House panel to probe influx of $1.02-B cash brought in by Chinese nationals

By Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The House committee on ways and means decided on Monday (March 2) to step in and look into an alleged money laundering scheme in which $1.02 billion in cash was allegedly brought into the country.

The Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN) (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The House panel, chaired by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, formally approved a motion made by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing to conduct a motu proprio probe into $160.58 million in cash that was allegedly brought into the country by Chinese citizens from December 2019 to February this year.

The Salceda panel decided to conduct a closed-door meeting or executive session on Tuesday (March 3) not only to look into the $160.58 million, but also into another $840 million that was brought into the country last year.

In a separate interview, Salceda said not only $160 million, but a total of $1.02 billion in cash was brought into the country, saying that aside from the $160 million, another $840 million also entered the country last year.

"The $160 million that was reported is just a tip of the iceberg. Based on our reports, I have seen that on top of $160 million, there was $840 million that entered last year through Customs through the airports," he told reporters in an interview.

"The Bureau of Customs is saying that this is a portable commodity and therefore, it is under their mandate. We are alarmed because of the very complacent and relaxed attitude of Customs," Salceda said.

"We are completely alarmed and aghast (by this)," he said.

He said they decided to hold a close-door meeting with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and other concerned agencies because of the "national security concerns" posed by the influx of $1.02 billion in "cold cash" into the country.

"There is an obvious and apparent use of the power of the Customs covering portable commodities and declaring it without passing through the banking system. Otherwise, this would have had red flags all over the place already. The thing there, it's $1.02 billion, not $160 million,” the House leader said.

"$1.02 billion is enough to shift political fortunes and distort the competitive dynamics of certain industries with little regulatory oversight," Salceda said.

When asked why they will hold an executive session instead of a public hearing, he said, "We will identify people and their rights should be protected."

Invited to the March 3 meeting are officials of BOC, National Intelligence Coordination Agency (NICA), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, earlier batted for a inquiry into the "very alarming" entry of the $160 million.

In the panel meeting on Monday BOC Assistant Commissioner Vincent Philip C. Maronilla relayed to the Salceda panel that they can divulge the details on the supposed money laundering scheme in an executive session.

“Maybe in an executive session, I can ask the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence to provide more details on these operations... so he can brief you on the ongoing operations right now,” he said.

"There is also a proposal coming from the National Intelligence Coordination Agency which the BOC is working with right now to create a task force, a national task force that will oversee this particular issue and this will be composed by agencies involved in the regulation of the influx of these currencies and of course monitoring the passengers," Maronilla noted.

He noted that Gordon's figures came from the BOC’s report to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

"What we actually do is that when passengers come in with foreign currencies in excess of the 10 dollar limit to declare…is ask them questions on where will they use these currencies for and some other questions required for us to be able to report the same to the AMLC. So these are all declared foreign currencies your Honor, and the purpose of which and the identities of the passengers are reported to the AMLC," Maronilla told the panel.

Citing the BOC report, Gordon said Chinese citizens brought in about $160.58 million when they arrived in the country from Dec. 17, 2019, to Feb. 12 this year.

READ MORE: AMLC should explain why money laundering flourishes