Senate deadlock looms over Amla amendmentsBy Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A deadlock looms as the Senate is set to vote on the last round of amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla) with some senators airing concerns over certain “improvements” made to the law as required by a global group monitoring terrorist financing.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, chairman of the banking committee, said several colleagues are worried over an amendment requiring businesses like real estate companies and jewelers to report their transactions.
There were also questions about the introduction of an ex parte provision that does away with a prior court notice to a depositor before the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) freezes his cash on suspicion that it was illegally acquired.
The same ex parte provision would also apply in cases of suspected tax evasion.
However, Osmeña is confident that all issues have been ironed out after a caucus called on Wednesday by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
He said the Senate majority has already laid down a schedule where all proposed changes to the present Amla would be received on Monday and its approval on second and third reading would take place on Tuesday.
A bicameral conference that would reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill has been set for next Tuesday so that the two chambers can ratify the resulting bill on Wednesday.
President Aquino would then sign it into law Thursday in time for the Oct. 19 deadline set by the Paris-based Finance Action Task Force (FATF).
The Philippines is required to present the new antimoney laundering law to the FATF to avoid being included in the global monitoring group’s blacklist.
Malacañang earlier warned that inclusion in the FATF blacklist would make it difficult for overseas Filipinos to transact business using global banks, especially for remittance purposes.
However, a senator who requested anonymity said Osmeña was being a bit too optimistic on the Amla amendment schedule.
The senator said some of those who attended the Wednesday caucus voiced their objection to the ex parte provision.
“The concern is that one’s assets would be frozen on mere suspicion, despite the lack of a criminal investigation, and on the say-so of the AMLC,” the senator said.
The senator added that colleagues wondered why no penalty would be given to the bank that accepted the suspected criminal’s deposit when it is supposed to exercise due diligence before accepting him as a client.
“And then if AMLC makes a mistake in freezing an account, the innocent party suffers,” the source warned.
The senator said no consensus was reached during the caucus because members of the minority bloc that raised concerns over some amendments had already left by the time the majority was laying down the schedule for their approval next week.
“There was already a deadlock during the caucus. The Senate could not agree on that consensus. A caucus is supposed to achieve a consensus but there was no consensus,” the senator stressed.
Whether the minority would agree to approve the bill next week remains to be seen.
“The minority did not indicate whether they agreed with the majority’s proposed schedule or continue to interpellate,” the senator said.
Osmeña said he expects Senate minority leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senators Manuel Villar and Joker Arroyo to introduce amendments.
“I’m not saying we will automatically adopt them. That would be difficult. But we should be able to pass this by the end of the session on Tuesday and immediately hold the bicameral meeting that night,” he added.
Osmeña said it would be possible to approve the amendments to the Amla on second and third reading since Malacañang had certified the measure as urgent.