House approves amendments to Anti-Money Laundering Act

Published January 20, 2021, 7:29 PM

by Ben Rosario

With less than a month left for the Philippines to dodge inclusion in  the gray list of the global effort to fight money laundering, the House of Representatives quickly ratified Wednesday the bicameral conference committee report that will amend the current anti-money laundering law in the country.

The Lower House made the move with less than two weeks left of the deadline set by the  Paris-based anti-money laundering body Financial Action Task Force for Philippines to impose stricter regulations against dirty money.

However, whether or not the country succeeded in this goal will still be known when the FATF reaches a decision by June.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco was elated by the swift action taken by Congress to pass the measure which will be sent to Malacanang for President Duterte’s signature.

He said  the reconciled version of the bill, which introduces more stringent provisions to Republic Act 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) of 2001, would help the Philippines avoid being included in the gray list of FATF-International Cooperation Review Group.

“We are glad that the bill is now just one step away from becoming a law and we are poised to beat the deadline for us to come up with a much stronger legislation against money laundering so we can avoid being placed on the FATF gray list,” stated Velasco.

He added: “The Philippines cannot afford to be in that list as it would further hurt the economy already struggling from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The FATF threats of placing Philippines in the gray list of nations showing hesitance in the global fight against money laundering  have always been taken seriously by Congress that it has amended RA 9160 numerous times since it was first enacted in 2001.

The country learned the lesson of taking FATF’s warning seriously when the global anti-laundering body placed Philippines in the gray list.  It took four years after the enactment of RA 9160 before the country was removed from the list.

Inclusion in FATF’s gray list will result in additional layer of scrutiny from regulators and financial institutions, delayed processing of transactions and blocking the country’s road to an “A” credit rating.

Velasco  said such classification might prejudice the country’s business sector and overseas Filipino workers.

“We need to avoid adverse finding against the Philippines which could lead, among others, to increased cost of financial transactions, including OFW remittances,” Velasco said.

The bill that will be enrolled for Malacanang action provides the inclusion of tax crimes as predicate offense to money laundering.   

The bicameral panel also agreed to require the submission of reports on all real estate transactions involving an excess of P7.5 million to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

It also retained the House provision granting the AMLC the power to investigate, issue subpoenas, and conduct search and seizure.

The FATF has given the Philippine government until February 1 to enact and implement the changes to the AMLA, in accordance with its standards against money laundering and terrorist financing. The initial deadline was originally set in October, 2020, but was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.