By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

In a statement to media, EastWest admitted  one of its female branch officers was missing and that funds were missing but the amount involved was “negligible.” 

The Bank also said the incident was “isolated” but system-wide safeguards were added to guarantee that the incident is not repeated in other branches.

The Bank added it was conducting its own internal investigation separate from the probe being conducted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

A member of the House of Representatives, Party-list Rep. Nina Taduran, said in a radio interview that the amount involved was in the hundreds of millions and involved the accounts of two depositors, one of who was a former lawmaker.

Unconfirmed reports said the amount was in the vicinity of PHP450 million (US$9.37 million) and the former lawmaker alluded to was former senator Jinggoy Estrada. Since the bank involved is in San Juan, which for many decades was considered the fiefdom of former president Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada.

The BSP admitted that an investigation was necessary in light of reports of “unauthorized transactions relayed by some of the country’s lawmakers and reported by media.”

While refusing to name the bank manager and the affected depositors, the Bank nonetheless said, “We have been in touch with the two affected depositors. They have been informed that an internal investigation is ongoing and that we will credit back to their account the amount taken.”

EastWest Bank is owned by the family of Andrew Gotianun, one of the country’s Chinese-Filipino taipans.

A private commercial bank listed in the stock market, shares of EastWest fell by 1.5 percent on Thursday last week when news of the missing funds first came out.

EastWest added that it “has been among the Top three most profitable banks in the country in the past four years.”

The Bank said it expects to post a net income of PHP7 billion (about US$145.8 million) for 2020 despite the effects of the global pandemic. The expected income is higher than the PHP6.2 billion (US$129 million) earned in 2019.

For its part, the BSP said the Philippine banking system remains in good shape as it “adheres to robust and globally adherent regulations for managing risks, including operational and cybersecurity risks.”

The central bank said there was no need for now to call in the Philippine National Police or the National Bureau of Investigation to take part in the probe.

The most recent scandal involving the Philippine banking industry occurred in the middle of last year, when two of the country’s three biggest banks were implicated in the sudden closure of German payments company Wirecard.

Low level employees of Banco de Oro and the Bank of the Philippine Islands were found to have forged documents with signatures of senior bank officers. The fake bank certificates stated that billions of dollars entrusted to Wirecard had been put into escrow in the two banks.

The biggest scandal involving local banks remains the case involving Bangladesh’s central bank wherein US$81 million in funds were withdrawn from its account in New York state and routed to a local bank in 2016. Most of the funds were withdrawn from the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and Bangladesh has sued the bank before a US court to try and recover the funds.

That case remains pending.