Petitioner Marquez received an Order from the Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto, to produce several bank documents for purposes of inspection in camera relative to various accounts maintained at Union Bank, Julia Vargas Branch, where petitioner is the branch manager. The accounts to be inspected are those involved in a case pending with the Ombudsman entitled, Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau (FFIB) v. Amado Lagdameo, et. al.
Section 15 of R. A. 6770, the Ombudsman Act, provides, among others, the following powers, functions and duties of the Ombudsman, to wit:
x x x
(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.
Thus, R.A. 6770, modifies the earlier 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.
Petitioner wrote the Ombudsman explaining that the accounts in question cannot readily be identified and asked for time to respond to the order.
Thus, the Ombudsman issued an order stating that petitioner’s act constitutes disobedience of or resistance to a lawful order issued by this office and is punishable as Indirect Contempt and may also constitute obstruction in the lawful exercise of the functions of the Ombudsman, punishable under R.A. 6770.
Petitioner, together with Union Bank of the Philippines, filed a petition for declaratory relief, prohibition and injunction with the RTC Makati City, against the Ombudsman.
The RTC denied petitioners’ prayer for a TRO.
FFIB Director Agapito B. Rosales filed with the Office of the Ombudsman a motion to cite petitioner for contempt.
Petitioner filed an opposition thereto and 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 R. A. No. 1405.
The Ombudsman panel issued an order for the petitioner and counsel to appear for a continuation of the hearing of the contempt charges against her.
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the above order. However, the said motion was denied.
Hence, the present petition.
Whether 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
An examination of the secrecy of bank deposits law (R. A. No. 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. CA, 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.
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.
The Petition was GRANTED.