THE Pasay City Prosecutor is indicting a Filipino who was recently linked to the laundering of millions of pesos in foreign currency. He is being charged for not declaring the amount of money he brought into the country last September.

A document dated Feb. 24 obtained by reporters on Friday from the Department of Justice (DoJ) Office of the City Prosecutor of Pasay City, said that the court finds probable cause to file charges against Simon John G. Rodriguez. The resolution of the Pasay City Prosecutor states that Mr. Rodriguez “allegedly failed to declare possible bundles of money” worth $700,000 or over P35 million.

“After examination of the bundles of money at the Conference Room, NAIA Customs Building, an inventory was conducted and revealed the total amount of Seven Hundred Thousand US Dollars (USD700,000.00),” the resolution said.

Mr. Rodriguez was found “violating Section 1401 (e) of R.A. 10863 (Customs Modernization and Tariff Act or CMTA) in relation to BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) Circular No. 308 series of 2001 under R.A. 7653 (New Central Bank Act).”

BSP Circular No. 308 states that those who enter or leave the Philippines must declare in writing that they are transporting foreign currency worth over $10,000.

Mr. Rodriguez and his family are alleged to have served as mules for laundering millions of pesos, as revealed by Senator Richard J.Gordon at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday. Mr. Gordon said that Mr. Rodriguez and six members of his family were discovered to have brought in $633 million in cash from various Asian countries over the course of seven months.

The seven Rodriguezes have been subpoenad by the Senator to appear before the next Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the matter on March 12.

Meanwhile, the Department of Finance (DoF) has asked Congress to give the law “more teeth” when it comes to examining suspiciously large sums of money coming into the country by lifting “stringent bank secrecy laws.” This after lawmakers raised concerns over the P19.7 billion ($389.6 million) in foreign currencies that entered the country for alleged money-laundering activities.

“They do this because they can. Our laws have no teeth to investigate and prosecute these activities effectively. We don’t have enough tools to know where all this money is going, without being hamstrung by stringent bank secrecy laws,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in a speech during the Bureau of Local Government Finance’s oath-taking of local treasurers on Friday.

Mr. Dominguez said the country’s anti-money laundering law remains “weak” as tax evasion and other financial cases do not fall under the list of “predicate crimes” where the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) could look into the suspected bank accounts with a court order.

“This leaves us powerless in going after tax evaders and other criminals using funds for other illegal activities,” Mr. Dominguez added.

Later that day, he said at a press conference that bringing in large amount of currencies into the country is “not illegal” as long as these are declared, so he asked the legislators to pass a law that will strengthen safeguard measures against this.

“So you want to make it illegal, we are sworn to implement all the laws that are in the country, but we cannot implement things that are not in the law or else we will be accused of over-stretching,” he said.

“If people are concerned, pass a law, we will implement. You don’t want POGOs (Philippine offshore gaming operators)? Pass a law,” he added.

He said the $389.6 million which legislators have raised concerns about is equivalent to the volume traded in the foreign exchange market for three hours, considering an average of $1 billion of currencies traded per day.

“I’m not saying it’s not big, but you have to put it in proportion of what is the total foreign exchange being traded every day, it is equivalent to three hours of trading, roughly. I’m not saying it’s not dangerous, but in fact, it is not illegal,” he told reporters.

During a recent hearing on POGOs, Senator Gordon criticized regulators for failing to immediately investigate these large sums of money that could have been laundered by Chinese nationals into the country easily.

“The money had been spent and circulated around the world and you did nothing… You defeat the purpose of the law,” Mr. Gordon told representatives of the AMLC.

For Mr. Dominguez, easing the bank secrecy laws as well as amendments on the anti-money laundering law will give regulators “more teeth” to battle against tax evasion and other financial crimes, including money-laundering activities. — Gillian M. Cortez and Beatrice M. Laforga