Aquino’s vilest political weapon: AMLC

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Perhaps the vilest weapon that President Aquino has wielded against his political opponents is the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Make that its Executive Director, rather than the three-man council itself, composed of Bangko Sentral Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. as chairman, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Teresita Herbosa and Insurance Commission Chairman Emmanuel Dooc.

I clarify that because quite strangely in the AMLC’s most controversial–I would even say disgraceful–cases, Tetangco wasn’t involved. He was “coincidentally” abroad when these cases came up. Actual AMLC orders pertaining to these controversial cases—if there really were and if these were approved by the commission itself—have never been disclosed.

They did it before: Ombudsman Morales on May 14, 2012, at the Senate impeachment court waving AMLC “documents.” It was a huge hoax, as Morales added transactions over nine years, not balances.
They did it before: Ombudsman Morales on May 14, 2012, at the Senate impeachment court waving AMLC “documents.” It was a huge hoax, as Morales added transactions over nine years, not balances.

Tetangco should disclose who recommended as AMLC executive director in late 2013 Julia Bacay-Abad, who replaced Vicente Aquino. I was told it was Liberal Party president and Senator Franklin Drilon.

As if to mock the nation, AMLC’s decision freezing bank accounts of Vice President Jejomar Binay, his family and alleged associates, came nearly three years to the day, on March 14, 2012, when Aquino first used the council against a perceived political enemy of his.

His target three years ago was Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom Aquino at the height of his political strength took out from his post, giving senators bribes raised through the Disbursement Acceleration Plan in order to do that.

The crucial move that provided the cover for the Senate’s vote–so the bribes won’t be so obvious–was the dramatic televised testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on March 14, 2012, at the Senate impeachment trial. Morales cited AMLC “data” showing that Corona had $28 million in 82 dollar accounts in five banks. She even had a PowerPoint presentation that showed what seemed to be the labyrinthine movements of Corona’s accounts.

A huge hoax

In her penchant for the theatrical, Morales even waved in the air an alleged AMLC report. It was all a huge hoax, however.

In fact as I wrote in my column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer the first chance I could get after her performance in the Senate:

“Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ allegation that Chief Justice Renato Corona has $12 million in dollar accounts will go down in Philippine history as one of the biggest and most deviously constructed deceptions ever foisted on the public.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Colossal deception on Corona’s accounts,” May 17, 2012)

First, it wasn’t an AMLC report. In a legal maneuver, then executive director Vicente Aquino would disclose that he merely responded to the Ombudsman’s request and submitted to her “AMLC raw data” on Corona’s bank accounts. But there wasn’t a resolution by the AMLC to report to the Ombudsman Corona’s accounts, nor to release any data on these.

Second, it wasn’t even Morales who analyzed the raw data. It was Heidi Mendoza, a retired Commission on Audit officer handpicked by President Aquino as COA member, going over several more senior and qualified officers of the agency. In fact, Mendoza even tried to be in the television limelight by attempting to explain the “AMLC” report. She was asked to sit down though by Senate President Enrile as nobody had authorized her to do so.

And third, and more important, Morales and Mendoza’s “analysis” was a hoax.

They counted the amounts reported in the transactions of Corona’s accounts over nine years, not the balance of his accounts. So, for example, $25,000 put in a time deposit and withdrawn when the term ended was counted to be $50,000 by Morales and Mendoza.
Even the temporary account such money was put into after the term ended was interpreted by the two as an attempt to conceal the amount.

Did Corona have $12 million, as Carpio-Morales melodramatically claimed as she waved what she said were AMLC documents? No. It was just about $1 million, and most senators, I would bet, had 10 or even 50 times that. Why, even pork-barrel rat Benhur Luy has been reported to now have P170 million in his bank accounts, or $4 million.

While thinking Filipinos saw through the hoax, Morales didn’t even apologize about it. The Senate–we now know why–didn’t even bother to ask Morales why she tried to fool the impeachment court and the nation. It just sped up the trial, and voted Corona guilty two weeks after the AMLC “data” falsely portrayed the Chief Justice as having huge dollar accounts.

Strict confidentiality

Because one’s bank accounts go to the heart of the issue of citizens’ privacy, the AMLC law, Republic Act 10365, prescribes strict confidentiality rules on its investigations, on disclosing the data it acquires from the banks. The law’s section 7 is quite categorical:

“When reporting covered or suspicious transactions to the AMLC, covered persons and their officers and employees are prohibited from communicating, directly or indirectly, in any manner or by any means, to any person or entity, the media, the fact that a covered or suspicious transaction has been reported or is about to be reported, the contents of the report, or any other information in relation thereto. Neither may such reporting be published or aired in any manner or form by the mass media”, electronic mail, or other similar devices. In case of violation thereof, the concerned officer and employee of the covered person and media shall be held criminally liable.”

I cannot understand why Morales wasn’t made liable for disclosing AMLC “raw data” at the Senate trial. As an officer of the law, she could have informed the Senate that laws prevent her from doing so. But no, she even had prepared a PowerPoint presentation shown on a huge screen at the Senate hall so everybody would be shocked at Corona’s alleged accounts.

In a more civilized society under the rule of law, there would have been such public outrage against Carpio-Morales that she couldn’t have stayed in her post a day longer. Not here, of course.

If Aquino and his cohorts could do it then, they, of course, feel they could do it again. Now the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) came out the other day with a list of over two dozen
persons “associated with Binay” whose 242 bank accounts were allegedly frozen by the AMLC.

Why is it that Nancy Carvajal of that newspaper always manages to report such crucial information–for instance the first COA reports on the pork barrel findings — which only President Aquino’s operators would have?

Whether the report of a freeze order proves true to the last detail, it is obviously intended to falsely portray Binay as a crook, a desperate move by Aquino to stop Binay’s run for the presidency. Who remembers, or even knows, that Carpio-Morales’ claim on Corona’s “huge” dollar accounts was a hoax? Already, that disgraceful PDI report, published as a banner story detailing Corona’s accounts, has been allowed to go viral with 15,000 “shares” in its internet version. Will Binay’s rebuttal be given the same banner treatment and disseminated to have as much “shares”?

This recent move by President Aquino is also obviously intended as a signal to Binay’s current and potential financiers: “Better avoid him like a plague, or you’ll be classified as his associate and have your accounts frozen.”

Why do we allow this Administration to ride roughshod over the nation, to throw to the dustbin all values of decency and fair play?

During Marcos’ dictatorship, you would just be detained, released several months or even a year later, if you were his political enemy. Under Aquino, your integrity and reputation, with the help of media, will be besmirched forever.

Even an institution such as AMLC, set up mainly for the global war against terrorism and illegal drugs, has been converted into a political weapon. And in Binay’s case, he’s not even a political enemy, but the front-runner in the 2016 elections.

What kind of country have we become?

First they came

A famous anti-Nazi poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller is as follows:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Replace “they” with “Aquino and his cohorts,” and that reminds me of the positions Senators Enrile, Estrada, Revilla — and now Binay — had taken. Our political leaders should by now know that by heart.