By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

CONGRESS is set to expedite the approval of a bill strengthening the anti-money laundering law, after President Rodrigo R. Duterte certified it as urgent.

This as the Philippines risks being included in the gray list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) if it fails to make the necessary changes to Republic Act No. 9160 or Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) of 2001 before February 2021.

“The House will see to it that the measure which aims to curb the cost of doing financial transactions of our overseas Filipino workers and the business sector, will be approved expeditiously once plenary sessions resume next month,” Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco said in a statement.

House Bill 6174 was approved by the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries last March. Quirino Rep. Junie E. Cua, who chairs the panel, said the bill will be up for second reading approval when session resumes on Nov. 16.

“The committee report had been completed long ago, we are waiting for it to be scheduled by the committee on rules once the session resumes,” Mr. Cua told BusinessWorld over the weekend.

“It is in compliance with the standards set by the FATF to improve the effectiveness of anti-money laundering laws all over the world, that’s why our proposed amendments also include tax crime as a predicate crime. It is to improve tax collection. In addition, it includes the violation of Strategic Trade Management Act,” he added. 

Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, who chairs the Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries, said they will “immediately” act on the measure, with “efficiency without sacrificing transparency and quality of the discussions.”

“The Anti-Money Laundering Act amendments will also be heard and sponsored immediately so that it can go to the floor as well,” she said in a phone message on Sunday.

Senate Bill No. 1412, authored by Ms. Poe-Llamanzares, and two other bills amending the AMLA, are still pending at the committee level.

The amendments were among the recommendations of the FATF, which sets the standard for measures against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Philippines was originally given until October to address deficiencies in the anti-money laundering law, but this was extended by the FATF to February 2021 due to the pandemic.

Mr. Duterte certified the urgency of the proposed anti-money laundering law amendments, and the bill allowing financial institutions to offload bad loans to asset management companies (AMC).

“Such compliance will avoid adverse findings against the country which could lead, among others, to increased costs of doing financial transactions, to the prejudice of the business sector and our overseas Filipino workers,” Mr. Duterte said in letters sent to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Speaker Velasco on Oct. 16.

Among the proposed changes include allowing the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to investigate suspicious transactions, upon its own determination. AMLC may also interview witnesses, conduct surveillance undercover investigations, and court-approved searches and seizures.

The council may also subpoena persons and documents relevant to the investigation as well as implement targeted financial sanctions, such as freezing assets either directly or indirectly owned by individuals identified by the United Nations Security Council.

The AMLC may also preserve, manage and dispose of assets and prohibit any court from issuing a temporary restraining order. Further, it will now include among the covered persons real estate developers and brokers with single transactions involving at least P1 million.

Meanwhile, House Minority Deputy Leader and BayanMuna Rep. Carlos T. Zarate raised concern over the proposed changes to the AMLA, saying this would intensify the attacks against activists and critics as the government is set to publicize the list of designated terrorists.

“This proposed law will be weaponized by the Duterte regime in the coming days and months. The law complements the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL), especially now that the government is about to release the names of so-called terrorists,” Mr. Zarate said.