VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Debunking Palace spox Roque’s false claims about the Ombudsman probe on Duterte’s wealth

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Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a Feb. 22 press briefing made several false claims about the Ombudsman’s powers and its investigation on complaints of hidden wealth filed against President Rodrigo Duterte.

STATEMENT

In a press briefing at the Sara Municipal Hall in Iloilo, Roque falsely claimed the Ombudsman has the constitutional power to open “any and all” bank accounts; that it exercised such power during the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona; and that it “junked” complaints of hidden wealth filed against Duterte.

Roque said:

"As far as the Palace is concerned, the Ombudsman has the constitutional power to open and--any and all bank accounts, which it did during the time of impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Nagpapatunay lang po na iyong pagbabasura sa uh- reklamo tungkol sa diumanong tagong yaman ni Presidente PRRD, ay wala pong basehan
(Its junking of the complaint against the president proves allegations of hidden wealth have no basis). No basis in law or in fact.”

Source: Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Press Briefing in Iloilo City, Feb. 22, 2018, watch from 13:26-13:55

FACT

Contrary to Roque’s claim, nowhere in the 1987 Constitution is the Office of the Ombudsman granted the power to open “any and all bank accounts.”

The office, however, may:

“Request any government agency for assistance and information necessary in the discharge of its responsibilities, and to examine, if necessary, pertinent records and documents.”

Source: 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Official Gazette

Public officials, to comply with both the accountability provisions of the Constitution and the law prescribing code of conduct and ethical standards, are required to submit a statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) annually.

The SALN form includes a waiver authorizing the Ombudsman to obtain documents about an official’s assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests and financial connections “from all appropriate government agencies.”

The waiver reads:

“I hereby authorize the Ombudsman or his/her duly authorized representative to obtain and secure from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue such documents that may show my assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests and financial connections, to include those of my spouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age living with me in my household covering previous years to include the year I first assumed office in government.”

Source: The basics: Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, Official Gazette; SALN form, Civil Service Commission

Also contrary to Roque’s claim, the Ombudsman during the Corona impeachment trial in 2012 obtained information on the former chief justice’s bank accounts through the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales told the Senate impeachment court:

“I referred the complaints to the Anti-Money Laundering Council because I thought that the charges included of--some matters that were within the jurisdiction of the AMLC.” (page 12)
***
“I did not source it from the bank, Your Honor. I sourced it from the AMLC.” (page 26)

Source: Record of the Senate Sitting as an Impeachment Court, May 14, 2012, Official Gazette

The Philippines has very strict bank secrecy laws, Republic Act Nos. 1405 and 4262, one of only a few in world where the confidentiality of deposits are legally protected.

Bank transactions beyond P500,000 are considered “covered” transactions and are reported to AMLC.

Finally, Roque misleads in saying the Ombudsman junked the complaint against Duterte.

In a Feb. 15 press statement, the Ombudsman confirmed it terminated its investigation after the AMLC “declined to provide” information vital to the probe:

“The Office of the Ombudsman confirms that the fact-finding or field investigation on the complaints filed against the President was closed and terminated on 29 November 2017 after the Anti-Money Laundering Council declined to provide a report or confirmation on the requested vital data.”

Source: Statement from the Office of the Ombudsman, Feb. 15, 2018

It said such termination does not affect the merits of future complaints should additional evidence surface:

By rule, ‘[a] closed and terminated field investigation is without prejudice to the refiling of a complaint with new or additional evidence.’

Source: Statement from the Office of the Ombudsman, Feb. 15, 2018




Sources:

Radio Television Malacanang, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Press Briefing in Iloilo City

Official Gazette, 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines,

Official Gazette, The Corona Impeachment Trial

Official Gazette, The basics: Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth

Civil Service Commission, SALN form

Senate Committee on Banks, Senate Hearing: New Central Bank Act and Bank Secrecy Law

Statement from the Office of the Ombudsman, Feb. 15, 2018

2016 Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, as amended



(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative.)

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