Posted by: Elmer Brabante | January 18, 2010

Marquez vs. Desierto, GR No. 135882 [January 27, 2001]


LOURDES T. MARQUEZ vs. HON. ANIANO A. DESIERTO, et al.

G.R. No. 135882

June 27, 2001

En banc

FACTS:

In May 1998, petitioner Marquez received an Order from the Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto dated April 29, 1998, to produce several bank documents for purposes of inspection in camera relative to various accounts maintained at Union Bank of the Philippines (UBP) Julia Vargas Branch where petitioner was the branch manager.  The accounts to be inspected were involved in a case pending with the Ombudsman entitled, Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau (FFIB) v. Amado Lagdameo, et. al, for violation of RA 3019 Sec. 3 (e) and (g) relative to the Joint Venture Agreement between the Public Estates Authority and AMARI. The Order was grounded on Section 15 of RA 6770 (Ombudsman Act of 1989) which provides, among others, the following powers, functions and duties of the Ombudsman, to wit:

(8)  Administer oaths, issue subpoena and subpoena duces tecum and take testimony in any investigation or inquiry, including the power to examine and have access to bank accounts and records;

(9)  Punish for contempt in accordance with the Rules of Court and under the same procedure and with the same penalties provided therein.

Clearly, the specific provision of R.A. 6770, a later legislation, modifies the law on the Secrecy of Bank Deposits (R.A. 1405) and places the office of the Ombudsman in the same footing as the courts of law in this regard.”

The basis of the Ombudsman in ordering an in camera inspection of the accounts was a trail of managers checks (MCs) purchased by one George Trivinio, a respondent in OMB-0-97-0411, pending with the office of the Ombudsman. It appeared that Trivinio purchased on May 2 and 3, 1995, 51 MCs for a total amount of P272.1 Million at Traders Royal Bank (TRB) UN Ave. Branch.  Out of the 51 MCs, eleven 11 MCs in the amount of P70.6M were deposited and credited to an account maintained at the UBP.

On May 26, 1998, the FFIB panel met with petitioner Marquez and Atty. Fe B. Macalino at the bank’s main office in Makati City, for the purpose of allowing petitioner and Atty. Macalino to view the checks furnished by TRB. After convincing themselves of the veracity of the checks, Atty. Macalino advised Ms. Marquez to comply with the order of the Ombudsman. Petitioner agreed to an in camera inspection set on June 3, 1998.  However, on June 4, 1998, Marquez wrote the Ombudsman that the accounts in question could not readily be identified since the checks were issued in cash or bearer, and asked for time to respond to the order. Marquez surmised that these accounts had long been dormant, hence were not covered by the new account number generated by the UB system, thus sought to verify from the Interbank records archives for the whereabouts of these accounts.

The Ombudsman, responding to the request of Marquez for time to comply with the order, stated that UBP-Julia Vargas, not Interbank, was the depositary bank of the subject TRB MCs as shown at its dorsal portion and as cleared by the Philippine Clearing House.  Notwithstanding the fact that the checks were payable to cash or bearer, the name of the depositor(s) could easily be identified since the account numbers where said checks were deposited were identified in the order.

Even assuming that the accounts were already classified as dormant accounts, the bank was still required to preserve the records pertaining to the accounts within a certain period of time as required by existing banking rules and regulations.

On June 16, 1998, the Ombudsman issued an order directing Marquez to produce the bank documents relative to the accounts in issue, stating that her persistent refusal to comply with the order is unjustified, was merely intended to delay the investigation of the case, constitutes disobedience of or resistance to a lawful order issued by the office and is punishable as Indirect Contempt under Section 3(b) of R.A. 6770.

On July 10, 1998, Marquez together with UBP filed a petition for declaratory relief, prohibition and injunction with the Makati RTC against the Ombudsman allegedly because the Ombudsman and other persons acting under his authority were continuously harassing her to produce the bank documents relative to the accounts in question. Moreover, on June 16, 1998, the Ombudsman issued another order stating that unless she appeared before the FFIB with the documents requested, Marquez would be charged with indirect contempt and obstruction of justice.

The lower court denied petitioner’s prayer for a temporary restraining order stating that since petitioner failed to show prima facie evidence that the subject matter of the investigation is outside the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman, no writ of injunction may be issued by the RTC to delay the investigation pursuant to Section 14 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989.

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration but was denied.

On August 21, 1998, petitioner received a copy of the motion to cite her for contempt. On August 31, 1998, petitioner filed with the Ombudsman an opposition to the motion to cite her in contempt on the ground that the filing thereof was premature due to the petition pending in the lower court. Petitioner likewise reiterated that she had no intention to disobey the orders of the Ombudsman. However, she wanted to be clarified as to how she would comply with the orders without her breaking any law, particularly RA 1405.

ISSUES:

1. Whether or not Marquez may be cited for indirect contempt for her failure to produce the documents requested by the Ombudsman.

2. Whether or not the order of the Ombudsman to have an in camera inspection of the questioned account is allowed as an exception to the law on secrecy of bank deposits (RA 1405).

HELD:

An examination of the secrecy of bank deposits law (RA 1405) would reveal the following exceptions:

1.  Where the depositor consents in writing;

2.  Impeachment case;

3.  By court order in bribery or dereliction of duty cases against public officials;

4.  Deposit is subject of litigation;

5.  Sec. 8, R. A. No. 3019, in cases of unexplained wealth as held in the case of PNB vs. Gancayco

We rule that before an in camera inspection may be allowed, there must be a pending case before a court of competent jurisdiction. Further, the account must be clearly identified, the inspection limited to the subject matter of the pending case before the court of competent jurisdiction.  The bank personnel and the account holder must be notified to be present during the inspection, and such inspection may cover only the account identified in the pending case.

In Union Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, we held that “Section 2 of the Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits, as amended, declares bank deposits to be “absolutely confidential” except:

(1) In an examination made in the course of a special or general examination of a bank that is specifically authorized by the Monetary Board after being satisfied that there is reasonable ground to believe that a bank fraud or serious irregularity has been or is being committed and that it is necessary to look into the deposit to establish such fraud or irregularity,

(2) In an examination made by an independent auditor hired by the bank to conduct its regular audit provided that the examination is for audit purposes only and the results thereof shall be for the exclusive use of the bank,

(3) Upon written permission of the depositor,

(4) In cases of impeachment,

(5) Upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or

(6) In cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation”

In the case at bar, there is yet no pending litigation before any court of competent authority. What is existing is an investigation by the office of the Ombudsman. In short, what the Office of the Ombudsman would wish to do is to fish for additional evidence to formally charge Amado Lagdameo, et. al., with the Sandiganbayan. Clearly, there was no pending case in court which would warrant the opening of the bank account for inspection.

Zones of privacy are recognized and protected in our laws.  The Civil Code provides that “every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons” and punishes as actionable torts several acts for meddling and prying into the privacy of another.  It also holds a public officer or employee or any private individual liable for damages for any violation of the rights and liberties of another person, and recognizes the privacy of letters and other private communications.  The Revised Penal Code makes a crime of the violation of secrets by an officer, the revelation of trade and industrial secrets, and trespass to dwelling. Invasion of privacy is an offense in special laws like the Anti-Wiretapping Law, the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act, and the Intellectual Property Code.

Ombudsman is ordered to cease and desist from requiring Union Bank Manager Lourdes T. Marquez, or anyone in her place to comply with the order dated October 14, 1998, and similar orders.

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