Rule of Law: A Law that Results in Injustice?

law injustice judicial system philippines

A Law that Results in Injustice?

By Atty. Greg B. Austral

Is there a law that results in injustice? 

The answer is in the affirmative.  It happened once when the depository bank of a person who was convicted of a crime invoked the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Law to deny the execution of a money judgment in favor of a 12-year-old victim.

The strict application of our bank secrecy laws once ran into conflict with a 12-year old girl’s struggle for redress of a wrong committed by a foreigner in the case of Karen E. Salvacion vs. Central Bank of the Philippines, China Banking Corporation and Greg Bartelli, G.R. No. 94723, August 21, 1997.  Greg Bartelli y Northcott, an American tourist, coaxed and lured petitioner Karen Salvacion, then 12 years old to go with him to his apartment. Therein, Greg Bartelli detained Karen Salvacion for four days, or up to February 7, 1989 and was able to rape the child once on February 4, and three times each day on February 5, 6, and 7, 1989. On February 7, 1989, after policemen and people living nearby, rescued Karen, Greg Bartelli was arrested and detained at the Makati Municipal Jail.  The policemen recovered from Bartelli the following items: 1.) Dollar Check No. 368, Control No. 021000678-1166111303, US 3,903.20; 2.) COCOBANK Bank Book No. 104-108758-8 (Peso Acct.); 3.) Dollar Account — China Banking Corp., US$/A#54105028-2; 4.) ID-122-30-8877; 5.) Philippine Money (P234.00) cash; 6.) Door Keys 6 pieces; 7.) Stuffed Doll (Teddy Bear) used in seducing the complainant.

Criminal and civil cases were filed against Bartelli.  In the civil case, the court granted the application of Salvacion for the issuance of a writ of preliminary attachment.  However, when the Sheriff served the Notice of Garnishment on China Bank, the latter invoked R.A. No. 1405, R.A. No. 6426, and Section 113 of Central Bank Circular No. 960 to the effect that the dollar deposits or defendant Greg Bartelli are exempt from attachment, garnishment, or any other order or process of any court, legislative body, government agency or any administrative body, whatsoever.

In resolving the case, the Supreme Court noted that an injustice would result if the bank secrecy laws invoked by the bank would be strictly applied, thus:

“Here is a child, a 12-year old girl, who in her belief that all Americans are good and in her gesture of kindness by teaching his alleged niece the Filipino language as requested by the American, trustingly went with said stranger to his apartment, and there she was raped by said American tourist Greg Bartelli. Not once, but ten times. She was detained therein for four (4) days. This American tourist was able to escape from the jail and avoid punishment. On the other hand, the child, having received a favorable judgment in the Civil Case for damages in the amount of more than P1,000,000.00, which amount could alleviate the humiliation, anxiety, and besmirched reputation she had suffered and may continue to suffer for a long, long time; and knowing that this person who had wronged her has the money, could not, however get the award of damages because of this unreasonable law. This questioned law, therefore, makes futile the favorable judgment and award of damages that she and her parents fully deserve.”

“It is worth mentioning that R.A. No. 6426 was enacted in 1983 or at a time when the country’s economy was in a shambles; when foreign investments were minimal and presumably, this was the reason why said statute was enacted. But the realities of the present times show that the country has recovered economically; and even if not, the questioned law still denies those entitled to due process of law for being unreasonable and oppressive. The intention of the questioned law may be good when enacted. The law failed to anticipate the iniquitous effects producing outright injustice and inequality such as the case before us.”

In the words of Thomas Jefferson as quoted in Salvacion, “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths are disclosed and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. . . We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Our bank secrecy laws in the Philippines were enacted for noble objectives.  These laws were definitely relevant and important at the time when they first took effect.  At present times, however, these laws now encourage corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and other criminal activities.  It is now high time to re-examine these laws and amend the same to make it relevant to the present realities.

(For comments and suggestions, please email to law@universityofbohol.edu.ph.)

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