in the June 14, 2006
issue of Manila Standard Today)
long arm of the law is an old story.
The remake is the long arm of crime.
But, whereas the old story ends with the criminal getting caught
and punished and with the victims, no matter how long a process, receiving
restitution, the revised tale closes with the victims being left to
fight each other in long and expensive litigation and with the criminal
having his just dessert, i.e. feasting and then enjoying the fruits of his
between the 10th and
the 16th of June, 1993, an unidentified person broke into Jose
and Ester Dimaculangan’s (not their real names) residence at No. 1234
Balding Parkway Boulevard, Balding, California (not their real residence).
Initially, they thought that only Ester’s jewelry box was taken. Later
on, they discovered that other items, such as their passports, bank
deposit certificates, and identification cards were also stolen.
16 August 1993, spouses Dimaculangan opened a joint “and/or” foreign
currency time deposit in trust for their sons Pepito and Joselito at a
bank at Makati City in the amount of about $55,000 for a term of 182 days
or until 14 February 1994, at 2.6 per cent interest per annum.
They listed as their address, No. 48 Lone Ranger Street, Dell
Village, Metro Manila (not the real address stated in the bank records),
where Pepito and his wife, Petra, (not their real names) lived.
following month the spouses Dimaculangan then went back to the United
States where Ester resumed her duties as a nursing aide at the Sierra
Madre Day Care Center (not the real name of her place of work) in Balding,
or about 10 November 1993, the spouses Dimaculangan received an overseas
text message from their daughter-in-law Petra telling them that she
received a call from the branch manager of the bank where they made their
dollar deposit earlier described asking them to pick up the identification
card that Ester left that same day at the bank when she pre-terminated the
account. Since Ester had not
left the United States since her return last September, much less had she
ever gone to the bank to pre-terminate her “and/or” dollar account,
she immediately called the bank with the frantic denial that she was the
one who had withdrawn her deposit.
of the bank disclosed that in the morning of 10 November 1993, someone
claiming to be Ester Dimaculangan went to the bank and, after presenting
Ester’s stolen passport and identification cards, tried to pre-terminate
the account. The impostor did
not present the original of the certificate of deposit and so, following
standard bank policy, she was required to, and she did, sign a release and
waiver. The form required notarization, but this was dispensed with
since there was no notary present at the bank premises at that time.
bank manager compared the signature of the impostor on the documents
required to be executed in cases of pre-termination of deposits with the
genuine signature of Ester on file and noticed a discrepancy in just one
letter. She also noticed that
the lady who presented herself as Ester did not resemble the pictures in
the identification cards. Nevertheless, she authorized the pre-termination and the
consequent withdrawal because both the person present and the person in
the pictures had a mole in the same place on the face. Besides, the passport was clearly genuine.
was, we must remember, 1993. Though
medical tourism was not yet in vogue, plastic surgeons have already been
plying their lucrative trade of making over faces and whatever else women
of means but of less than perfect assets wanted to have made over.
And before “Hello, Garci,” who would have thought one could
have two genuine passports?
any rate, the victims, namely the bank and the Dimaculangans, had a
face-off in court. And, in
such a situation where two innocent parties are in legal loggerheads, the
court ordinarily rules against party who did not exercise the requisite
diligence under the circumstances.
Supreme Court, when the case went before it, did not deal with the
diligence required of the spouses Dimaculangan.
If I may hazard a guess, the Dimaculangans are bound to no more
than the diligence of a person living in America who must keep their homes
where they keep their valuables secure.
Their doors and windows ought to be locked and reasonably difficult
to break into because, yes, Virginia, there are robbers in the United
States. In civil law, that
standard is called the diligence of a good father of a family.
From what I know of the many fathers who happily celebrate
Father’s day, that is not too difficult to comply with.
Supreme Court devoted more time and text to explaining the degree of the
diligence required of the bank, leaving no doubt right from the very
beginning of its disquisition, as to who was going to win the case.
The standard of diligence imposed by law on banks is, in summary,
what is required of a super hero.
Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, writing for the court held:
“The Court has repeatedly emphasized that, since the banking
business is impressed with public interest, of paramount importance
thereto is the trust and confidence of the public in general.
Consequently, the highest degree of diligence is expected, and high
standards of integrity and performance are even required, of it.
By the nature of its functions, a bank is under obligation to treat
the accounts of its depositors with meticulous care, always having in mind
the fiduciary nature of their relationship.”
the ponencia continued: “The
Court has held that a bank is ‘bound to know the signatures of its
customers; and if it pays a forged check, it must be considered as making
the payment out of its own funds, and cannot ordinarily charge the amount
so paid to the account of the depositor whose name was forged.’
Such principle equally applies here.”
bank did not seek to deny that it had some failing but it, however, sought
to downgrade its severity. But
the Supreme Court condemnation was relentless, saying the bank “cannot
label its negligence as mere mistake or human error.
Banks handle daily transactions involving
millions of pesos. By the
very nature of their works the degree of responsibility, care and
trustworthiness expected of their employees and officials is far greater
than those of ordinary clerks and employees. Banks are expected to
exercise the highest degree of diligence in the selection and supervision
of their employees.”
the end of the day, the bank was made to pay the Dimaculangans the
principal and the stipulated interest, some token moral damages, and some
for the impostor, nobody appears to have bothered about her.
She is probably somewhere in the world enjoying the US$55,000 or
so, waiting for her, or her syndicate’s, or their, next banking
have kept the names of the case and the parties to protect them from the
further harm that might result should anyone of my few readers recognize
them. But the lessons to be learned I have kept intact.
are favorite targets of those who would want to dip their fingers into
their deep pockets. One
misstep could be very costly since the law holds them to a standard which
not even people who occupy positions that could lead this country to ruin
are held accountable for. Making
matters worse, the vultures of the local variety have recently been
augmented by foreign ones giving the long arm of crime a global reach.