June 5, 2012
Senate oks AMLA amendments
Senate Bill No. 3009, which seeks to allow the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to inquire into bank accounts without the depositor's knowledge, and at the same time allow the courts, other than the Court of Appeals to issue freeze orders, was approved on second reading Monday night and is expected to be approved on third and final reading later this afternoon.
Under Republic Act 9160 (otherwise known as the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001), the depositor must be notified when the AMLC applies for authority to inquire into any bank deposit suspected of being used to fund terrorist activities.
According to Senator Franklin Drilon, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, the proposed amendment to the Anti Money Laundering Act (SBN 3009) "will correct an earlier decision by the courts when it ruled that the Anti-Money Laundering Council, when it applies for authority to inquire into a bank deposit, must notify the depositor."
"If you notify the depositor, the next minute, he will withdraw all those accounts. That to me is totally wrong. The authority to inquire into a bank account is nothing different from a search warrant. When you apply for a search warrant, you don't notify the owner of the place where you're going to search. This is what we seek to correct in this amendment," Drilon added.
Filed and sponsored by Chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee on Anti-Money Laundering Amendments Sen. Teofisto "TG" Guingona III and Sen. Sergio Osmeña III and co-sponsored by Drilon, the bill authorizes an ex parte inquiry order of bank accounts--which means notices and hearings are not required to be given to the account holder.
"SBN 3009 will authorize the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to examine bank accounts considered suspicious, without prior notice to the suspected individuals," Guingona said, adding "it will also allow courts other than the Court of Appeals to issue freeze orders."
Earlier, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa informed Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that the Philippines had been downgraded from the grey list to the dark grey list for its failure to enact the AMLA amendments into law last year.
The Philippine government, Ochoa said, would be blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) unless it meets its May 2012 deadline. FATF is an inter-agency governmental policy-making body tasked to combat money-laundering and anti-terrorist financing.
If blacklisted by the FATF, Philippine-based transactions would face increased scrutiny which could result in higher transaction charges and delayed remittances of Filipinos working abroad.
The Senate began consultations on SBN 3009 last December. It can be recalled that the Chamber deferred approval of the proposed amendments last March due to a memorandum of agreement between the AMLC and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
According to Enrile, going after suspicious accounts and sharing any information gathered with the BIR is legal, for as long as the rights of individuals and other institutions will not be abused.
"I am not against the collection of correct taxes. They can go after the account if they want. I am however, concerned about the impact of any government act like this on the liberties of the people and on the privacy of business enterprises," Enrile said, adding "we might have opened ourselves to bigger problems had we complied with the FATF without seriously studying all the amendments to the AMLA."
"While we don't take kindly to any organization placing sanctions on us just because we are not conforming to their deadline, we are aware that the AMLA is a priority measure that we needed to act upon, and this we were able to accomplish even in the midst of the impeachment trial," Enrile added.
The approval of the bill provides a renewed edge and vigor in the country's campaign against money-laundering and terrorist financing. In a previous statement, Guingona said that with SBN 3009, "the government can now actively run after those who seek to destroy the country's financial credibility and economic development through illegal means such as trafficking in persons, bribery, counterfeiting, frauds and other illegal exactions, malversation, forgery, environmental crimes and terrorism and its financing."
The approval of SBN 3009 proves to be the latest development in a series of proposed bills addressing the need for greater security and financial stability. A similar bill, House Bill 4275, was filed in the House of Representatives last March while Sen. Edgardo Angara has sponsored the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act, also known as SBN 3127, in the Senate last February. (Yvonne Almirañez, PRIB)
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