Philippine peso bills are pictured being received at a money remittance center in Makati City, Sept. 19, 2018. — REUTERS

THE ANTI-MONEY Laundering Council (AMLC) is optimistic that government agencies will be able to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions of cases related to dirty money, which could help the country exit the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) “gray list.”

In an e-mail interview with BusinessWorld, AMLC Executive Director Matthew M. David said the Philippines is continuously improving its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CFT) regime through the efforts of government agencies and the private sector.

“We are optimistic that there will be a continuous increase in ML/TF investigations and prosecutions this 2024,” he said. “There is good momentum, and all relevant government agencies have signified their strong commitment to continue implementing and improving the country’s AML/CFT framework.”

Based on the FATF’s February update, the Philippines failed anew to exit the gray list or list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring. The country has been on the gray list since June 2021.

The FATF last month urged the Philippines to implement its action plan to address strategic deficiencies as soon as possible, as all deadlines expired in January 2023.

Even though the Philippines remained on the gray list, Mr. David said the FATF recognized its high-level commitment and the steps it has taken to improve its AML/CFT framework.

“Through collective action of relevant government agencies, such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Philippines has shown significant increase of terrorism financing identification and investigation in line with the country’s risk profile,” he said.

Mr. David said the PNP, the NBI, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Customs, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Department of Justice, all helped increase investigations on money laundering.

“Through their efforts more ML investigations were conducted which led to an increase in ML prosecutions,” he said.

For its part, the SEC said it continues to support efforts for the Philippines to exit the gray list by purging delinquent corporations.

“Our assignment is immediate outcome number five pertaining to beneficial ownership. The tall order for us is to hit 65% compliance. Presently, we are 50.7% compliant,” SEC Chairperson Emilio B. Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of a signing event last week.

On Feb. 16, the SEC issued an order that suspended the corporate registration of 117,885 corporations for failing to submit their annual reports for over five years.

“At least 117,000 companies from circa 1975 to 2008, they have been there in our database, but they have not been complying with the submissions of their annual financial statements (AFS) and general information sheets (GIS) where they are supposed to lodge their beneficial ownership. They are deemed delinquent,” he added.

Mr. Aquino said the suspended corporations have 30 days from the order’s issuance to dispute or settle the matter.

“They are suspended. Not revoked yet. They have a window of opportunity for them to still go back,” he said.

About 30% of the suspended companies are nonprofit corporations while the remaining 70% are stock corporations, according to Mr. Aquino.

Aside from exiting the gray list, he said the purging of corporations is also mandated under Republic Act No. 11232 or the Revised Corporation Code of the Philippines.

On Friday, the SEC signed data-sharing agreements with nine law enforcement agencies to address money laundering and terrorism financing. The data-sharing agreements allow the law enforcement agencies to have access to beneficial ownership information of corporations registered with the SEC.

These agencies include the NBI, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Insurance Commission, Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, Department of Justice, Philippine Center on Transnational Crime, Department of Agriculture, ISAFP, and Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

At the same time, AMLC’s Mr. David said the Philippines is actively pursuing ML investigations relating to crimes with foreign and transnational elements as it continues to strengthen coordination with foreign counterparts,” he said.

In its 2022 Terrorism and Terrorism Financing Risk Assessment report published last year, the AMLC said a total of 133 terrorism financing cases have been investigated by the AMLC and law enforcement agencies from 2021 to August 2022.

The FATF did not provide specific numerical targets of investigations related to dirty money to exit the gray list, but the Philippines is continuously implementing measures to address all remaining deficiencies as soon as possible, Mr. David said.

Under Executive Order No. 33 and through the National AML/CTF Counter-Proliferation Financing Coordinating Committee (NACC), law enforcement agencies and prosecutors should have adopted policies to ensure the effectiveness of the country’s measures against dirty money.

“We wish to stress that country is doing what it can to exit the gray list, at the soonest possible time. Having said this, the date as to when the country would be considered to have accomplished all action plans and trigger exit from the list rests on the determination of the FATF,” Mr. David said.

Based on the FATF’s recent update, the country still needs to address strategic deficiencies by showing effective supervision of nonfinancial businesses and professions as well as casino junkets.

The country should also enhance and streamline the access of law enforcement agencies to beneficial ownership information.

Aside from more investigation and prosecutions, the country should also improve its implementation of cross-border declaration measures on all main international seaports and airports.

Mr. David said addressing all the remaining deficiencies requires a whole-of-nation approach. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave with KBT