AuthorBianca Cuaresma, Butch Fernandez and Jovee Marie de la Cruz
DateJULY 01 2021
THE Philippines needs a “whole-of-government” approach to secure its delisting from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) so-called “grey list,” the Central Bank chief said on Thursday, as lawmakers sought to fast-track necessary legislation when Congress resumes session later this month.“It must be emphasized that accomplishing the action items should be the concern of the entire country. A whole-of-government approach is imperative as evident in the Philippines’s National Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) Strategy for 2018 to 2022 (NACS),” Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) chairman Benjamin Diokno told reporters in a briefing.The international watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) earlier released its so-called “grey list” or the list of jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies in their regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing.The list comprised 22 jurisdictions, with four new entrants for this year including the Philippines, Haiti, Malta and South Sudan.The Philippines was placed under a 12-month observation period by the FATF in October 2019, following the country’s evaluation of money laundering safeguards. This observation period was extended until February 2021 due to the pandemic. However, the Philippines failed to complete the required standards and was eventually grey listed by the internationalorganization.The BSP governor, however, gave assurances that government is “on top of the situation” in pulling the country off of the list.Let me assure you that the NACC is on top of the situation. Even prior to the FATF Statement on the Philippines, the NACC met and all agencies involved have committed to accomplish the 18 action items within the timelines given,” Diokno said, referring to the National Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Coordinating Committee. “All relevant agencies will work unceasingly to ensure our compliance,” he added.The governor earlier said the Philippines will likely be delisted from the FATF grey list “on or before” 2023. He also said the Philippines will report its progress to the FATF thrice a year — January, May and September; the first report will be this September.The Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies on Thursday asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to render a report on Philippine efforts to get out of the “grey list.”Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the committee, sought a report from AMLC to update senators on the situation so as to assess options to craft remedial legislation, if needed, in order to “get off the grey list.”She said senators expect “a substantial update from the AMLC on the concrete steps and direction we are taking to ensure progress on our compliance.”Poe recalled that the AMLC itself earlier acknowledged that Congress already “did its part in resolving the technical deficiencies of the law by amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla).”She noted that passing the necessary amendments to the law was “one of the requirements under the mutual evaluation report which was duly met.”Stressing that the Amla reforms are vital in protecting the earn ings of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the senator said, “we should not make it difficult for our OFWs to send hard-earned money to their loved ones,” adding that “they must be spared of undue costs and delays in their remittances.”Citing BSP reports, Poe said total money sent by Filipino migrant workers from January to April this year reached $9.9 billion, higher by 4.8 percent than the $9.4-billion remittance inflows in the same period last year.Meanwhile, Poe pointed out, however, that inclusion in the grey list does not automatically subject the Philippines to countermeasures, as the AMLC earlier said.Nonetheless, she said, the country needs to substantially comply with the needed reforms within a given time frame to avert the financial sanctions.Poe recalled that earlier, Governor Diokno was reported to have committed to work with the FATF and the Asia Pacific Group toward the timely implementation of the action plans.The country’s financial intelligence unit had vowed to resolve the remaining strategic deficiencies, which are down to 18 from 70, to be stricken off the grey list.Meanwhile, a leader of the House of Representatives pressed Congress to immediately pass the bill amending the decades-old bank secrecy law, when session resumes on July 26.Deputy Speaker Bro. Eddie Villanueva of CIBAC Party-list championed House Bill 8991 seeking to amend Republic Act 1405 or “the Secrecy of Bank Deposits” law, by promoting transparent governance and installing anti-corruption mechanisms in the operation of banks.The bill authorizes BSP to inquire into or examine bank deposits in the course of its investigation of closed banks, in such instances when there is reasonable ground to believe that fraud, serious irregularity, or unlawful activity has been committed.“With the rapid technological advancement in our banking sector, we should now amend our existing bank secrecy law to give powers to the BSP to inquire into the nature of bank deposits to prevent corruption, money-laundering and even terrorist financing,” he said“Our existing legal framework not only benefits and encourages those unscrupulous individuals to use the confidentiality of bank deposits as cloak for their fraudulent acts, it also damages the integrity of our country in the international financial markets. This weakness discourages foreign investment in the Philippines and increases the cost of cross border business transactions,” Villanueva added.For his part, House Committee on Ways and Means Joey Sarte Salceda said that for as long as the bank secrecy law remains absolute, the country’s financial monitoring and anti-money laundering regime will remain suspect.The Committee on Ways and Means has already passed in principle the General Amnesty Act with an attached provision relaxing the Bank Secrecy Law for those who will avail of the amnesty.The committee also approved the Anti-Bulk Cash Smuggling Act, which would penalize the unauthorized carrying of large quantities of cash and cash equivalents, and which would update disclosure requirements on the cross-border transport of cash.“My committee has also appealed to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and to private banks to help ease monitoring of revenues and transactions of legitimate e-sabong industry players by allowing them to deposit in banks, which would subject them to the reach of our anti-money laundering laws,” he said.