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Object lessons from Urban Bank Account No. 858
(Article published in the Feb. 19, 2001 issue of TODAY, Opinion Today Section)

Parents wanting to instill in their children the values of truth and fairness have a wealth of teaching material in the way Congressmen Oscar Moreno and Joker Arroyo, both running for office this coming May elections, have recently been conducting their campaign. The modus operandi is to first choose a venue where they could not be challenged. Then to blame a bank failure on the BSP Governor, who is constrained by law and civility from revealing facts in his defense; and finally, obfuscate the issues so that the very people who were really responsible for the bank closure are hidden from public sight.

That is exactly how Moreno and Arroyo conducted themselves in their so-called revelations about Account No. 858 of Urban Bank. They accused BSP Governor Buenaventura in a press conference (not in a court or judicial body) of failing to protect the depositors of Urban Bank.

Then they put the spin that that former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada was able to take out his Php143 million ahead of others based on a tip, not from Urban Bank management, but from the BSP Governor, and, voila! you have free publicity in aid of election. Never mind that, in so doing, facts are distorted; suspicion is passed off as truth; and rules of law and logic flagrantly broken.

To start with, they proclaimed that Account 858, a numbered account, is owned by former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. They gave no proof, documentary or otherwise, to support this accusation. Unlike the Jose Velarde investment management account in Equitable PCI Bank, which was established at the impeachment court by the unshaken testimony of Kissa Ocampo as belonging to Erap, Account 858 was revealed by the former prosecutors without any proof of ownership, invoking not their own knowledge but prompting from purported well-meaning Urban Bank officials, who, if true, had by that mere fact, violated the confidence of their client. We are not to desire seeing what the signature cards, account application, letter of authority, deposit ledgers, investment agreements and reports—all of which should now be subpoenaed by the Ombudsman—would say. The only thing we have to go by is the word of our heroes of the impeachment, and because they said so, what they said must be true.

From that naked accusation, they proceeded to maintain that Governor Rafael Buenaventura knew or should have known that Erap owned Account 858. Never mind that Account 858 by their own revelation is a numbered account and therefore, by definition, accessible, not even to the ordinary bank employees but only to the most senior officials of Urban Bank, such as, for instance, Urban Bank Chairman Arsenio Bartolome III, the bank’s President Teodoro C. Borlongan, and, the Branch Manager of Greenhills Branch, Ms. Marie Rose Claudio. Never mind that no report is ever submitted by any bank to the BSP on who the owners of bank deposits and investment accounts are because it is against the law to disclose such matters to the BSP. What matters is that Governor Buenaventura was a former classmate of the former President, and therefore we must conclude, as Moreno wants us to conclude as a matter of dogma, that the Governor must have known about the former president’s account. It is the same as arguing that Mrs. Oscar Moreno knows, or should know, of every single peso that lands in Congressman Moreno’s pocket.

In addition, we are told to believe that Governor Buenaventura knew on April 24, 2000 that Urban Bank would declare a voluntary bank holiday after banking hours of April 25, 2000. The inevitability of such foreknowledge, if Moreno is to be believed, is the fact that the Governor knew, that Urban Bank was experiencing very heavy withdrawals since March or February of 2000. Therefore, he must have known the exact date when Urban Bank would voluntarily close itself.


From the unproven allegation of Erap’s ownership of Account 858, and the illogical attribution of knowledge to the BSP Governor of such ownership and the exact date of the Bank’s voluntary closure, Moreno then proclaimed that the withdrawal of Php143 million was effected by Erap because the BSP Governor tipped off his former classmate about the closure of Urban Bank one day before the Board of Directors, who were kept in the dark about the bank’s problems, would voluntarily close the bank. We are asked to disregard that Urban Bank officials had previously publicly admitted that the Bank had been experiencing heavy withdrawals ever since the public learned that, on account of its failure to put up the necessary capital, Urban Bank was downgrading itself from a commercial bank into a mere holding company, not even a savings bank. In other words, we must hold the view that the owner of Account 858 could not have known about the thousands of clients who had preterminated their investments and common trust fund placements with Urbancorp Investment Corporation starting February. They all were obviously smarter than Erap who needed to be tipped off by the BSP Governor. Moreover, we are told to disregard the probability that, assuming Erap was indeed the owner of Account 858, Erap could not himself have suspected something seriously wrong with Urban Bank, when during the luncheon celebration of the Department of Finance’s anniversary at Malacanang on April 24, 2000, Urban Bank Chairman Arsenio Bartolome III asked him if either the SSS or GSIS, or both, could infuse more money into the Bank. Erap was too dense for that kind of thought. He needed a tip from a classmate to do what thousands, including family and relatives of senior Urban Bank officials, had already done.

Like Moreno and Arroyo, we are to ignore the most natural impulse of bankers who are involved in the opening of a confidential account containing at least Php 143 million purportedly belonging to the most powerful man in the land, to run to their client and themselves give the inside information that the bank of its own accord would close the bank anytime soon. We are not to subject to questioning the person or persons in Urban Bank who personally handled and monitored the movements of Account No. 858. We just have to take Moreno and Arroyo’s word as gospel truth, that it was not Urban Bank’s Senior Officers but instead the BSP Governor who had run to the then President to give a one-day warning.

With Account No. 858, parents and teachers could then point out to young minds how the sudden termination of the impeachment proceedings would so shock those who had been basking in the lime light as to drive otherwise reasonable and sober men to redefine the meaning of what is true and what is fair.