Bill outlines penalties for cryptocurrency crimes

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SENATOR Leila M. De Lima has filed a bill seeking to impose stiffer penalties for crimes involving cryptocurrencies.

Under Senate Bill No. 1694 filed on Feb. 14, all crimes defined under the Revised Penal Code (RPC), when committed through and with the use of virtual currency, will have a penalty one degree higher than provided in the RPC.

The bill also proposes that the gravity of the crime be based on the value of the virtual currency in Philippine peso, as determined by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) at the time of the commission of the crime.

Ms. De Lima said the criminal justice system must be prepared for the possibility that virtual currencies will be used illicitly as these instruments become more popular.

“With the emerging threats of its use in the commission of crimes, our penal laws must adapt with the changing times and our criminal justice system must come prepared in the event that this is used in illegal activities,” she said in a statement Tuesday.

“Due to its anonymous or pseudonymous character, law enforcement agencies may encounter difficulty in tracing the user or owner of a virtual currency used in the commission of crimes, thereby necessitating a higher penalty for its use,” she added.

Aside from the proposed penalty, the bill also states that the government may order the confiscation and forfeiture of the virtual currency used in the crime, unless it was owned by another person not liable for the unlawful act.

Ms. De Lima said illegal activities involving virtual currency include “estafa where unscrupulous individuals entice unsuspecting people to purchase fake bitcoins, sending a virtual currency as payment for child pornography or a public officer agreeing to perform an act in consideration of payment in bitcoins.”

“Since virtual currency resemble money, the possibilities are endless,” she said, adding that other crimes may include money laundering and terrorist financing, among others.

According to the BSP, a virtual currency is “any type of digital unit that is used as a medium of exchange or a form of digitally stored value created by agreement within the community of virtual currency users.”

Based on research conducted by Cambridge University, there are between 2.9 million and 5.8 million persons actively using virtual currency wallets.

The use and trade of virtual currencies are legal in countries such as Japan, United States, United Kingdom and Italy. Meanwhile, these are banned in China, South Korea, Bangladesh and Bolivia. — Camille A. Aguinaldo