AMLC was the Yellow Regime’s deadly political weapon

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The holiday season may have given it a respite, but I don’t think President Duterte will just forget his tirade on December 22 against the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC): “You are all, you are all corrupt and serving [a]master. You are not supposed to engage in politics, God damn it,” the President said.

Duterte was angry over the AMLC’s foot-dragging in helping the Justice Department track down the moneys of the illegal drug lords. I have been angry that the AMLC had been one of the deadly weapons of the past Yellow Regime, yet its members and staff had not even been investigated for debasing this institution, and using it to get at the Liberal Party’s enemies when it was in power. How can we have a government under the rule of law when we allow those who violated the laws on the AMLC to go unpunished, not even investigated?

Indeed, the AMLC should heed Duterte’s call for them to resign, as the body can’t boast of stellar successes in tracking down and confiscating the ill-gotten wealth of global and local drug lords, terrorists, and jueteng lords. Rather it’s become infamous for three and only three things:

(1) Its collaboration with President Aquino’s forces in 2012 to remove former Chief Justice Renato Corona from his post by leaking his alleged peso and dollar bank accounts to that Yellow regime’s agents, who used it as a deadly black propaganda against the CJ.

(2) Its collaboration again with Aquino in the demolition job against presidential candidate Jejomar Binay during the campaign for the May 2016 elections, with a reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer having in her possession and publishing in that newspaper a confidential — but grossly inaccurate — AMLC report.

First, when all of the impeachment charges against Chief Justice Corona were being debunked, proven more and more baseless each day, AMLC entered the fray and helped Aquino. The amounts in the bank accounts of Corona and his wife were leaked to a newspaper columnist and in a blog, and to Liberal Party stalwart Jorge Banal, who hilariously claimed he found it inserted at his residence’s gate. An Aquino fanatic, the Ateneo School of Government’s Harvey Keh tried to make Corona’s bank accounts part of the trial’s records by delivering data on these – to Enrile’s office. The former Martial Law Administrator proved to have a better moral compass than Keh by refusing to even open the envelope containing it.

(3) Its failure to detect and stop the transfer of $81 million in stolen money from the Bangladesh central bank in New York to a Philippine bank, and to the hackers’ accomplices here.

Would lowly bank managers in Corona’s account have dared to risk their careers to leak such information, whose secrecy is protected by law? Certainly not. Only somebody in the AMLC could have done that, upon orders of the Yellow Regime.

Morales asks Aquino
When those “leak” tactics didn’t work, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales asked the AMLC Executive Director Vicente Aquino to provide her with data on Corona’s dollar accounts. Aquino obeyed her without question, even if there is a specific law categorically banning these from being disclosed for any purpose, except upon written approval by the holder of the bank account and upon a court order.

We don’t even know if Aquino asked, as he is required to, the three members of the AMLC for authority to do so. When I tried to get in touch at that time with the AMLC’s chairman, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco — a friend since college —to ask why he had allowed such wanton violation of the law, I was told that he was out of town, and that a deputy BSP governor represented him in the AMLC.

Worse, as I have written several times, Morales distorted the AMLC’s data in such a way that she added up all transactions – i.e., a $100 deposit and a $100 withdrawal was counted as Corona’s having a $200 balance. She then screamed to the world that the Chief Justice was hiding $10 million in his secret dollar accounts (the reality was that it was less than $1 million.)

It was a black-propaganda stunt performed before national-television cameras, intended to raise such a furor that a lynch mob was unstoppable, and consequently the Senate – except for three with integrity and wisdom – voted to kick the Chief Justice out of the Court, the first time ever this occurred in our history. Why did Aquino want Corona out? Because he thought he could bludgeon the Supreme Court to reverse its decision, made when Corona was chief justice, that required the Aquino clan’s Hacienda Luisita to comply with the agrarian reform law, instead of skirting it.

Did the AMLC undertake an investigation into such serious breach of bank confidentially? Did the AMLC bother to correct Morales’ distortion of the report given her? It didn’t, which bolsters my view that from the start, the AMLC was part of the conspiracy to attack the Supreme Court.

Second, the Philippine Daily Inquirer last year used as banner stories the articles by a Nancy Carvajal, who based her reportage on a single document she referred to as the “AMLC report” to allege that vice presidential candidate Binay had “billions” of pesos in his bank accounts and used several people as dummies. That it was a hatchet job was obvious in that Carvajal merely repeated the same article she wrote the previous year, she herself admitting that she was citing the same document. However, the AMLC reported later to the Court that after its investigations, it found only P1.7 million in Binay’s account, indicating that Carvajal’s “AMLC report” was a raw, initial report.

That was so outrageous. The AMLC’s reports on individual bank holdings are probably the most secret kind of documents in the country since these are the only such documents that a law (the Anti-Money Laundering Law of 2001, as amended) severely penalizes a person for disclosing such information. In fact, the law even specifically lists who would be made responsible for “malicious reporting… relative to money laundering:”

Breach of confidentiality
“In the case of a breach of confidentiality that is published or reported by media, the responsible reporter, writer, president, publisher, manager and editor-in-chief shall be liable under this Act. (Sec. 9d).” Prescribed penalties include imprisonment from six months to four years. In fact, not even those who are the subject of AMLC investigations are given copies of its reports.

And what does the AMLC do with such blatant use of AMLC data, which really could have been tampered with as nobody else except the Inquirer reporter (apart from the Court) had access to?

It didn’t even warn the Inquirer that its article citing an AMLC report is illegal. It didn’t even investigate why a very raw AMLC report, probably drafted by a clerk, was in the possession of that reporter.

Worse, the AMLC revealed its political partisanship when it issued a press statement that didn’t say it was going to investigate the breach in confidentiality but instead taunted Binay, by saying “The AMLC will continue to discharge its legal mandate without fear or favor.”

And third, the AMLC has been embarrassingly caught napping as $81 million in stolen money from the Bangladesh central bank entered the country, put in dormant accounts, and withdrawn to equally dubious accounts.

Do you know, dear reader, that the AMLC’s is authorized to investigate a transaction amounting to just P500,000, with its computer systems designed to alert its staff to such amount of transactions? Yet $81 million entered a single bank—in a single branch, in a single day—equivalent to P4 billion, deposited to dormant accounts, and then withdrawn, yet the AMLC didn’t notice it. I don’t think even P1 billion had ever entered a bank’s branch. Yes, ever.

It had to take a person-to-person call from the Bangladesh Bank governor to BSP Gov. Tetangco, the AMLC chairman, to alert him that such a huge stolen amount was entering the Philippine banking system.

Yet the AMLC started to work on the Bangladesh Bank governor’s alert on Feb. 3, according to its executive director, Julia Abad in her testimony in the Senate. It issued the freeze order a week later on Feb. 11. The criminals obviously had the time to withdraw the proceeds, and these have vanished into thin air.

Tetangco made an astounding excuse why the AMLC had been inept in stopping the $81 million from vanishing.

Tetangco says that our bank secrecy laws are too strict. “Once money enters a deposit account, you can’t see it anymore,” he said in a TV interview. Too strict? Then how could a columnist, a congressman, the Ombudsman get the bank balances and even details of the transactions of the Chief Justice? How could one reporter have an AMLC confidential report making allegations about the Vice President’s bank accounts?

Tetangco may have been an excellent central bank governor, but he thinks it is beyond him since he is the Philippine version of Alan Greenspan, to run what is really an anti-crime unit which the AMLC is, so that he has delegated almost all the work there to subordinates who may not have the moral fiber that he has. If he can’t supervise the AMLC, and the law requires him to chair it, he should accept the reality and resign as BSP governor, and let somebody who can really supervise that crucial anti-crime agency, one who would insulate it from politics.

Or maybe the law should be amended so that the council is led full-time by somebody who would be on the same rank as the three incumbent members of the AMLC, the heads of the BSP, the SEC and the Insurance Commission. How could such sensitive post as the AMLC chairman be a part-time job? The likelihood is for him to delegate all of his work eventually to unqualified people, or worse, unscrupulous or partisan officials.

FB: Rigoberto Tiglao and Bobi Tiglao