Senate Okays Anti-Money Laundering Amendments; Senators Vote on 3 Key Issues

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The Senate, by a unanimous 20-0 vote, took its time fine-tuning but finally approved at 6:06 p.m. yesterday an administration-certified bill amending Republic Act 9160, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, in the face of threats of sanctions from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that the Philippines would be in its watchlist if it failed to approve it on or before its Feb. 12 deadline.

The House of Representatives also approved its version of the bill on second reading after Speaker Jose de Venecia called a caucus of administration congressmen to seek a guarantee of their attendance in last nights session and prevent adjournment for lack of quorum.

Senators crossed party lines in voting on several key issues of Senate Bill 2419 that was approved on third reading an hour following a demand by opposition Sen. Rodolfo G. Biazon for a clean copy of the bill approved on second reading.

The vote of opposition Sen. John H. Osmena, who told his colleagues that he had voted against the AMLC law two years ago, was not recorded as he was absent when it was approved on second and third reading.

After passing the measure, the Senate formed its panel for a bicameral conference committee with Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. as chairman and Senators Francisco Pangilinan, Robert Barbers, and Joker Arroyo for the Senate majority bloc, and Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Senators Edgardo J. Angara and Panfilo Lacson representing the minority bloc.

The session was temporarily presided by Senate President Pro Tempore Juan Flavier as Senate President Franklin M. Drilon tried to shore up support on the Senate floor for the administration measure.

Administration SenatorMagsaysay, chairman of the Senate banks committee, who defended the amendments on the Senate floor the past three months had some brushes with some of his colleagues on some controversial provisions.

The Senate minority bloc led by Senate Minority Leader Sotto and Senators Edgardo Angara and Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. stressed that they want to protect the banking industry but are against laundering of dirty money in the country.

Last week, senators approved a provision amending the threshold of bank deposits from P500,000 to P2 million as adopted by Thailand which has never been questioned by the FATF. Magsaysay and the FATF wanted the threshold maintained at the current P500,000.

The threshold relates to suspicious transactions with covered institutions, regardless of the amounts, with no apparent justification and appears to be directly related to any unlawful activity or money laundering offense after an investigation conducted by the covered institution.

The voting appeared similar on three key issues.

There was a 15-6 vote requiring a court order to allow the opening and freezing of bank accounts. The senators said they did not want to give the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor, being the head of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, wide and dangerous powers to check bank accounts without court orders.

The 15 senators who voted against the proposed retroactivity of the effectivity of the measure were:

1. Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda.

2. Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III.

3. Edgardo Angara.

4. Teresa Aquino Oreta,

5. Joker Arroyo.

6. Roberto Z. Barbers.

7. Rodolfo Biazon.

8. Noli de Castro.

9. Luisa Ejercito Estrada.

10. Gregorio Honasan.

11. Robert Jaworski.

12. John H. Osmena.

13. Panfilo Lacson.

14. Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr.

15. Manuel Villar.

Those who voted for the retroactivity of the measure were:

1. Sergio Osmena III.

2. Juan Flavier.

3. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. …