AMLC – Hostile to Binay, nice to Iqbal

In 2001, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act due to intense pressure from the international community.   Prior to the enactment of the AMLA, the Philippine banking system was a virtual haven for international and local criminal syndicates who need to launder their ill-gotten money.   Dirty money, so to speak, was cleaned through bank accounts under fictitious names, or under the names of real persons who are close associates of the syndicates. 

Under the AMLA, banking institutions are required to report all “suspicious transactions” to the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the agency which enforces the AMLA.   Banks and depositors have opined that this statutory obligation is legally objectionable because it compels the bank to make a judgment call against its own client despite the fiduciary (something built on trust) relationship between the bank and the client.   In doing so, the bank ends up performing a quasi-judicial function which properly belongs to the government.   It is objectionable because banks are not supposed to do detective work for the State.   This matter was discussed in detail in my essay on the AMLA published in the May 20, 2014 issue of this newspaper.

The AMLA also authorizes the AMLC to petition the Court of Appeals to issue a “freeze order” against a bank account used in illegal activities.   A freeze order has the effect of putting the money beyond the reach of the account holder. 

Last week, the AMLC revealed that beleaguered Vice President Jejomar Binay, his wife and relatives, and his close associates, have unexplained wealth in billions of pesos, all hidden in numerous bank accounts.   At the time the revelation was made, these accounts were already ordered frozen by the Court of Appeals on petition of the AMLC.

 It is possible that the extra-ordinary attention which the AMLC is giving VP Binay is just a consequence of the ongoing investigation of the alleged large-scale corruption in the City of Makati during Binay’s term as city mayor, and during the terms of his wife and son.   That VP Binay is a strong contender for president in May 2016, and that President Benigno Aquino III is not exactly very fond of his vice president, are matters which have been downplayed by Malacañang.   Palace spokesmen conveniently point out that President Aquino continues to keep Binay in his Cabinet, despite the allegations against the latter. 

The Office of the Vice President insists that Binay’s wealth is not ill-gotten.   VP Binay himself said that his wealth came from his numerous business interests.   Despite Binay’s denial, however, the AMLC seems determined to prosecute the Vice President and the others named in their list. 

The big paradox is this – Binay, who denies having violated the AMLA, is at the receiving end of the AMLC’s attention, while Mohagher Iqbal, the main man of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF, who admitted to the Senate that he violated the AMLA by using a false name in his numerous bank accounts, remains untouched by the authorities.   The special preferential treatment accorded to Iqbal (or whatever his real name is) is an indicator that all is not fair and equal in the government’s handling of AMLA cases.   It heralds to all and sundry that the government can be very nice to its allies, and terribly mean to its critics. 

A classic decision of the United States Supreme Court postulated that a law may be fair in its essence, but if it is applied “with an evil eye and an uneven hand,” any claim to fairness is lost in the process.

Invited as the main speaker in a business conference last May 15, VP Binay said that what happened to him may create a chilling effect on the business community, and that what the AMLC did was an obvious abuse of regulatory power.   Perhaps the vice president may be exaggerating a bit when he said that.   The AMLA has been around for some time, and many honest businessmen have figured out creative means to avoid attracting the attention of the AMLC.   What the vice president should have emphasized is that while the AMLA is, based on the reasons for its enactment, an effective weapon against organized crime and large-scale corruption, there is nothing to stop its use against the political opposition and other perceived enemies of the state.

  Effective law enforcement depends immensely on the credibility of the law enforcement agency concerned.   From what is taking place in the country right at the moment, it seems that the credibility of the government crusade against money laundering now depends on whether or not the AMLC will take appropriate legal action against Iqbal.                            

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Why should the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) be named after former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino?   The NLEX began as the Manila North Diversion Road, a project of President Ferdinand Marcos to make transportation to northern Luzon faster and easier.   In 1969, the road went all the way to Bulacan, and it reached Pampanga in the 1970s.   A minimal toll was charged, which could be off-set from the expenses of using the slow, two-lane segment of the MacArthur Highway from Monumento to Pampanga.

  Further expansion of the NLEX took place not under Aquino but during the terms of her successors. 

Today, the toll charges are very costly.   What used to be the average Filipino’s easy access, inexpensive road to the north is now very expensive to use.   Under these circumstances, it may even be unfair to name the expressway after Aquino.

If a road has to be named after Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, a possible option is Times Street in Quezon City, where the Aquino residence and metropolitan ancestral home is located.   The expressway diversion road near Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac is another option.

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