Finance Professionals as Partners in Fighting Corruption


Share on facebook
Share on twitter

On the Occasion of the 8th Controllers / Accountants Summit

Edsa Shangri-La, Mandaluyong City

July 20, 2016

Maraming, maraming salamat po.

Thank you very much. Please take your seats. A very pleasant good noon to one and all. I feel a little guilty that I’m somewhat delaying or derailing your lunch for today. It’s already 12:30. But I think you can take your lunch while listening to me.

You know, I’d rather engage in an interactive dialogue, and I’d rather answer questions in a Q&A. But I think I need to deliver my prepared speech to sort of give the context of any questions that you may want to ask me. And may I just say, please don’t get waylaid by the information given to you just because I worked in the tax division of the SGV for good three months,yes, while waiting for the Bar results. I took the Bar in 1985, November. The Bar results came out in May of 1986, and 1985 is the Bar, November 1985. So I got bored waiting for the Bar results because in the meantime, EDSA Revolution happened in February. So there was a bit delay in the release of the results. So na-bore na po ako sa probinsiya. And a friend of mine working in the tax division of SGV encouraged me to join SGV. But you know, my grade in Taxation Law happen to be the lowest. But I learned some when I worked at SGV because I was tasked to draft some tax opinions for three months.

So anyway, for starters, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank, express my sincerest thanks to those of you, I know that perhaps some, or most of you voted for me. I just can’t say that all of you voted for me. It might be too presumptuous for me to say that. Maraming, maraming salamat po. It was tough for me because, you know, I was a neophyte candidate. I never did that before, very, very limited resources, and I never even had any experience prior to that, not even in the local elections. But I made it against all odds. So maraming, maraming salamat po from the bottom of my heart.

I’m immensely privileged and humbled to have been given this opportunity to speak before you today. I want to thank and congratulate the National President of PICPA, Mr. Ramonito Pernato. I was imagining a very cute gentleman because of his first name—Ramonito. You’re still a cute gentleman, sir. Honorable Concordio Quisaot, Member of the Board of Accountancy. Hi, I met you, of course, a few minutes ago. Ms. Cynthia Molina, the President of ACPACI, nice talking to you also earlier. [Congratulations] for holding this 8th Controllers / Accountants summit.

This provides a venue where you can share your insights and best practices—and by so doing, improve your ability to advance the cause of the institution you belong to.

I also like to commend your organization for selflessly serving the marginalized sectors of our society. I hear that you are engaged, of course, in Corporate Social Responsibility, which includes projects such as scholarship programs and medical missions.

Kahanga-hanga ang inyong mga inisyatiba. Hindi lang kayo nagtatrabaho para pagbutihin ang inyong propesyon, pamilya at institusyon, kundi pati na ang kabuhayan ng ating kapwa Pilipino.

On behalf of our countrymen, thank you very much for your generosity. For me, you are not just certified public accountants, but also, certified public servants.

And this happens to be my first formal speaking engagement since I took my oath last June 30. So I’m now a full-pledged Senator and this is the first event that I’m delivering a speech. Knowing well how meticulous this audience of experts is, I must admit: In preparing this speech, I made sure to get my facts straight because I’m a bit afraid you might audit me.

Kidding aside, I am glad that your organization has chosen integrity and transparency as this year’s theme, as these are also close very advocacies of mine. I know well that being an accountant is no easy task. It is your job to make sure that every single peso is accounted for in the institutions you serve. Each of you are intimately familiar with the process, and yet this does not detract from the way you painstakingly perform your work. It is not just about balancing data or figures that matter.

Noong nasa Gabinete pa ako, ang sabi sa amin: dapat may kuwento sa bawat kuwenta.

You know, the former President, si PNoy, is so meticulous when it comes to data and figures. So as a member of his Cabinet, all of us in the Cabinet, we would not dare cite figures and statistics if we’re not sure about the accuracy of those figures and if we are not prepared to defend those figures whenever we’re subjected to questioning by him during the Cabinet meetings. And he studies very well figures and statistics, especially in the NEP, the National Expenditure Program or the proposed budget for Congress. Sobrang metikuloso ang dating Pangulo pagdating sa mga numero.

You understand how important transparency is, and you know well that integrity must be a cornerstone of your profession. After all, the work you do directly contributes to the financial health and efficiency of institutions across the public and private sectors. Whether or not you perform your responsibilities, you have a direct impact on the lives of our countrymen.

For example, I am sure everybody here is familiar with the issue of the Bangladesh bank heist, a crime many consider as the biggest money laundering scandal in the country. This was caused by falsifying documents and making untruthful statements to conceal certain processes within the bank, which might have contributed to the conditions that allowed money laundering to take place. It is a serious cause for concern since a large amount of dirty money entered the country’s financial system, despite the safeguards provided by the AMLA [Anti-Money Laundering Act] and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Finance professionals such as yourselves have a significant role to play in preventing these kinds of incidents. Pero alam din natin: May mga accountant na nakikipagkuntsaba sa ilang mga indibidwal at opisyal ng gobyerno para maghokus-pokus ng mga libro. Imbes na sila ang maging kasangga natin laban sa katiwalian, sila pa mismo ang nagiging kasangkapan para pagtakpan ang mga nakaw na yaman.

These days, the question does not revolve solely around direct complicity in illegal activities. Just a few days ago, I am told that the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants—maybe you’re very familiar with this—recently released new standards to guide accountants who discover a potential illegal act committed by a client or employer[1]—everything from violations of environmental regulations to money laundering, to corruption.

Sa modernong panahon, mas moderno na rin ang paraan ng mga abusado at magnanakaw. Iniimbita ko kayong pag-aralan ang mga nasabing pamantayan upang magabayan kayo sa pagtugon sa mga anumalya at maling transaksyon. Ang hamon sa atin: Maging katuwang tayo sa paglaban sa korupsyon, itama ang mali, at panagutin ang mga tiwali.

The firms you belong to have similar codes of ethics in place. The point is: like me, your profession likewise deals with public welfare and public trust. Rest assured that with the mandate given to me by the Filipino people, I will push for legislative measures that will strengthen anti-corruption efforts, criminal and social justice system, and protect human rights.

I will do my utmost to bring to the Senate our collective agenda in fighting corruption as this hampers the ability of a government to serve its people. In fact, one of the first bills that I filed two weeks ago was the Bank Secrecy Law Amendments. The anti-corruption thrust and constitutional mandate for accountability and integrity is defeated when government officials and employees are able to hide their ill-gotten wealth and anomalous funds by invoking the absolute confidentiality to bank deposits as provided in the Bank Secrecy Law.

I believe that no person who serves in government should have the opportunity to breach or abuse this mandate, or be promised a shield from accountability in the commission of crime. With our proposed amendments, we seek to remove the exemption of government officials and employees from bank scrutiny. I am confident that once the bill is passed, this will significantly lessen attempts of accumulating ill-gotten wealth.

As we strive to make it more difficult for the corrupt to hide the money they have stolen from the people, so too do we want to enhance Filipinos’ ability to actively participate in the fight against corruption. Thus, of course, I will also be pushing for the passage of the Freedom of Information Law that will ensure access to public documents and information and enable them to hold accountable the government for any irregularity or wrongdoing. This is the core of transparency, accountability and participatory governance. With the passage of this law, the government will also be able to take citizen engagement to a whole new level.

Integrity, accountability, and true respect for the Filipino people and their rights are necessary components for good governance. Since I have been in the Department of Justice, I have sought to reform our criminal justice system. Certainty, swiftness and severity of punishment for heinous crimes underlie my social justice and anti-crime advocacy—without the necessity of death warrants.

Amid calls to reinstate the death penalty, I filed a bill introducing a new penalty of imprisonment: qualified reclusion perpetua for heinous crimes. I believe that capital punishment is discriminatory to the poor. It is unchristian, and despite what its proponents want you to believe, the imposition of the death penalty has not been shown to prevent crimes. There are very credible studies from experts on that. Malinaw po sa ating lahat: Hindi na maibabalik ang buhay na nawala, kahit na yung mapatunayang walang kasalanan. And mind you, our justice system still has a lot of gaps and pitfalls, and therefore, it is susceptible to grievous wrongs and cases of miscarriage of justice. Our objective is simple: fix first our criminal justice system to ensure swift delivery of justice.

It is with this fundamental principle that I also filed a bill which aims to streamline and strengthen the process of criminal investigation.

Just think: Cases languish in Philippine courts for an average of eight to 10 years. The ideal period for resolving cases is only one to two years. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), in 2013, lower courts were continuously confronted with heavy volume of caseload, with an annual average of over a million cases or equivalent to an average of around 4,221 cases per working day.[2]

Under this proposed bill, we will expedite and improve the administration of the criminal justice system in the country. The investigating law enforcer and the investigating prosecutor shall work hand-in-hand in investigating a crime. Dito po kasi sa atin, yung mga prosecutors natin akala nila judges sila. You know, they’re so hesistant. Ayaw nila na tinutulungan ang mga imbestigador sa case-building. That’s not how it is in other jurisdictions. That’s why the criminal justice system in other jurisdictions, particularly, the United States, are far more efficient than ours. Improvements in the investigation, prosecution, and litigation of crimes in the country will greatly benefit the whole judicial system.

Related to this: in response to calls from some sectors to lower the age of criminal liability—leading to more and more of our children in jail, I have also filed an Anti-Criminal Exploitation of Children bill, which clearly defines the criminal exploitation of children, and impose higher penalties for all crimes involving them. This is in recognition of the rising incidence of children being used and exploited, no less by their parents in some instances.

Sa katunayan, dahil sa kasakiman, may mga magulang na sila mismo ay ibinubugaw ang sariling anak.

Let’s not punish the children. Let’s punish the predators, the criminal syndicates, and even their parents, but not the children, because the children—even if they are also criminals—are actually victims.

Children are among the most vulnerable in society; they are helpless because of their total dependency. Many of them are coerced to be instruments in unlawful activities. Minors should be guided and rehabilitated, not jailed. Instead of viewing the children themselves as the problem, we must protect their psychological and physical well-being. This proposed Anti-Criminal Exploitation of Children law will protect our children from the true predators, who take advantage of their vulnerability. Let us take care of these children, and give them the opportunity to change their lives—to perhaps become as successful as you someday.

Moreover, I also filed a bill abolishing the penalty of imprisonment in libel cases, as it constitutes a prior restraint upon the people’s freedom of expression—even if I, myself, is the usual target, especially those rabid and vicious attacks on social media, which I call the black or the dark side of social media. I would still work for the protection of the media profession. However, because libel cannot go completely unpunished in cases of malicious remarks that damage the honor and reputation of private individuals, we propose to increase the existing fine as a penalty—and ideally, a deterrent—for offenders.

Others in the pipeline of my legislative agenda include strengthening of Witness Protection Program, whistleblowers’ protection, new Code of Crimes, and the setting up of proper framework for faster and cheaper internet.

Moreover, I will also propose a Proceeds of Crime Act or POCA. This aims to trace, restrain, and confiscate proceeds of serious, organized, or economic crimes, thereby immediately isolating the criminals from the fruits and instruments of their crimes. This proposed bill will provide a scheme that allows confiscated assets to be given back to communities, to police, and judiciary to prevent and reduce the harmful effects of crime. Proceeds of Crime Act, particularly, the proceeds are the fruits of crime of big criminal syndicates, including drug trafficking syndicates, human trafficking syndicates, syndicated estafa, etcetera.

With these bills, as well as with your help and support, I will not let those who plan to circumvent the law make a fool out of us.

Walang sinuman ang dapat mangibabaw sa batas. Anumang pang- iinsulto, pambabatikos at paninira sa aking pagkatao ang gawin ng ilan para ilihis tayo sa tunay na mga isyu, mananatili akong nakatutok sa trabaho ko bilang mambabatas.

With your steadfast solidarity and constant encouragement, I know I will be able to serve the public on a higher capacity. There is no formula to be followed, no arithmetic to be memorized, but just our conscience and shared convictions to direct us in uplifting the welfare of our countrymen.

Tiwala akong kasama ko po kayo sa panig ng tama at katwiran. Magtulungan po tayo. For the nation to continue moving forward, everyone must do his and her part. No matter what profession we hold, no matter what status in society we are in, we are all called upon to serve with integrity and accountability.

I look forward to working with each of you for the achievement of our dreams. There is no doubt: With our solidarity, faith, and compassion for one another, we can turn our shared goals into a reality. I am confident that the success we have accomplished together is only the beginning, and that we are on our way towards a brighter, more just, and more inclusive future.

Maraming salamat po.

[1] Accountants%E2%80%99-Ethical-Role-Laws-Regulations. Date last accessed 19/07/2016.

[2] nscb. Date last accessed 19/07/2016.

Office of Senator Leila de Lima
Rm. 502 & 16 (New Wing 5/F) GSIS Bldg., Financial Center, Diokno Blvd., Pasay City

Trunk Lines:
(632) 552-6601 to 70 local no. 5750

Direct Lines:
807-8489 / (Rm. 16) 807-8580 /local 8619

© 2019 Office of Sen. Leila de Lima. All rights reserved.