What is Money Laundering?

by Marisa Lerias

Posted at Jun 30 2012 01:40 AM | Updated as of Jun 30 2012 06:28 PM

Isn't it ironic that laundering, an act associated with cleanliness, can be a terrible crime? Children are taught the importance of doing the laundry in order to stay healthy and clean. Sorry kids but its not at all the same when it comes to money. Anything that is not rightfully acquired will always remain filthy regardless of the transformations that it has undertaken.

I did an experiment and asked a tricycle driver if he knew the meaning of money laundering. A blank stare was all I got. I asked the cashier of a department store the same question. She just smiled and giggled as she reached for my credit card to swipe it. Now, what do I make of that? I guess it was my turn to have a puzzled look on my face. Frankly, I was getting upset at the results of my experiment. Just before writing this article, I picked up my mobile phone and called my 16 year old son to see if he could give me a sensible answer. It is a rather unusual question for a mother to ask on the phone so his immediate response was a very clear "Huh?". When it sank into him that I was being serious, he gave me a very precise answer. He said "Money laundering is the process of making illegally obtained money legal". Then he goes on to say "But, I don't know how they do it". Guess what, son? I don't either.

My limited comprehension tells me that money laundering is already the second crime committed by anyone who has been accused of such. It is done by crooks in order to cover up a previous illegal act. I find it sad that we need to strengthen our anti-money laundering laws. This only means that many get away with illegal (mis)deeds on the first round. If I compare this to a softball game (I played the game quite well in high school), the batter made it to first base and the fielders need to do all they can to prevent him from making it back to the home plate. This would mean a score for the enemy and safety for the batter. I played pitcher or first baseman (alternating) on the field so my aim was to never allow that batter to set foot on first base or, better yet, go for a strikeout. The more strikeouts the pitcher achieved, the better chances there were of keeping the playing field free of undesirables.

Immediately after the impeachment, Sen. TG Guingona made a move to strengthen the anti-money laundering law. The good senator is true to his campaign promise to fight corruption if elected into office. Since the start of his term, he has diligently carried out his duties as Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee. As a legislator, he coninues to establish laws that can be effectively used against these criminals and hopefully deter others who continue to consider corrupt ways to enrich themselves.

I will not pretend that I fully understand the processes of real estate banking, conversion of cash into stocks or bonds, foreign currency transactions, establishing "dummies" to cover up true ownership, the buying and selling of lavish homes, posh condominium units and a multitude of club shares. Apparenly, this is how dirty money gets laundered. Like dirty clothes, it gets hung dry for all to see. Hence, there is a need to freeze assets or what I prefer to call a blatant display of ill-gotten wealth.

I hold nothing but admiration for those who have managed to reach this level of comfort in life from honest work, hard labour or a remarkable business acumen. But, to those who seek comfortable living by taking away what rightfully belongs to others and prey on the poor, I urge you to find your conscience.

We have seen the bigwigs prosecuted. We've impeached a Chief Justice, pursued erring Generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and jailed two Presidents. What makes it so difficult to challenge the rest of the corrupt people down the line? Little fish turn into big fish if their appetite is constantly fed. The legislators can only do so much but the people can do a lot more.

Some call it witch hunt, vendetta and persecution. I call it vigilance, justice and vindication. Let us all do our share to prevent crooks from making it to first base. The example has been set at the highest level in the echelons of power. We should find a way to make this trickle down to barangay level. It is not enough to say NO to corruption. I believe we have been empowered to do something about it. We, the people, should take up the challenge and act on it.

As for me, its time to put on my softball cap once again and play pitcher. Let's play ball! Opponents be warned that it won't be as easy to make it to safety this time. I will do my best to stike you out. In the event that you make it to first base, I am certain that there are fielders out there who will prevent you from scoring a point.


Marisa Lerias is originally from Southern Leyte and currently works with the Philippine office of British Airways. She is also part of the core group of Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.

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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.