The House of Representatives approved on Tuesday (Dec. 1) the latest amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Law in compliance with the wishes of the international anti-money laundering movement for stronger measures to cut funding for terrorism activities and other international crimes.
A legislative priority of President Duterte, House Bill 7904 was approved on third and final reading on 213 affirmative and seven negative votes, six of which came from the Makabayan bloc.
Three congressmen abstained from the voting.
Authored and sponsored by Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, chairman of the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries, HB 7904 seeks to protect and preserve the integrity and confidentiality of bank accounts. It provides guarantees that bank accounts will not be used as money laundering site for the proceeds of unlawful activities especially terrorism.
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force has been pushing the Philippines and other nations to impose further restrictions that would cut off the flow of money to lawless organizations, especially those involved in international terrorism.
Cua said the bill also facilitates the prosecution of persons involved in money laundering activities and enforces targeted financial sanctions that would support the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and other similar activities.
Key provisions of the measure include the expansion of the scope of predicate offenses to money laundering crimes. This time, tax crimes and violations of Strategic Trade Management Act on the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, are provided.
The definition of “covered persons” will include real estate developers and brokers, under the bill.
HB 7904 also grants the Anti-Money Laundering Council the authority to implement targeted financial sanctions, including the ex-parte freezing of funds and assets belonging to individuals or entities identified by united national resolutions.
The bill prohibits the judiciary to issue temporary restraining orders or “writs of injunctions” that would stop the AMLC in exercising its authority to freeze and forfeit bank deposits and assets suspected of involvement in money laundering. The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are exempted from this provision.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate rejected the measure for allowing the Anti-Money Laundering Council the right to “retain 50 percent of the forefeited assets.
“Couple this with the other amendments granting awesome powers to the AMLC such as the grant of investigative powers and subpoena powers, as well as the power to ex parte freeze the funds of targeted individuals and entities, put the AMLC in a conflict of interest situation,” Zarate explained.
He stressed: “It incentivizes the AMLC to pursue harassment and baseless cases to the end of acquiring material gains and benefits as a result of the litigation.”
Such amendment, Zarate claims would only result in the “clogging of court dockets.”
“This could also result to rights abuses and harassment cases, since the AMLC can now investigate, subpoena documents and then file the case, the actions of the AMLC could be tainted with intent to gain, rather than administration of justice, since it has a stake or material gain in the result of the litigation,” Zarate stated.