AMLC always at "WAR": Aquino

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Jun 28 2012 05:01 PM | Updated as of Jun 29 2012 07:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) landed in the headlines when its report on then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona's bank accounts became a key focus of the impeachment trial.

AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino did not testify during the trial, but his report on Corona's accounts was revealed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales when she testified at the Senate.

Now, weeks after the impeachment trial's conclusion, Aquino finally broke his silence on the matter.

"Actually, this case is history and it's better this be laid to rest. I don't want to reopen any old wounds but all I can say for the record is that I will validate the report that I submitted to the Ombudsman. That's all I can say," he said on ANC's Inside Business, Wednesday evening.

Aquino still kept his lips sealed on details of the report, only saying it was based on information from banks and other financial institutions.

At "WAR"

With the impeachment trial over, Aquino said more people are expected to ask the AMLC to look into suspicious transactions, especially those involving public officials.

"We expect a lot more people seeking our assistance but you know AMLC is always at WAR - willing, able and ready - to implement the AMLA and relevant rules and regulations," he said.

The Philippines recently avoided being included in the Financial Action Task Force blacklist of non-cooperative countries, after President Aquino signed two laws amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

The first law, "An Act To Further Strengthen The Anti-Money Laundering Law," authorizes the government to look into suspicious bank accounts, even without the consent of depositors. The other law "The Terrorism Financing Prevention And Suppression Act of 2012" criminalizes the financing of terror groups.

The FATF, an international body promoting policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, even upgraded the Philippines from the “dark grey list” to its “grey list.”

"I consider the FATF not blacklisting the Philippines and even moving it back to grey list is actually a recognition or acknowledgment that the Philippines addressed the majority of the action plan items... There's a caveat, a strong warning the Philippines is strongly encouraged to enact the remaining AMLA amendments bill pending in Congress," Aquino said.

A third AMLA amendment measure seeks to expand the number of "covered institutions and persons" who are required to submit covered transaction reports and suspicious transaction reports to the AMLC, is still pending in Congress.

"It is our hope that this 3rd bill, which is still pending in Congress would become law before October," he said.

Aquino said there may be sanctions from the FATF if this third AMLA amendment is not passed.

"It's not a threat, but it's reality on the ground...Based on our experience during the period (when the Philippines was on the blacklist), there were a number of banks that complained could not open or continue to maintain branches or other representative offices abroad because members of FATF have imposed sanctions on Philippines through financial institutions," he said.

Other effects of being on the FATF blacklist were higher remittance fees for overseas Filipinos and increased scrutiny of transactions, Aquino said.

More manpower needed

Aquino anticipates a need for more manpower and resources for the AMLC after the passage of the AMLA amendments. The council currently has 104 employees and an annual budget of P10.5 million.

"The AMLA amendment includes broadening the scope of money laundering as a crime and increasing the number of predicate crimes - tax evasion, bribery, malversation of public funds, human trafficking and environmental crimes and extending the coverage of AMLA to other reporting entities such as casinos, dealers in precious metals, even lawyers and accountants... That's why we need more resources for this," Aquino said.

Despite their limited resources, the AMLC has, to date, frozen over P3 billion worth of "dirty money".

"Of which P1.4 billion, we helped return or recover for victims. We have ongoing civil forfeiture actions and the total amount involved is about P1.3 billion. We had turned over to the national government - not a single centavo going to AMLC coffers - P247 million of dirty money," he said.

Since money laundering is usually connected to crimes such as kidnap-for-ransom, corruption and drugs, the AMLC chief admitted they have received a fair share of threats.

"But we have to soldier on. It's our mandate to run after money launderers and the perpetrators of predicate crimes to money laundering," Aquino said.