Gordon proposes Congressional power to inspect bank accounts

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Richard J. Gordon

SENATOR Richard J. Gordon on Monday said he intends to propose amendments to Republic Act No. 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) that will allow the legislative branch, when conducting congressional investigations, to look into bank accounts through the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) without needing a court order.

“I intend to amend also the law on AMLA on congressional investigation. AMLA must give cooperation to the Blue Ribbon committee… That will be an amendment,” he said during a Senate hearing on the shipment of illegal drugs.

“When it comes to congressional investigation, like (the Senate) Blue Ribbon, they shouldn’t need to get a court order. What (the committee) needs to know should be released continuously and promptly,” he later told reporters after the hearing.

Under the AMLA, the AMLC is authorized to inquire into or examine bank deposits as long as there is a court order and probable cause has been established that the deposits involved were related to a money laundering offense.

Meanwhile, Republic Act No. 1405 or the bank secrecy law ensures the confidentiality of bank records and provides that it can only be looked into either with the consent of the depositor or with a court order.

Mr. Gordon’s plans to amend the law were prompted by the Senate Blue Ribbon’s investigation into the shipment of P11 billion worth illegal drugs that slipped past the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in August.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee, which the senator chairs, has been requesting Banco De Oro (BDO) and the AMLC for information into the bank records of persons involved in the alleged smuggling of drugs.

In the previous hearing, Mr. Gordon expressed his frustration to the AMLC over the agency’s failure to respond to the requests of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for the bank records of persons linked to drug smuggling. The AMLC submitted its report to the Senate committee on Monday.

Mr. Gordon also noted during the hearing the practice among Chinese nationals of allegedly opening bank accounts using fake alien certificates of registration (ACRs). The ACR, issued by the Bureau of Immigration (BI), is among the requirements needed by foreigners when opening bank accounts in the Philippines.

“I am aware of a racket going on right now where Chinese folks are opening bank accounts, arranged by agents who have ACRs, alien certificates of registration, and the banks are cooperating to open accounts without knowing their customer,” he said.

AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie B. Racela said the agency has issued an advisory on the matter.

“As a matter of fact, we have issued an advisory on those activities where account holders are being used and other Filipinos are used to open bank accounts. It’s more of borrowing the account,” Mr. Racela said.

Mr. Gordon said he also plans to open an inquiry into the issue as well. — Camille A. Aguinaldo