$81M tattler no show at SP probe

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$81M tattler no show at SP probe

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A key figure in the amazing tale of an $81 million bank deposit in a local bank by a top government official failed to attend the Sangguniang Panlalawigan proceedings on Wednesday even as media personalities, recognized on the floor during the hearing, condemned the spread news item as “purely a case of irresponsible journalism”.

Atty. Salvador Diputado, editor-in-chief of the local weekly, Bohol Times, tagged as the source of the $81 million yarn failed to attend the SP committee of the whole meeting to shed light on “a news item imputing that an official of the Provincial Government of Bohol has an $81 million deposit on a certain bank in Bohol”.

Diputado, in a letter sent to Vice Governor Concepcion Lim, SP Presiding Officer, a day before the committee hearing, expressed regrets that he could not attend the hearing due to “a very important engagement” in Manila.

Another committee meeting will be called by the SP to “give opportunity to the media practitioner concern to explain his side regarding the issue”.

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According to SP Committee of the Whole Report No. 2016-01, initial discussions by the committee found that the “news item” referring to the $81M deposit appeared in the facebook account of Diputado and in his column printed in Superbalita of Cebu.

The dollar account story was also discussed in “Cuentas Claras”, hosted by Diputado allegedly involving a priest who got a glimpse of the amount after a bank teller accidentally handed the passbook to him bearing the name of a top provincial government official, according to the SP report.

Fr. Patricio Galon, parish priest of Nuestra Señora De La Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) in Songculan, Dauis, who testified during the SP meeting belied the allegations triggered by Diputado’s facebook post and column in Superbalita that he was the source of the leak.

Galon reiterated his categorical denial of the incredible story that he was the source of the leak that went viral over social media.

According to SP Report No. 2016-01 on the $81M hearing, Galon belied the claim of Diputado in his column in Superbalita of SunStar Daily in Cebu that his sister saw the passbook of the provincial official and told him of the staggering amount.

Galon told the SP that her sister died a long time ago, according to the SP report.

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Diputado had a different tack in his Superbalita column pinning the blame of the sister of an unnamed priest as the source of the leak while in his facebook account, a priest whom he did not identify divulged the information to the public.

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Appearing in the SP hearing were Geline Uy Pacana, Area Business Head, Metrobank Bohol and President of the Bohol Bankers Association (BBA), Deo Butawan, branch manager of the Bank of the Philippine Island (BPI) and BBA spokesperson, Doris Bargayo and Karen Jean Maslog, branch managers of the Philippine National Bank and China Banking Corporation respectively.

Also present were Michael Ligalig, Ardy Batoy and Dave Albarado of the Bohol Tribune, Ric Obedencio of the Bohol  News and Rey Tutas of The Bohol Chronicle.

Bank officials “categorically confirmed the non-existence of such amount in their respective banks”.

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The bank officials explained that the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) is very strict and is closely monitoring huge accounts which must be reported immediately to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) under pain of dismissal and filing of criminal charges against bank employees and officials.

Butawan also told the SP that “it is unlikely and close to impossibility” that an individual or a corporate entity “could have an $81M or closely P3.8B account with a certain bank in Bohol”.

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According to Butawan in his testimony “in all dollar account passbooks, the dollar sign is not reflected thereon but marked FCD (Foreign Currency Deposit) while some use codes for identification”.

“It is hard for an ordinary depositor who is not familiar with banking procedures and transactions if such account is in dollars or whatever”, Butawan testified.

Media practitioners present during the hearing roundly denounced the alleged story as “baseless and unfounded” saying that “in media, printing and broadcasting a news without verifying its source has no room in responsible journalism”.

According to the SP report on the proceedings, media who were recognized to have the floor “called for an in depth investigation on the said issue to determine if there was a violation of the code of conduct of media practitioners”.

“Discipline should be imposed if necessary to those who does not conform with responsible journalism as contained in the rules of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the Publishers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PAPI)”

They also deplored the unfortunate but galling issue that “unnecessarily and unfairly drag all media practitioners here in Bohol and put in a bad light the bank officials in Tagbilaran and unfairly cause suspicion to all provincial officials of wrongdoing.

The SP sitting as a committee of the whole moved to open up discussions on the $81M issue after 3rd District Board Member Elpidio Jala filed a manifestation on July 17, 2016 expressing deep concern over “issues that tainted the integrity of the provincial officialdom”.

Jala stressed that the SP “should not be a silent bystander since we are all considered suspects unless the depositor is identified”.

Jala moved that the “author of the information be called to clarify the issue and identify the depositor to the Committee of Whole”. (Chito M. Visarra)

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