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DID KISSA OCAMPO KISSA'N TELL?
(Article published in the January 8, 2001 issue of TODAY, Opinion Today Section)

When prosecution surprise witness Kissa Ocampo admitted on 02 January 2001 that she did not receive any subpoena to testify before the impeachment court, many became concerned about the confidentiality of their own trust or investment management accounts being managed by trust departments of banks and investment houses.

The general impression that Kissa disclosed to the impeachment court President Estrada's, a.k.a. Jose Velarde, investment management account with Equitable PCI Bank without having been compelled to do so is not correct. On the 6th of December 2000, one of the four subpoenae duces tecum issued to the bank was directed at the bank's "Custodian of Records/Accounts". The subpoena required, among other items, the production before the deposing officer on 07 December 2000 of the opening account form, specimen signature cards, ledger and "such other documents pertaining to Account No. 000110-25495-4".

"Account No. 000110-25495-4" is a current (i.e. checking) account that was opened with the Equitable PCI Bank (Juan Luna-Binondo Branch) on 26 August 1999 for one who signed his name as "Jose Velarde". It was from this account that the person signing as "Jose Velarde" (initially thought to be "Jose Valhala") issued the check to Mr. Jose Luis J. Yulo in the amount of Php 142,000,000 which the prosecution claims was in turn deposited by Mr. Jose Luis J. Yulo in his personal account with the Bank of the Philippine Islands. From this personal account, Mr. Jose Luis J. Yulo, the prosecution further claims, placed money in the corporate account, also with the Bank of the Philippine Islands, of St. Peter Holdings Corporation which then used the money, acting through Mr. Jose Luis J. Yulo, to buy choice residential real estate that is now popularly known as the Boracay Mansion.

What is crucial about "Account No. 000110-25495-4" is that it is not a stand-alone account. It is a "combo" (short for "combination") account that is tied up with another account, this time a savings account numbered "S/A 0160-62501-5", also maintained at the Juan Luna-Binondo Branch of Equitable PCI Bank. "S/A 0160-6250-1" is written in the opening forms of C/A No. 000110-25495-4. From his "S/A 0160-62501-5" the amount of Php500,000,000 was, at the instance of President Estrada a.k.a. Jose Velarde debited and then credited to the President's, a.k.a. Jose Velarde, investment management account opened with Kissa Ocampo on 04 February 2000. It is important to note that President Estrada a.k.a. Jose Velarde described both "S/A 0160-62501-5" and the investment management account as "my" account.

Since the three accounts were interconnected, it is clear that the subpoena duces tecum, asking for the production of "such other documents pertaining to Account No. 000110-25495-4" was asking for additional documents related not only to S/A 0160-62501-5" but also those related to the investment management account which was funded from savings account "S/A 0160-62501-5".

The deposition scheduled for 07 December 2000, as everyone knows, did not take place. The impeachment court asked for the surrender of the "subpoenaed documents" and Kissa's testimony disclosing the President's a.k.a. Jose Velarde, investment management account is therefore in essence simply compliance by Equitable PCI Bank with a compulsory order from the impeachment court. Kissa Ocampo was, as a trust officer, the official custodian of the records of the investment management account (SX406.4 (c)(4), Manual of Regulations for Banks) which and was therefore the "custodian of records/accounts" asked to respond to the subpoena duces tecum. In fact, if she did not come forward, she would have been at peril for contempt of court.

The more important question for most trust clients is whether the principles that led to and justified the disclosure of the President's a.k.a. Jose Velarde, investment management account could be applied and probably result in the disclosure of their own trust accounts also. For most of the law-abiding, the confidentiality of their trust accounts are not in jeopardy.

An investment management account is not a deposit and therefore is not covered by the law on the secrecy of bank deposits, technically known as R.A. No. 1405, as amended. Instead, it is subject to Section 55.1(b) of R.A. No. 8791, known as the General Banking Law of 2000. That section, in part, provides that no director, officer, employee, or agent of any bank shall, without order of a court of competent jurisdiction, disclose to any unauthorized person any information relative to the funds or properties in the custody of the banking belonging to private individuals, corporations or any other entity. Clearly, the prohibition is against disclosure to "any unauthorized person" and the persons protected are "private individuals, corporations or any other entity."

Nobody seriously contends that the Senate sitting as an impeachment court is an "unauthorized person" and since, as Kissa Ocampo says, President Estrada is Jose Velarde, there is no doubt that her disclosure was not about the funds or properties belonging to a private person.

Unless therefore a trustor or principal is a public official whose funds or properties are subject matter of a proceeding pending before a court, then the confidentially of his account with the trust department is fully protected by law and will not be breached by a director, officer, employee or agent of his bank without violating the law. Kissa Ocampo did not breach the confidentiality of her client's account because her disclosure was required by law. The confidentiality of banking relations was never meant to be an impenetrable asylum for wrong doers, whether by the humblest citizen of the republic or the highest official of the land.










         

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