By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
THE SENATE approved on second reading a priority measure that will strengthen the country’s regulations to counter money laundering, even after senators questioned the conditions set by Malacanang in a new notice certifying the bill as urgent.
Senate Bill (SB) No. 1945 was approved on second reading via voice vote on Wednesday evening. The chamber was scheduled to adjourn for a month-long break until Jan. 17, 2021.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte already certified the measure, under SB No. 1412, as urgent in October, but had to send a new letter of certification as the committee report was enclosed in a different bill, SB No. 1945.
In the letter to Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III dated Dec. 15, Mr. Duterte said he certified the “necessity of the immediate enactment of SB No. 1945… in order to address the strategic deficiencies in our anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing legal framework and avoid adverse findings against the country.”
Mr. Duterte said the certification is dependent on the Senate lowering the threshold for tax crimes to P20 million, from P50 million as seen in the Senate bill. The version approved on second reading lowered the threshold to P25 million.
He also proposed that the prevailing threshold for real estate transactions be retained, instead of raising it to P5 million. The initial Senate version provided to cover real estate transactions involving at least P1 million.
Lastly, Mr. Duterte recommended that the Senate provide additional investigative powers for the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), as provided under House Bill 7904. The House version granted AMLC the power to issue subpoenas, which was not present in the Senate bill.
“I believe that these provisions are absolutely essential to achieving the objectives of this bill,” Mr. Duterte said.
For Mr. Sotto, the conditions set by Malacanang for the bill’s approval are a violation of the principle of separation of powers.
“There are times when the Executive department would whisper their wishes on certain pieces of legislation, but never written down in black and white,” Mr. Sotto said.
“And I don’t think it will qualify as a letter of certification as far as the Senate is concerned because it violates the separation of powers.”
In light of this, Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, who sponsored the bill, said she will only accept the amendments that will be acceptable to the body.
“It basically tells us to pass that version alone, if we really want this bill to be qualified for that certification,” she said during the session.
“I will accept the amendments, which I feel our colleagues have decided to be what is fair, what is right and what will be effective.”
The certification was issued to allow the Senate to pass the bill on second and third reading on the same day.
The AMLC earlier emphasized the urgency in enacting the new law as the Philippines is at risk of being gray-listed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The proposed amendments to the AMLA are in line with the recommendations of the FATF, which sets the standards against money laundering and terrorist financing.
The Philippines was initially given until October this year to address deficiencies in the AMLA, but was extended to February 2021 due to the pandemic.