Anti-graft court orders AMLC to open records for Jinggoy Estrada defense

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan overruled objections by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to its February 21, 2017, ruling that would give former Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada's legal team access to the records of its investigation into the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

The Sandiganbayan resolution, dated June 13, overruled a number of AMLC objections. Among the arguments dismissed by the court was that of records being protected by the bank secrecy law. Estrada's lawyers had wanted confidential materials, internal communications among AMLC officials, and details of non-suspects' bank deposits to be presented in court.  

Associate justices Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega, Rafael Lagos, and Reynaldo Cruz did not raise new arguments because the concerns raised by AMLC in its motion for reconsideration were previoulsy resolved in an earlier resolution.

The only issue that remained was whether the defense was able to identify particular correspondences, communications, and documents it wished produced.

The court explained: “The subpoena duces tecum of the accused requests for specific documents regarding the investigation conducted by the AMLC in the so-called PDAF scam. Considering that the accused has no access to the documents sought, it is impossible for him to describe or identify the same with particularity."

The AMLC told the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division previously that compliance with the court directive could mean violating confidentiality and legal restrictions on disclosure.

The AMLC added that private bank accounts covered by ongoing investigations may be affected if their details are revealed ahead of time.

Estrada's legal team sought the submission of copies of “memoranda issued regarding and touching upon the inquiry/ies of the AMLC on the bank and other financial transactions of Ms. (Janet) Napoles including other related accounts of the latter.”

The defense is looking toward those records to challenge the regularity of AMLC investigations. Estrada holds that opposition lawmakers, including himself, were singled out to be investigated and prosecuted on allegations of irregularities in releasing millions from their PDAF allocations.

The AMLC argued, however, that some of the documents they wanted produced had information about people who had little or nothing to do with Estrada’s plunder and graft cases. The AMLC said doing so would prematurely reveal that the AMLC is investigating other people.

Accounts which aren't part of any litigation are protected by confidentiality rules under the Bank Secrecy Law or Republic Act 1405.

The Sandiganbayan ruled the defendant has the right to access information which could help prove his innocence, and this right would trump the bank secrecy law.

“The need for the documents and his (Estrada’s) right to compulsory process outweigh the claims of the AMLC to confidentiality, irrelevancy, and generality, specially taking into account that the crime charged is grave in character that may result in deprivation of constitutionally enshrined rights,” the court said. –