OPINION: Legislative lechon

Teddy Locsin Jr.

Posted at Jan 03 2017 11:36 PM | Updated as of Jan 04 2017 06:53 PM

THERE is an ignorant proposal to amend the Central Bank Act in order to remove the governor of the Central Bank as the chair of the Anti-Money Laundering Council in charge of initiating and supervising its investigations. But the CB governor does not initiate and supervise the investigations of AMLC. The CB governor sits as chair and that is all. 

Should he sit as chair? 

Yes.

Why?

Because after people like me passed the law, one president after another refused to give an adequate budget to the AMLC. Because of which, we faced sanctions despite having enacted the most sophisticated anti-money laundering law in the world. So said a US Treasury official who was here to advise and threaten us. So the Central Bank had to finance the AMLC with cash advances. One president after another wanted to keep the AMLC weak and unable to check her or his suspicious transactions—or use the AMLC for their private vendettas. 

The CB governor is also the chair because the CB governor is vetted for impartiality, intelligence, learning in an erudite discipline, and integrity—such as no other official in the land is vetted; certainly more than a merely elected one. Therefore, only one such as he can be trusted to chair it. The idea of taking out the CB governor and substituting him with a lackey of the administration staggers the imagination. It will destroy all faith and confidence in our financial system here and abroad. A system that passed with flying colors three global financial crises already will be as it should be under suspicion.

It is not the CB governor who orders—but the Anti-Money Laundering Council that initiates and investigates possible money laundering. This is to make sure that no mere agent of the AMLC does it on his own initiative for purposes of blackmailing bank depositors. 

It is also to ensure that AMLC is not politicized. We who wrote the law made sure That only members of the Central Bank Who have served it for 5 years straight Can serve in AMLC. This was precisely to exclude political scum from, say, the Department of Justice like one then beholden to GMA. We believed that only a 5-year stint in the humdrum and rigorous work of central banking can develop the circumspection and the knowledge to examine bank transactions—and shut up about it. 

If the present AMLC showed bias in the previous administration, then the government today must prove it in court. There are severe punishments for leakage under the AMLA. Including publication by media of anything leaked to it. The punishment for media, as far as I remember putting it in the law, is close to confiscatory. A sound and confidence-building financial system must always trump mere freedom of the press. That media is not above blackmail or kidnapping is the understatement of the century. 

Now it seems that what government cannot prove in court it will legislate in Congress. Well that’s not allowed. Legislation is not adjudication but its constitutional opposite. Hence the prohibition against bills of attainder in letter or intent. 

While media gleefully spread rumors that the AMLC collaborated with Noynoy in his persecution of Chief Justice Corona. In fact, no proof of AMLC collaboration or its fruits ever surfaced. And none were used in the unconstitutional impeachment of the Chief Justice. That a corrupted and infatuated media had hinted of AMLC collusion should be the subject of a law on media, but not on central banking. 

The fact that the AMLC did not leak any information on former President Arroyo’s bank accounts or those of her husband proves the professionalism of the AMLC. And the perfection of the institutional arrangements That legislators like Lopez, the principal drafter, Lobregat, Lapus and Locsin devised. In spite of GMA and her husband being targets of Noynoy’s vicious media-friendly campaign of vilification, nothing came from the AMLC to prove the government’s case against her. This proves conclusively one of two things.

One, the professionalism and discretion of the AMLC or, two, it was paid off. She must take her pick. 

If the AMLC deliberately refused to divulge the contents of then candidate Duterte’s bank accounts so he could clear his name, that may have been as much to protect the confidentiality of his accounts from the political pressures of a campaign—as to leave him looking guilty. But that must be proved in court under the remedies the authors generously provided in the Anti-money laundering law. Above all, we legislated that the law shall never be used for political persecution. Comes now the case of de Lima. 

The government has deployed the testimonies of every crook in and out of jail against her. If that is not enough to convict her in court, then the witnesses are not convincing truth-tellers. Or convincing liars. 

But we will not allow anyone to shake one of the most solid central banks in the world— run the most ably of any central bank today. 

We will not allow it to be shaken and cracked with the prospect of legislative amendments that may weaken its independence, water down its professionalism, and erode its integrity, thereby paving the way for the Central Bank to become somebody’s private bank. 

We all want to get de Lima, not least for her lousy taste in men and her partiality for certain postures. But it will not do, and we will not allow, the country’s noble house of finance to be burned to the ground just to roast a pig. Anyone who tries to monkey with a perfect law must expect the most savage reaction from those who surely know better how to cook lechon. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.