Among the bills that President Rodrigo Duterte endorsed to Congress is a measure seeking to strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering Act embodied under both House Bill 6174 and Senate Bill 1412.
“Such compliance will avoid adverse findings against the country which could lead, among others, to increased costs of doing financial transactions, to the prejudice of the business sector and our overseas Filipino workers,” President Duterte said in separate letters addressed to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Senate President Vicente Sotto III to certify the bills.
The proposed measures, however, must go beyond making the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) more powerful, but also to ensure it does not become prey to maneuvers similar to the way it was manipulated by yellow interests to bring down political targets.
Among the most recent instances of AMLC manipulation was that of the “illicit” relationship between putschist Antonio Trillanes IV and former AMLC executive director Julia Bacay-Abad.
Trillanes then had easy access to records from the AMLC dating back to the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee inquisition on former Vice President Jojo Binay.
President Rodrigo Duterte then revealed that “a certain” Abad in the AMLC is the mistress of Trillanes and from whom the senator had been obtaining classified AMLC documents.
The controversy involving the AMLC in the smear campaign against Binay, for instance, happened after Trillanes’ lackey, former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, distributed to media copies of a Court of Appeals (CA) freeze order covering 242 bank accounts that were made to appear to be under the name of Binay.
The CA action was based on AMLC documents, which could come from only one source who was Trillanes.
Trillanes succeeded in having the AMLC seek a CA move on the accounts linked to Binay.
Binay deplored the violation of the strict confidentiality of a proceeding involving an Ex Parte Petition for a Freeze Order, which was issued based solely on the representations of AMLC.
According to Binay, he as a respondent should have been given the opportunity to be heard and that an ex parte freeze order proceeding should be strictly confidential, with those violating the confidentiality rule being liable for contempt as well as criminal prosecution.
The CA order in effect was intended to allow the AMLC to determine the credibility of the bank accounts and did not mean that the accounts were frozen.
The same Trillanes strategy was employed against President Duterte to generate public outrage through leaked documents from the AMLC.
Under the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), the law which created the AMLC, the leaking of AMLC reports is illegal and is not admissible as evidence in court.
The law also stated that those responsible for the leak should be criminally liable since evidence in money laundering investigations can only be known by the AMLC in the performance of its duties.
The mere use of leaked documents including putting it out as news is a criminal act based on the law.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, who was among those who crafted the AMLA, said legislators foresaw the possibility of the law being exploited for political persecution and, thus, safeguards against the law being used for partisan ends were installed.
For instance, he said the publishing or broadcasting of anything uncovered by AMLC is punishable by heavy fines, cancelation of franchises for those who air it and by jail.
He said such foresight was brought about by the belief that no one “wanted a law that allows the government that included extortionists and kidnappers in high office to get access to bank data regarding what they earn, what they profited from, and even what they stole.”
Section 9 of the AMLA said the report of a covert or any suspicious transaction or any contents thereof or information derived therefrom cannot be communicated to any person or media.
“Media gets special mention. Thus, it is criminal to publish or to air in any manner or form of mass media or electronic mail and other similar devices, even so little as that a covert or suspicious transaction report was made, what more the contents of an account or information related thereto,” Locsin said.
A provision in AMLA also indicated that “this act shall not be used for political persecution or harassment.”
The provision has been cited by Solicitor General Jose Calida in making Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang liable after exposing a seemingly flawed summation of AMLC documents apparently supplied by Trillanes in claiming to reporters that P1 billion in bank transactions was coursed through bank accounts of Mr. Duterte and members of his family.
The bills now pending in Congress should address such issues and set up shields for AMLC to prevent the clammy hands of dirty politics in gaining access to it.