MANILA - Senate President Franklin Drilon on Tuesday explained why local casinos were given a free pass when Congress was weighing a tougher law against money laundering in 2013.
This, after the recent discovery of what could be the single largest money laundering activity in the country, involving $100 million of proceeds from criminal activity that were funneled into several local banks and casinos
The alleged "dirty money" was brought into the country's banking system, sold to a black market foreign exchange broker, transferred to local casinos, sold back to the money broker, and moved out to overseas accounts in a matter of days.
The Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) does not cover casinos and Internet gaming.
Speaking to radio dzMM, Drilon said the AMLA was amended after the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body, threatened in 2012 to blacklist the Philippines unless it assumed greater powers to examine non-bank accounts, including casinos.
But the House and state regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) argued that inclusion of casinos in the amendments would deter investors.
Drilon said this triggered lengthy debates and almost caused Congress to miss the deadline set by the FATF.
Time constraints forced lawmakers to pass the changes to the 2001 statute without covering casinos, Drilon said.
"Doon sa amendments, hindi lang casino ang ating isinasama, kundi may ilan pang mga institusyon na dapat ipasok. Kung hindi natin naipasa ang batas, mas marami tayong red marks sa Financial Action Task Force," Drilon said.
"Mas masama ang record natin kung mas marami tayong hindi naisama. Ang ginawa natin, kung ano man ang posible, ginawa natin para hindi tayo maisama sa graylist."
Inclusion in the FATF blacklist of deliberately non-compliant states would have made it difficult for millions of migrant Filipino workers to send money home and invest abroad.
Drilon said they pleaded with FATF for an extension to pass additional amendments for gaming dens.
The 17th Congress, he said, would prioritize this.
WATCH: Reforms in anti-money laundering law pushed
Drilon also denied that strong lobbying by PAGCOR influenced Congress in giving a free pass to casinos.
He also stressed that he was the original author of the AMLA, and he has no vested interest in game houses.
The Senate's passage of the AMLA came five weeks before the opening of Entertainment City, a $4 billion Manila casino complex aimed at rivaling Macau, Las Vegas and Singapore as a gaming hub. -- With a report from Agence France-Presse