PH in peril of landing anew on FATF watch list

By Butch Fernandez, BusinessMirror

Posted at Sep 18 2012 09:52 AM | Updated as of Sep 18 2012 07:49 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senate leaders vowed to give their “best efforts” to pass before adjourning sessions late this week an amending bill expanding coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla) to avert putting the Philippines back on the watchlist of the Paris-based global regulator Financial Action Task Force.

The FATF, which is set to meet anew on October 15, is expected to review, among others, the level of implementation of anti-money laundering laws and regulations by so-called non-compliant countries before including them in a watchlist, which could trigger delays in foreign currency remittances and letters of credit.

“We will try our best [to pass the amending bill before the FATF meeting],” Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, principal sponsor of the third Amla amendment, told reporters as senators prepared for their Monday afternoon session to tackle the bill.

The Philippines was earlier upgraded from the FATF’s dark gray list after Congress passed two Amla bills: listing terrorist financing as a predicate crime and allowing authorities to freeze suspected bank accounts without a court order. But the FATF subsequently sought passage of a third amendment to expand coverage of the law to include jewelers, realty firms, securities traders, preneed companies and adding tax evasion as a predicate crime.

Guingona indicated they could meet a self-imposed deadline to pass the third Amla amendment demanded by FATF even if Congress goes on recess from September 22 to October 7 as there is still enough time to do this when the Senate reconvenes session on October 8.

“I cannot say if we will be downgraded again, or not,” he told BusinessMirror. “It will depend on how the FATF will see what we are doing now to pass the bill. We hope they will see that we are giving it our best efforts.”

He disclosed that only Senator Joker Arroyo and Senator Manuel Villar have so far manifested intentions to raise clarificatory questions when the Amla bill is taken up in plenary.

Guingona expressed confidence that the Senators can approve the bill when the Senate resumes sessions next month, way before the FATF’s October 15 meeting in Paris.

In a closed-door caucus last week, administration and opposition senators agreed to tackle the third Amla bill in plenary starting this Monday.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile earlier gave assurance that senators would act on the measure, despite misgivings by some senators over some of its provisions.

“We will try our best to do everything that we have to do. But we cannot rush things. We have to study these bills. We have to scrutinize the things that we do here and let the judgment of the people be on us,” Enrile said. “We are not brought here to engage in a popularity contest. We are brought here to do our work for the people according to our best lights.”

He added, “All I can say is, we have already done what we have to do; and there’s a third bill that is being debated.”

Enrile said some of his fellow senators “approached me and talked to me about the introduction of additional predicate crimes like tax evasion. My God! Tax evasion is a function of an entire bureaucracy. That’s’ the BIR. They [already] have plenty of powers to run after tax evaders.”