By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries decided on Wednesday to conduct next week a motu proprio probe on the influx of foreign currency deposits in the country.
Quirino 1st district Rep. Junie Cua, chairman of the House panel, cited the need to conduct a hearing on the “smuggling of huge amount of money” into the Philippines, a day after the House Committee on Ways and Means, chaired by Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey
Salceda conducted an executive session to look into the alleged money laundering scheme in which $1.02 billion in cash was allegedly brought into the country.
“A lot of money is floating around and this money looked for havens. The way things are happening, they find the Philippines as a haven. It could be good or bad. We need to evaluate that. There could be serious implications as well,” Cua said during the panel’s deliberation on a bill seeking to further strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering Law.
He said this “serious” issue falls within the ambit of his committee and they intend to review existing regulations with respect to the money that can be brought in.
“This is a serious topic and we cannot just let it go. I feel the obligation to motu proprio conduct the investigation. I think this will give us opportunity to look into the loopholes of our existing policy on this movement of funds,” Cua said.
“Movement of funds into the country is of course, always welcome for as long as this money is put into good use. When money comes in and moves in circulation inside our economy, it has certain benefits. But we need to balance and find out whether these are dirty money being laundered or these are clean money finding a place for investment. It is high time to look seriously into this and help the
AMLC in the enforcement of the AMLA Law,” he said.
He said his panel would be “very prudent” in the conduct of its investigation, citing that they “do not want to prejudice the interest of the country or anybody.”
It was Deputy Speaker and Misamis Occidental 2nd district Rep. Henry Oaminal who made the formal motion for the panel to look into the supposed money laundering scheme.
During the meeting, AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela relayed to the Cua panel that as early as August last year, they apprised the Bureau of Customs (BOC) of the increasing “trend” of bulk foreign currency deposits entering the country.
“As early as August, 2019, we already alerted the BOC that there is a trend in regard to those activities being perpetrated by some individuals entering the country,” he said.
He noted that they separately met in September last year with the officials of the BOC, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), and even their United States (US) counterparts to ensure that the concerned individuals were not included in the terrorist list.
Racela said that on September 19, 2019, they met with BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, as well as his deputy commissioners to disclose such vital intelligence information.
“He [Guerrero] mentioned during the meeting, he will make sure that those officers in NAIA will continuously monitor movements of the individuals,” he said.
Oaminal asked Racela if, after the several meetings, there is “conclusive action or a determination whether or not the coming in of money has violated the law.”
Racela said they requested information from their financial intelligence counterparts from where those individuals come from.
“That is only the extent that we can do because the framework of our money laundering is not to presume that those funds are really proceeds of unlawful activity. We need to establish also the predicate offense or unlawful activity,” he said.
He said they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the BOC, the BSP, and Bureau of Immigration on the implementation of the foreign currency declarations.
“The prime mover, the one that is actually regulating foreign currency movements is the BSP. We are merely implementing Memorandum Circular No. 308 and the primary implementor in the airport is the Bureau of Customs,” Racela said.
Under the MOU, the BOC is required to forward the foreign currency declarations as well as the summary of the declarations in a month, within 10 days after the month to the AMLC.
“One of the loopholes being taken advantage of by the smuggler of money, they are in fact officially declared and under our rules, when you carry more than $10,000 of money for as long as you declare, you are allowed to bring them in. That triggered a suspicion already. When these are brought into the Customs territory, it should have already triggered some kind of alarm,” Cua said.
Racela said carrying money into the Philippines “is not a suspicious activity per se.”
“In fact, all jurisdictions have liberalized the entry of their respective jurisdictions. As long as they declare it accurately, then they can leave the airport freely. It is merely false declaration and misdeclaration they are looking into,” he said.
He said the existing policies should be reviewed, citing that the policy gaps may have triggered the entry of the reported $1.02 billion in “cold cash” into the country.
“Don’t you think that this kind of happening is an occasion for us to review the existing policy that for as long as you declare, nothing happens to you even if they can be proceeds of crimes,” Cua said.
During the deliberation, Racela cautioned that the Philippines may be grey-listed and sanctioned by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) if there are no actions taken to address the AMLA’s deficiencies.
He said they have been tasked by the Salceda panel to draft a bill seeking to institute procedures for bulk foreign currency importation.
He said generally, among the declared purpose of the foreign currency deposits are real estate, casino, and business.
The House Committee on Ways and Means earlier formed a five-man technical working group (TWG) that will address the policy gaps that fired up the influx of huge amount of foreign currencies.
The members of the panel are AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, Nueva Ecija1st district Rep. Estrellita Suansing, Sultan Kudarat 2nd district Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr., Muntinlupa lone district Rep. Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon, and Marikina City 2nd district Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo.
Salceda said the small group is tasked to draft a bill “providing instituting procedures for bulk foreign currency importation.”