Sat. Jul 31st, 2021

MANILA – A measure penalizing bulk cash smuggling into or out of the Philippines has been filed at the House of Representatives to safeguard the country against dirty money.

In filing House Bill No. 6516 on Monday, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said bulk cash smuggling is a serious national security risk as much as it is a risk to the country’s institutions.

“Bulk cash smuggling suspected to be in the billions of pesos is enough to shift political fortunes and corrupt institutions in the country facilitating crime and other illegal activities,” Salceda said.

He noted that PHP28.6 billion worth of “declared” foreign currency deposits was funneled into the country from September 2019 to February 2020 by four groups, namely: the “Rodriguez” group at PHP14.1 billion; “Chinese” group at PHP9.6 billion; “Singapore” group at PHP2.6 billion, and “Hong Kong” group at PHP2.3 billion.

Meanwhile, an estimated PHP50.1 billion worth of undeclared foreign currency was brought into the country over the same period.

He warned that if the country’s financial authorities are unable to respond to bulk cash smuggling decisively, the risk becomes greater that the Philippines would get delisted from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for being a high-risk base for terrorism financing and money laundering.

“This delisting would have serious implications on the ability of our financial institutions to expand and do business transnationally. This would also carry broader dangers to our credit standing internationally, making the country a riskier borrower of funds,” he said.

The bill seeks to expand the coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 to include one-time cash transports of more than PHP500,000 at any one time.

It shall also empower the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to define a cumulation of closely-related events that would constitute “one-time”.

Likewise, the Bureau of Treasury, through the Treasurer of the Philippines, in the AMLC shall facilitate counterpart-to-counterpart cooperation, as many countries’ anti-money laundering efforts are spearheaded by their Secretaries or Ministries of the Treasury.

The bill proposes to criminalize bulk cash smuggling to ensure that the evasion of a paper trail for cash transfers will not be tolerated.

A person convicted of a currency smuggling offense shall be imprisoned for not less than 7 years and not more than 14 years.

There shall also be a civil forfeiture in favor of the Philippines of assets related to cash smuggling.

“In view of the urgency of the need for a response to the currently unmitigated influx of bulk cash into the Philippines, and given the critical importance of a policy response to the threats that bulk cash smuggling pose to peace and order, national security, and institutional and financial integrity, the immediate enactment of this bill is urgently sought,” he said.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has indicated willingness to work with legislators anew for the proposed Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) reforms, as he cited loopholes in the existing law.

“Our laws have no teeth to investigate and prosecute these activities effectively. We don’t have enough tools to know where all this money is going, without being hamstrung by stringent bank secrecy laws,” he added.

Dominguez said it is imperative to amend AMLA, which remains a weak tool against money laundering and other unlawful activities.”

He said they have earlier proposed the amendment of the bank secrecy law to allow the government check bank account of questionable individuals and to include tax evasion and other financial wrongdoings as predicate crimes under AMLA, but these were sidelined by lawmakers. (PNA)

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