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SC stops money ban

Comelec accepts ‘end of episode’ The Supreme Court on Friday stopped the Commission on Elections from imposing its widely criticized “money ban” three days before Monday’s mid-term elections. In a status quo ante order issued by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Court prevented the Comelec from imposing regulations that would have limited cash withdrawals to P100,000 a day and penalized the possession and transportation of more than P500,000 in cash from May 8 to Election Day. The Comelec regulations, aimed at discouraging vote buying, were challenged before the Supreme Court by the Bankers Association of the Philippines. The money ban was also criticized by the central bank and the Justice Department, which said it violated bank secrecy laws and constituted a restraint on trade. Sereno, in consultation with other magistrates, issued the status quo ante order, but the resolution will be submitted to the entire bench when the Court resumes session. “A status quo ante order is hereby issued, effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court, ordering you [the Comelec], parties, your agents, representatives, or persons acting in your place or stead, to maintain the status quo prevailing before the issuance of Resolution No. 9688 dated May 7, 2013,” the order said. The tribunal also directed the Comelec to answer the legal questions raised in the BAP petition through a comment within 10 days from receipt of notice. The BAP had argued that the money ban violated the Constitution and “invalidly amended” the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001. The BAP also said the ban violated bank secrecy laws because it would require banks and other persons to look into bank deposit accounts. Amid mounting objections, the Comelec on Thursday amended its resolution to give banks the discretion to waive the P100,000 limit for their regular clients. The amendment failed to win over the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, however, and even President Benigno Aquino III refused to approve the Comelec order. Friday’s order was the latest in a string of legal setbacks that the Comelec suffered at the hands of the Supreme Court. On Monday, the Court stopped the Comelec from expanding the election period liquor ban from two days to five after liquor companies filed a petition against the new rule. Earlier, the Court also overruled the Comelec on its new limits to campaign advertising, its disqualification of 52 party-list groups, and even its order to take down posters in a Bacolod church that the poll agency said violated election regulations. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said he was surprised by the strong reactions against the money ban, and had hoped the amendments announced Thursday would be enough to address those concerns. “We were trying to avoid this [Supreme Court decision], but there it is. This should end this episode on the money ban,” he said. Brillantes, who was an election lawyer before his appointment by President Aquino, said the Comelec had never prosecuted any candidate for vote-buying even though the practice was rampant. “In more than 25 years, nobody has been prosecuted for vote buying,” he said. Still, the poll body would ask the Court for clarification, Brillantes said, saying it failed to consider the amendments issued on Thursday. The BAP lauded the Court decision, saying the Comelec must take into account the rights of depositors. “We welcome the order of the Supreme Court in protecting the rights of our depositors to their funds. The banking industry would like to help in ensuring free and honest elections in the future,” BAP president Lorenzo Tan said in a text message to reporters on Friday. “Whatever policy we come up with must consider the impact on normal course of banking business and the rights of our customers…. The banking industry needs time to prepare for whatever measures Comelec and BSP [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas] imposes on the industry in the future,” Tan said. Lawmakers also welcomed the Supreme Court order. House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said the Comelec had no business interfering with functions of the banking sector. “Vote-buying cannot be resolved by issuing a ‘shallow’ policy that pokes its nose into bank withdrawals. That is not legal,” Suarez said. Opposition lawmakers Isaebel Rep. Rodolfo Albano and Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong also expressed relief over the status quo ante order. “How can you stop vote buying on Election Day just by banning cash withdrawals? That is is ridiculous! And I think the Supreme Court was able to realize that,” Albano said. Datumanong added: “The Comelec was unjust because it presumed that the withdrawal of money is for vote buying without considering that there are other reasons for needing money.” With Joel Zurbano, Julito G. Rada and Maricel V. Cruz
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