Senators on Wednesday raised concern over the additional powers being requested by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to counter the financing of terrorist organizations and the illegal flow of money in the Philippines.
The Senate bank committee discussed the AMLC’s requested powers as part of the proposed amendments to the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act, as recommended by international watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela said the evaluators found that the Council lacked the necessary powers to investigate money laundering and terrorism funding activities despite existing laws designating the financial intelligence unit for such functions.
“And so part of the report or the recommended actions is to give the AMLC the right authority or power to fully conduct investigation with regard to these money laundering and terrorism financing,” Racela explained.
He said that AMLC sought to be granted the authority to subpoena any person or compel their attendance to produce information, books, papers, documents, data or other relevant information or objects, and to give statements under oath in relation to its investigative powers.
“Those who refuse a subpoena without justifiable cause or who refuse to supply the AMLC the requested information shall be subject to punishment for contempt in accordance with the provisions of the rules of court,” he said.
Racela also mentioned that under the new Anti-Terrorism Act, the AMLC is part of the Anti-Terrorism Council and is authorized to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists upon the finding of probable cause.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, appealed to the Senate panel to review further this proposal as this could be abused.
“While legislators are generally supportive of any measure which will prevent the use of our financial system by money launderers, we must be careful that such powers, falling in the hands of wrong person, can be used for harassment,” Drilon said.
“That is why on issues like [this], we must be certain that certain powers are only for the purpose of achieving the purpose of the law and cannot be used in anyway to harass people,” he added.
Senator Grace Poe, banks committee chair, admitted that the request was “a pretty broad power for the AMLC” since it no longer needs court authority to carry out such functions.
Senator Imee Marcos also raised an eyebrow on the proposal to allow the AMLC to prohibit the issuance of injuctive relief against freeze orders and forfeiture proceedings by the courts and to have the authority to preserve, manage or dispose assets.
“Sobra-sobra naman yata, very massive overreach na yata ito (This is excessive, a very massive overreach),” Marcos said.
Drilon agreed, saying: “That is why, madame chair, we hope that we be given more time to review this very — this provision because we have to see and analyze these. First, are these judicial powers which are sought to be exercised by the AMLC, and number two, what safeguards are there to make sure that it is exercised properly.”
Atty. Marlyn Angeles of the Department of Justice said that the agency is open to granting the AMLC additional powers, but “subject to certain safeguards” due to its possible impacts.
On the issue of allowing the AMLC to manage assets which have been seized, this has been issue in the previous seized, the concern here is that if there are properties which have been seized and the case is still pending, the value of the property will dissipate and the property wil deteriorate so in effect it will not be that effective,” Angeles said for instance.
The Senate committee was tackling the Senate Bills No. 1412 and No. 1545 filed by Poe and Marcos, respectively, both seeking to strengthen the AMLA.
President Duterte earlier certified the measure as urgent following warnings from government finance managers that the Philippines might be included anew in “grey-listed” or the high risk and non-cooperative countries if it fails to implement reforms during the 12-month observation period set by the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG).
The FATF extended the deadline for its observation period from October 2020 to February 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, Poe asked the AMLC to submit a report on the results of its implementation of the AMLA.