MANILA, Oct 29 (Mabuhay) – The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division has allowed with finality the opening of the bank accounts of pork barrel scam primary whistleblower Benhur Luy and the other witnesses in the supposed multi-billion anomaly.
In a resolution issued on October 24, made available to the media only on Wednesday, the court upheld its earlier ruling dated August 22, granting the motion filed by the lawyers of Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the multi-billion pork barrel fund scam, to issue subpoena on the bank accounts of Luy, his mother Gertrudes Luy, as well as those of whistleblowers Merlina Suñas and Marina Sula.
The Fifth Division refused to heed to the motion for reconsideration filed by the prosecution last month asking the court to overturn its original ruling, for “lack of merit”.
“The motion for reconsideration and to quash/recall the subpoena duces tecum… on the bank account transactions and all other bank records of Benhur K. Luy, Gertrudes Luy, Merlina Suñas and Marina Sula is hereby DENIED for lack of merit,” the court said in its ruling.
The court retained the power of the subpoena earlier issued to the following banks where Luy, Gertrudes, Suñas and Sula are deemed to have accounts:
Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI)
Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company (Metro Bank & TCO)
United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB)
Metrobank Card Corp.
Banco De Oro Unibank Inc. (BDO)
Land Bank of the Philippines
Philippine Savings Bank (PS Bank)
The court likewise reaffirmed the granting of Napoles’ request to issue subpoena on the Land Registration Authority (LRA) for the records of real property under the names of Luy, Suñas and Sula, as well as to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for the records of registered vehicles and travel history, respectively, also of Luy, Suñas and Sula.
The court, however, partially overturned its earlier ruling by excluding from the issuance of subpoena the bank accounts of Luy’s father Arthur as well as the accounts of a certain Abegail Umali, which were both included in Napoles’ original motion.
The court ruled to recall the subpoena issued on Arthur and Umali bank accounts as it cannot find any connection of the two to the non-government organizations (NGOs) where the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) of the accused Senator Jinggoy Estrada was allegedly coursed through.
“There being none, the motion to quash the subpoena as regards the said individuals should be granted,” the resolution said.
In its motion for reconsideration filed on September 5, the prosecution said the disclosure of the whistleblowers’ bank records and transactions violates provisions of Republic Act 1405 also known as the Bank Secrecy Law.
The prosecution also argued that the request for subpoena addressed to LRA, LTO and BI was unnecessary as Luy, Suñas and Sula are not the accused in the case.
Luy, in an urgent motion to quash subpoena filed on September 10, also invoked his confidentiality rights as depositor under the Bank Secrecy Law.
He also said that Rule 132 Section 3 of the Revised Rules of Evidence “provides for the right of a witness not to be examined except only as to matters pertinent to the issue,” which he said is ill-gotten wealth allegedly acquired by the accused, Estrada.
Luy reportedly has 19 bank accounts as he admitted in previous hearings.
However, in its final ruling, the Fifth Division said that while the prosecution was right in asserting that the whistleblowers are not the accused in the plunder case, the case’s litigation “necessarily involves an inquiry into the whereabouts of the amount purportedly acquired illegally by the accused.”
“We agree with the prosecution that the depositors-witnesses are not the accused in the instant case. We, however, find that the monies of the depositors-witnesses in the bank accounts subject of the subpoena can be considered as subject matter of the litigation,” the resolution signed by Fifth Division chairman Associate Justice Rolando Jurado and members Associate Justices Alexander Gesmundo and Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta said.
The court also said that under Article III Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution, “the rights of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.”
The court added that Article II Section 28 of the same Constitution states that “…the State adopts and implement a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”
“Considering that the travel history records or records of real property registered under the name of Benhur K. Luy, Marina C. Sula and Merlina P. Suñas, are public records which are received by the government agency – the LRA, LTO and BI – in the conduct of its affairs… the request for the issuance of subpoena duces tecum over the said records of is hereby justified,” the court said.
The Napoles camp had filed a similar motion to subpoena the bank and property records of Luy and the other whistleblowers before the First and Third Divisions of Sandiganbayan but it was denied by both courts.
Napoles is co-accused in plunder and graft cases against Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile.
The three allegedly diverted their PDAF or pork barrel to the fake NGOs supposedly owned by Napoles in exchange for commissions or kickbacks.
The Fifth Division is handling the plunder and graft cases against Estrada while the First and Third Divisions are handling the cases against Revilla and Enrile, respectively.
Estrada and Revilla are detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center while Enrile is detained at the PNP General Hospital, both inside Camp Crame.
Napoles, meanwhile, is being detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Female Dormitory in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig.
The Napoles camp has been pointing out that Luy and the other whistleblowers were the ones who pocketed money from the supposed scam as it was to their bank accounts as officials of the NGOs where millions worth of pork barrel funds of lawmakers were deposited. (MNS)