Golez pushes bill hastening forfeiture of assets unlawfully acquired

TO heighten the war against corruption, there is need to further strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman to maximize its ability to resort to asset forfeiture by enabling it to freeze assets in a timely manner, a lawmaker stressed.

“The ultimate objective is to be able to freeze the proceeds of graft and corruption before they are dissipated and eventually lost. The people are the real losers,” Rep. Roilo Golez stressed.

Golez is author of HB 847 which seeks to strengthen the forfeiture powers of the State, amending for the purpose certain provisions of Republic Act No. 1379, otherwise known as “An Act declaring forfeiture in favor of the State any property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee and providing for the proceedings therefore.”

HB 847, referred to the Committee on Justice since 2010, “target the very incentive for the commission of corrupt acts – like, the proceeds.” It also provides that the Ombudsman may grant immunity from criminal prosecution to any person who testifies to the unlawful manner in which the respondent has acquired any of the property in question in cases where such testimony is necessary to prove violations of the Act.

By following the money (trail) and making it impossible for the perpetrator of corruption to avail of the benefits of his/her criminal act, the law, principally through the Office of the Ombudsman, hopes to “disincentivize” corruption,” Golez said.

Notwithstanding the numerous anti-corruption laws, government is losing some P280-billion annually to corruption, according to the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project.

“This money could have otherwise been allocated and used for the country’s educational, health, and other basic needs,” Golez pointed out.

R.A. 1379 on asset forfeiture is an example of a good law that the country has passed to curb public sector corruption. Indeed, asset forfeiture has been regarded as a potent anti-corruption tool, both locally and internationally, as it targets the very proceeds of the crime.

“However, any delay in the seizure of these assets will provide a window, no matter how narrow, for the same to be dissipated and placed beyond the reach of the law enforcers,” Golez laments, adding that at his point, the once potent tool that is asset forfeiture is immediately rendered inutile.

Among other proposed amendments to R.A. 1379, the author wants three new sections inserted to the statute as follows:
1) SEC. 3.PRESUMPTION: Failure of a Public officer or employee to file a Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth pursuant to Section 8 of R.A. 6713 within thirty days from date of assumption to office shall be prima facie evidence that said public officer or employee has no property, asset or business interest to declare at the beginning of his/her service.
2) SEC. 4.PRIMA FACIE UNLAWFULLY ACQUIRED PROPERTY: Whenever any public office or employee has acquired during his incumbency amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income and the income from legitimately acquired property sources, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.
3) SEC. 5. FREEZE ORDER: When it appears upon the filing of the complaint provided for under section 2 of this Act that an unlawfully acquired property or properties exist as defined under Section 4 herein, the Ombudsman may, motu propio or upon motion of the complainant, issue a freeze order on the aforesaid property or properties which will be valid for not more than three (3) months.

Penalties against erring public officer or employee ranges from six years to 15 years imprisonment, perpetual disqualification from public office and confiscation or forfeiture in favor of the government of any prohibited interest.

The Golez bill also provides that “the same penalties shall be imposed upon any person who shall knowingly accept such unlawful transfer or conveyance. Any such conveyance shall be void as initio.”

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