PH may remain in FATF list despite new AMLA law

By Prinz P. Magtulis, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 15 2013 08:43 AM | Updated as of Feb 15 2013 07:20 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines could still be blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) when it meets next week, officials said, even as President Aquino is scheduled to sign into law vital amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) of 2001.

“We have already met majority of the requirements. But nothing is certain. We really hope for the best,” Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) officer-in-charge Julia Bacay-Abad told reporters last Tuesday.

The ratified bill, which expanded covered institutions and predicate crimes to money laundering, arrived at President Aquino’s desk yesterday and will be signed “before the scheduled FATF meeting,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a text message.

FATF will hold its General Assembly in Paris, France from Feb. 20 to 22.

During the meeting, AMLC officials will try to convince the international watchdog to remove the country from the grey list of nations seen non-compliant to global anti-money laundering standards.

Failure to do so would mean the country being blacklisted resulting into higher costs and delays in remitting money and in other financial transactions.

“At this early in fact, we are already receiving reports from some OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) of difficulty to send money to their families here,” Bacay-Abad said.

“Nothing is more important now than us being removed from the grey list,” she added.

Bacay-Abad explained the country can no longer be downgraded to “dark grey list” similar to the case last year before FATF lifted the country’s status in June, following the passage of two other AMLA amendments.

These are Republic Act 10167 and 10168 which allowed AMLC to scrutinize “suspicious” bank accounts without depositor’s consent and criminalized terrorist financing activities, respectively.

The agency then took note of the Philippines’ “high-level political commitment” to address AMLA deficiencies during its October meetings.

For his part, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) assistant governor Vicente Aquino said it will be “very difficult to predict what will happen” during the meetings. Nonetheless, he is “hopeful” FATF will recognize Philippines’ efforts despite some shortcomings.

Aquino, who until recently served as AMLC executive director, noted provisions making tax evasion a predicate crime and putting casinos under AMLC scrutiny were left out in the approved bill.

“This is the best measure we can get at the moment. I hope this best will be enough,” Aquino said.