POSTSCRIPT /April 3, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Bank defies court order to return P92M deposit

DEPOSIT HOSTAGE: Are the courts all the way to the Supreme Court helpless in enforcing their rulings when a giant bank decides to ignore their order to return the money of a disgruntled depositor? On whose side is the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas in cases like this?

We are asking, because a reputable Makati-based unibank refuses to return more than P92 million in corporate deposits to a legitimate account owner, a company listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange.

The venerable bank is now claiming confusion supposedly about the instructions of the courts, including the Supreme Court. This excuse, however, may just be the banks’ befuddlement over diligent banking practices.

The situation stemmed from a classic ownership dispute between two feuding groups. In such matters, any prudent bank must freeze the account and file an interpleader case to protect itself as well as the eventual court-determined legitimate account owner.

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BANK REFUSAL: In the case of this unibank still holding over P92 million in corporate deposits, the bank neglected to file the interpleader or freeze the account until after more than P102 million had been disbursed to what later turned out to be the “wrong” group.

This bank’s Chief Executive Officer ignored not only a Makati RTC order back in 2006 that declared which group was legitimate, but also disregarded the series of letters from the “wronged” group pleading for the freezing and protection of the account.

Only after the proverbial horse had escaped, did this otherwise respectable unibank finally freeze what was left of the raided corporate deposits and file belatedly the necessary interpleader case.

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COURT DECIDES: Six years of litigation transpired, including a subpoena to the unibank’s multi-awarded CEO, who was grilled by the RTC judge for two hours as to his lack of action and the bank’s negligence.

The RTC eventually decided that the “wronged” party is indeed the rightful account owner, and ordered the unibank to pay over P100 million in damages, representing the amount that its negligent officers released to parties determined by the court to be bogus, but who had already received and enjoyed the funds.

Consistent with this decision, the court also declared the “wronged party” to be the true and legitimate owner of the remaining funds, now down to over P92 million — and still being kept frozen by the unibank.

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FINAL SC RULING: In a separate case involving the same feuding parties, the Supreme Court, to which the matter was elevated, decided with finality the legitimacy of the group that happened to be the same party “wronged” by the unibank.

The SC also ordered the bogus group to account for and return all the millions it had siphoned out since 2004 from the account of the legitimate corporate owner, a publicly-listed company.

On the remaining P92+ million, a sheriff recently appeared at the unibank’s plush Makati office with a Writ of Execution for the deposits’ release to the rightful and court-determined representatives of the account’s corporate owner.

The unibank refused and even now seeks “clarification” despite the fact that the court already decided in favor of the “wronged” party. The unibank reportedly chased after the aggrieved legitimate depositor to settle up with a very substantial amount that the unibank had already disbursed, albeit to the impostor group.

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QUID PRO QUO: Now why would this unibank, one of the oldest in the country, quickly offer to settle an over P100-million judgment stemming from funds it no longer has, because it mistakenly and through lack of diligence, disbursed them to the wrong parties?

Yet, the same unibank refuses to give back to a corporate account owner its own deposits in spite of a court order to do so. Not contented with its continuing freeze, it does not even want to disclose to the legitimate depositor how much is left in its account!

Apparently, the quid pro quo for the proffered settlement was the withdrawal of an administrative complaint filed by the wronged party at the Banko Sentral, aimed at the unibank’s CEO, now retired, for violations of some provisions of the General Banking Act.

There is a likelihood that unless the unibank releases the P92+ million to the SC-determined owner, the bank’s new CEO may also face a similar complaint at the Banko Sentral.

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UNCANNY TIMING: In the Senate, there was the uncanny timing of the Yellow Ribbon committee in rushing the announcement of its report on its inquiry into the P10-billion pork barrel scam to which three senators had been linked.

Even before the committee report could be signed by a majority of the members, its summary was announced Tuesday after it was alerted that the Office of the Ombudsman was about to announce its readiness to file pork-related plunder and other charges against the three targeted senators.

The key respondents are opposition senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla, together with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles who has been in the hospital for tests and possible surgery.

The termination of the Senate hearing could mean that the committee has done enough in aid of destroying the reputation of the opposition senators in preparation for the filing of charges.

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COORDINATION: The close timing of the twin moves in the Senate and the Ombudsman raised speculation that there was some coordination. The Senate would have looked awkward holding on to its unsigned committee report while the Ombudsman was already filing the charges.

The draft Yellow Ribbon report would have looked laughable and irrelevant. That would have been all right if the committee did not intend to report its finding of probable cause (not its job) and to recommend filing of charges.

The committee may be able to salvage its partisan reputation if it concentrates instead on recommending remedial legislation, its main task.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 3, 2014)

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