Senate approves amended AMLA bill; differences with House to be resolved in bicam talks

Published January 18, 2021, 4:37 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Voting 21-0, the Senate passed on third and final reading Monday, January 18, the bill that seeks to strengthen the Philippines’ law against money laundering.

(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senators unanimously passed Senate Bill No. 1945, which would amend and update the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) as recommended by international watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

This is seen to prevent the country from being “grey-listed” or tagged as high-risk for money laundering or terrorism financing.

The bill proposes to include violation of tax laws and the Strategic Trade Management Act, which relates to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and its financing, as predicate offenses to money laundering. It provides, however, that there must be a finding of fraud or malicious and willful misrepresentation on the part of the tax violator.

The Senate set a threshold of P25 million for the violation of tax laws — a reduction from the P50 million initially proposed by the Senate banks committee.

The measure also covered transactions of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) and service providers as covered by the AMLA. 

They earlier decided to remove the original proposal including real estate brokers and developers involved in cash transactions amounting to P5 million in the persons covered by the law.

The chamber also agreed to strengthen the functions of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), by enhancing its investigative powers, authorizing it to impose targeted financial sanctions on proliferation financing; and to preserve, manage or dispose assets and stop the issuance of injunctive relief against freeze orders and forfeiture proceedings.

But senators thumbed down the AMLC’s request for the grant of subpoena power for fear of that it will be abused.

Meanwhile, the Senate also included in the bill a provision that would provide for an incentive and reward mechanism for informants and agencies whose investigation would lead to the successful prosecution of suspected violators.

SB No. 1945, certified as urgent by President Duterte, would have hurdled the Upper Chamber if Malacañang did not include conditions for its certification.

Duterte wanted the immediate passage of the bill if the Senate kept the provisions approved by the House of Representatives in their House Bill No. 7904, specifically, the proposed reduction of the threshold for tax crime to P20 million; the reporting threshold for real estate transactions, and grant of the requested additional investigative powers to the AMLC.

Senators, however, said the conditions set in the President’s certification violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative department. It was the first time that they encountered such a conditional certification, they said.

The Senate agreed to just settle the conflicting provisions of their bill to the version approved by the House during the bicameral conference committee.

“Hopefully, the disagreeing provisions can be resolved in the bicameral conference meet with the House,” Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of Senate banks committee and sponsor of the bill, said on Monday.