The Supreme Court castigated the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) for its alleged cover-up of former first gentleman Mike Arroyo who moved though the banking system millions of proceeds from his irregular sale of overpriced second-hand helicopters to the police in 2009 when his wife Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was president. 

This graft case was thought to have been swept under the rug under the current administration after President Duterte revived Arroyo from her has-been political status and made her House speaker and a trusted political ally.

The Supreme Court upheld the Sandiganbayan’s issuance of a subpoena on the AMLC in connection with the case against Jose Miguel Arroyo over his alleged involvement in the police’s 2009 purchase of overpriced, second-hand helicopters. 

Arroyo is the husband of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was president when the deal was signed. The SC’s Third Division dismissed the petition for certiorari filed by the AMLC that sought the reversal of two orders of the Sandiganbayan junking the AMLC’s motion to quash  and its subsequent appeal. 

The high court said there was no showing that the Sandiganbayan abused its discretion in the two assailed resolutions. “Instead of avoiding compliance with the Subpoena, petitioner must firmly perform its mandate as an investigatory body and independent financial intelligence unit,” according to the ruling penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

Associate Justices Ramon Paul Hernando, Henri Jean Paul Inting, Edgardo Delos Santos and Joseph Lopez concurred. 

The petition is an offshoot of People v. P/Dir. General Jesus Versoza case that looked into the police’s purchase of overpriced, second-hand helicopters in 2009 which were supposedly previously owned by Arroyo, according to the president of aviation firm Lionair. 

Lionair said Arroyo deposited partial payment to its account with Union Bank and this was verified by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). However, the bank official testified that the account was closed in March 2006 and, since five years have passed, the account records have already been disposed. 

The bank official suggested that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or the AMLC may have records of the transactions. 

The Sandiganbayan, upon the request of the OSP, issued a subpoena to Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad, then-secretariat of the AMLC, to testify and produce the said bank records of Lionair but the council moved to quash the subpoena. 

The Sandiganbayan dismissed their motion on March 28, 2017, and their subsequent motion for reconsideration. This prompted the AMLC to elevate the case to the SC through a petition for certiorari.

The petition “mainly argues that AMLC is prohibited by law to disclose the relevant bank records of Lionair” because they are “confidential,” according to the court document. 

Specifically, the Council cited Section 9(c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act. “It explains that Section 9(c) adheres to international standards, which recommend that financial institutions and their officers be prohibited from disclosing covered and suspicious transaction reports, or ‘tipping-off’ that a case is being filed.” 

SC found the AMLC’s argument untenable. It said the AMLC is not among the covered institutions “prohibited from disclosing information on covered and suspicious transactions.”  

The high tribunal stressed that AMLC is “not merely a repository of reports and information on covered and suspicious transactions,” as it was created to investigate the information it has to sue violators. 

“It would be anti-thetical to its own functions if petitioner were to refuse to participate in prosecuting anti-money laundering offenses by taking shelter in the confidentiality provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act,” it added. 

The court also noted that the owner of the bank account, Lionair, submitted its written permission for the examination of its accounts and waived its rights under the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

“Thus, petitioner’s arguments invoking confidentiality should not be an issue, because the owner and depositor of the bank itself had already waived its rights,” it said.