MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has lifted the five month-long freeze order on the bank accounts of businessman Roberto Ongpin and several of his co-accused in the allegedly behest loans extended to him by the Development Bank of the Philippines.
In a press statement, the former Marcos trade minister said the 5th Division of the Court of Appeals lifted the freeze order it issued last December 6, 2012 against the bank accounts because “the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), through its counsel the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) ‘failed to prove its case’.”
The resolution was promulgated on May 7, 2013.
Citing the ponencia of Justice Leoncia Real Dimagiba, Ongpin said the court reasoned that “bank accounts are property rights and prolonged freezing thereof will already amount to intrusion, even violation of such basic rights.”
Last April 15, 2013, Ongpin’s lawyers elevated the matter to the Supreme Court where they filed a petition for mandamus, believing that the Court of Appeals should have resolved the various motions to lift the freeze order within the original 20-day period, in accordance with the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
On the 20th day after the freeze order was issued, however, the Court of Appeals extended the freeze order for six months without resolving the various motions to lift filed by the bank account holders.
Ongpin’s lawyers pointed out that the OSG and AMLC have been given three public hearings to establish their case.
“But to date — more than five months since the freeze order was originally issued — no link to an illegal activity has been shown,” Ongpin said.
The Court of Appeals ruling added: “In all the accounts we have caused to be frozen pursuant to our December 6, 2012 resolution, we failed to see the links between the alleged unlawful activity and the accounts. We cannot rely on surmises and speculations. We need direct and hard evidence, otherwise we will be depriving the account holders of the use of their legitimate incomes.”
The controversy stems from two loans totaling P660 million granted by the DBP to Ongpin in 2009 to acquire shares of Philex Mining Corp. The shares were then sold to tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan for a profit, and the DBP loans were retired ahead of schedule, earning for the state-owned bank P1.9 billion in profit.
However, critics of Ongpin, led by Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, alleged that the transactions were behest because it was approved rapidly and without giving DBP enough safeguards against possible default — a charge Ongpin denied.