March 6 ------ Senators on Thursday took turns criticizing officials of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) for not acting promptly on the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) report on the large amounts of money being brought into the Philippines by Chinese nationals. Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, said the AMLC practically defeated the purpose of the Anti-Money Laundering Act when they failed to act on the number of incidents where Chinese individuals and some Filipino nationals were bringing in cash in bulk through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Gordon pointed out that despite the fact the BOC already notified the AMLC, the latter did not bother to check if the huge amounts of money being brought in airports inside luggage are cases of money laundering. The senator was referring to a BOC report on a certain individual who was caught for non-declaration of $700,000 money in cash in 2019. The AMLC, he said, should have checked right away where the money came from and where the funds will be used. “When you see the Customs reporting this to you, shouldn’t you be alarmed? You have intelligence (funds)…that means there’s a problem in your bureaucracy. That’s bureaucracy at its worst form,” Gordon told the AMLC in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on POGO-related crimes.
According to AMLC Executive Director Mel Racela, the agency cannot immediately declare the funds are money-laundered as they have to “assume in good faith.” But Gordon rejected Racela’s argument and said the AMLC’s failure to act fast on such incidents could lead to corruption. “I’m shocked beyond imagination. Kung tayo, magtatagal, sasabihin na lang, eh di makikipag-“cash”-unduan na lang kami sa Customs. (If we take long, they can just say, ‘then we’ll just come to an agreement with Customs.) “You defeat the purpose of the law. Don’t you think AMLC has to correct this? Once they cannot establish provenance of the money, that’s money laundering,” Gordon said.
According to the BOC, 60 individuals brought in over $633 million or more than P32 billion in cash from September 2019 to March this year. Gordon said he finds this alarming as foreign currencies could be brought in by international syndicates and be used against the country’s national security. Even Sen. Imee Marcos questioned why the AMLC did not recommend to the Cabinet to stop the POGO operations when they were already aware that the industry is not contributing any significant economic gains to the country.
All the AMLC did, according to Racela, was submit a risk assessment study on the POGOs where they enumerated the threats associated with the POGO industry, and that includes the threat of money laundering. “Why are you so afraid?” Marcos asked Racela, who responded that their “study” was just to “guide our decision makers.” Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor and employment, said he is also “aghast” by the fact that the P7 billion in net financial flows in the banking system covers a period of three years, an important information withheld by the AMLC when it testified before his panel’s investigation also on POGOs last Feb. 11. “Is this deliberate to help cover up the real negative impact of POGOs in our country? We remind the AMLC and our other resource persons that all their statements have been made under oath,” Villanueva said.
“One basic fact is undeniable: allowing the continued operations of POGOs are already causing issues on peace and order situation in the country in the country, as well as our economic stability, among others.”