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Senate OK’s AMLA amendments

THE SENATE on Monday approved on final reading a version of the bill strengthening the government’s regulations against money laundering that deviates from the version backed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

With 21 affirmative votes, no negative and abstention, Senate Bill (SB) No. 1945, which amends Republic Act No. 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), was approved on third and final reading.

“The amendments to the AMLA are responsive to emergent risks and challenges facing our financial system and at the same time, protective of the money of the people, including hard-earned cash of overseas Filipino workers,” Senator Grace S. Poe-LLamanzares said in a statement on Monday.

The Bicameral Conference Committee is scheduled to be convened today.

Mr. Duterte certified the bill as urgent on Dec. 15, but the Senate did not use this certification because of certain conditions included.

The President wanted the bill to set the threshold for tax crimes at P20 million, similar to the approved House Bill No. 7904.

However, the Senate raised the threshold to P25 million under SB 1945.

Mr. Duterte also asked the Senate to adopt the House version’s provisions that gave additional powers for the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). This includes granting AMLC investigative powers available to other law enforcement agencies as well as subpoena powers. The House also provided that upon approval of the court, AMLC may conduct search and seizure.

Under SB 1945, the AMLC is authorized to implement targeted financial sanctions in relation to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and its financing.

In both versions, AMLC may preserve, manage or dispose of assets pursuant to freeze order, asset preservation order and judgment of forfeiture.

The Senate and House versions prohibited the courts, except the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, from issuing a temporary restraining order or a writ of injunction against a freeze order and asset preservation order.

Further, SB 1945 included Philippine offshore gaming operators and service providers as covered persons, and real estate developers and brokers with single transactions amounting to at least P5 million, as covered transactions.

The House proposed the same threshold on real estate transactions, but only proposed to cover real estate developers and brokers. 

AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie B. Racela had said the Senate version needs more tweaking to comply with the recommendation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), particularly on the provisions on AMLC powers and the tax crime thresholds.

“If we fail to act now, the FATF Asia Pacific Joint Group or AP-JG will place the Philippines in the so-called ‘gray list’ along with countries like Albania, Pakistan, Panama, Syria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe,” Ms. Poe-Llamanzares said in the same statement.

The approval comes less than two weeks from the Feb. 1 deadline of the FATF, which sets the standards against money laundering and terrorist financing, to address gaps in the AMLA. Failure to enact and implement the AMLA amendments puts the Philippines at risk of being gray-listed.

Ms. Poe-Llamanzares had warned that if the Philippines is put on the “gray list,” the European Union and other countries will conduct enhanced due diligence on Filipino nationals and businesses.

This will translate to additional cost, higher interest rates and processing fees for Filipinos doing business abroad. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

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