Small people suffer from the $81 million scam

Jose Galang

Posted at Apr 13 2016 05:22 PM | Updated as of May 03 2016 06:33 PM

Perhaps the perpetrators and other actors in the $81 million robbery conducted through local banks and related intermediaries, along with casino operators and the gamblers, should realize the great difficulties that suddenly befell OFW families and certain small organizations funded with money remitted from sources abroad.

Banks, according to remittance beneficiaries I have talked to, have virtually stopped processing remittances while the monetary authorities are purportedly preparing new rules on fund transfers. If you ask monetary officials, they will promptly say everything is normal and that OFW remittances are not affected by the imbroglio over the money laundering shenanigan.

READ: BSP: USD81-M heist hasn't affected OFW remittances

Joining the fray, say some bank executives, is the government tax agency which suddenly is imbued with a suspicion, the bank executives say, that remittance beneficiaries or sources ought to be paying taxes too.

WATCH: Henares sees possible violations of IR code by Philrem

People in bank branches say that the result of this could be new sets of controls that may be required on remittances. This can only mean clearance documents that remittance beneficiaries across the archipelago will be required to secure from such government agencies as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and others that may suddenly feel they should also examine and approve remittances before they are paid out to the addressees or their bank accounts.

So while the bank executives and casino operators, along with honorable members of the Senate, still find time to giggle at certain acts and nuances declared at the televised hearings, small people in Philippine cities and far-flung barangays whose meager resources can be augmented by remittances from their relatives abroad suffer.

While certain participants in this $81 million robbery can dip into their P5 million retirement funds, OFWs visit their banks daily or await the arrival of delivery people from remittance companies, in the hope of getting the small sums their relatives abroad have sent them weeks ago.

Even small businesses cannot now send dollar payments to their suppliers abroad because of ostensibly newly imposed vetting systems. Think about the impact of that kind of delay on the overall economy later.

READ: How money laundering scam is hurting OFWs too

The amounts that OFW families receive are really “barya” compared to the tens of millions of dollars that were promptly transferred electronically within milliseconds to that Makati branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. early in February.

This situation is actually similar to what often happens in many small companies: when someone commits a mistake or a misdemeanor, the knee-jerk reaction from the manager would be to institute strict controls on operations or reporting procedures. These controls would soon be forgotten and ignored until another anomaly surfaces.

What is going on in the Senate hearings now is only for show. If the honorable members of the Senate really want to know what is going on in banks or in casinos, they could easily send members of their research staff — there are funds allocated in each of the senator’s budgets — and dig up reliable facts. Or perhaps join hands with such agencies as the National Bureau of Investigation.

The so-called “resource persons” who appear at the hearings that are nationally televised (even beamed to other countries serviced by the cable networks) either say they don’t know how the illegal transactions were consummated even if these are under their direct jurisdiction, or mouth incredibly unbelievable statements (perhaps “lies”?) obviously under the direction of their lawyers (perhaps beneficiaries of certain P5 million retirement funds?).

The Senate hearings on the $81 million money laundering scam are no longer useful in aid of legislation. For the criminals acts that were perpetrated in early February yet, some people should now be arrested and booked by the police. Let them explain their participation in the shenanigan in the police interrogation rooms, not in telenovelas hosted by the Senate.

READ: 'Senate's open probe on heist putting PH gains at risk'

Those TV crews assigned to the Senate hearings can play a more positive role in this scandal if they turn their attention to the victims — the small people who go to their banks daily, endure the searing temperature and the traffic, to check out if the remittances they have been waiting for are now payable to them.

Meanwhile, the Bangko Sentral can perhaps send a signal to banks that remittances below certain amounts like, say, P100,000 cannot possibly represent money laundering acts and just allow these to funds to promptly reach their beneficiaries. As to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), come on, it’s not wise to sweat on the small fry — focus more on the violators with big bucks and their lawyers..

These remittances will become increasingly crucial to the lives of the OFW families in the coming weeks as the enrolment season for the coming schoolyear unfolds. For a family with meager resources, nothing could be more devastating than not having the money to pay for enrolment fees of students on which the future of the family is anchored. Think about the sentiments of the OFW toiling abroad whose earnings lie idle in a Philippine bank and fails to satisfy a need in the family.

For sure, the current virtual freeze on remittances will be a big negative mark for the Aquino administration in the minds of OFWs and their families. If not handled properly, this could even translate to votes away from administration bets in the May elections.

Finally, let us hope that OFW families will not turn to riots — as often happens in other countries — as a result of their desperation from this cruel situation. The perpetrators of this $81 million robbery should be the ones despairing in jail.

INFOGRAPHIC: $81M heist: The money trail