PHILIPPINE authorities are looking to completely resolve soon all the issues flagged by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money-laundering, officials said on Monday, boosting hopes of having the country exiting a grey list.
The Philippine action plan for resolving the rest of the issues—with about “84 percent” already responded to by Manila—has been submitted to FATF, which will review it in its meeting later in October, senators were told.
In June 2021, when the Philippines was once again put on the FATF grey list, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno vowed that Philippine authorities will “work unceasingly” to satisfactorily respond to FATF recommendations, in hopes of exiting the grey list on or before 2023.
Landing on the FATF grey list does not automatically result in sanctions kicking in, but could cause prolonged procedures in some financial transactions—something Philippine authorities are keen to avoid in order not to inconvenience, for instance, the millions of migrant workers whose remittances shore up the economy.
While upbeat on improving Philippine response to FATF issues, Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Secretariat, however, admitted at Monday’s Senate Finance committee hearing that it took five years for the government to start prosecuting guilty parties under the Terrorism Financing law enacted in 2012.
“What accounts for non-prosecution under that statute?” Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara asked Racela, and was told it was mainly a problem of “lack of awareness [on the statute enacted in 2012].”
Pressed by Angara, Racela said that starting in 2017, “we’ve been filing” cases since then.
Angara wanted to know what is the “most advanced among the cases prosecuted under terror financing law,” and the AMLC official replied it was the case against the “matriarch of the Maute Gang,” who financed her two sons and their cohorts in staging the Marawi siege of 2017.
The case has reached trial, Racela said, but the pandemic delayed such trial because courts were closed for much of the pandemic, with hearings done virtually.
Towards the end of the hearing, Racela asked the Angara panel to help the AMLC secure additional funding so they can carry out all the measures needed to exit the FATF grey list and effectively fight money laundering. Their DBM-endorsed budget for 2022 is P77.1 million.
Angara assured him, “we will recommend your budget favorably, without prejudice to possible augmentation.”
However, Angara added that, while “in previous years we tried to augment your budget, it’s hard to promise anything at this stage,” since the NEP (National Expenditure Program) for 2022 has itself been underfunding even vital requirements in the health sector, which are crucial in a pandemic.
Meanwhile, the AMLC is also enforcing provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020. The ATA which took effect in 2020 entails designation by ATC of terrorist organizations and individuals.