pork barrel

Senate will pass vital bills, assures Sotto

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Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–The Senate leadership intends to make the most out of Congress’ remaining nine session days to pass crucial measures before it goes on a three-month recess ahead of the May midterm elections, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday.

“As many as possible,” Sotto said when asked how many pending bills the Senate intend to pass when it resumes its session on Jan. 21.  It will go on a break on Feb. 8 for the campaign period.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has listed the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla) and the antitrust bill, along with the ratification of the freedom of information (FOI) bill still pending in the House, among the measures that should be approved when Congress resumes its session.

Sotto said the upper chamber would do its best to pass the Amla amendments and the antitrust bill within this period.

Congress won’t have its next session until June 3. But it will adjourn just three days later on June 6.

The third set of Amla amendments is a priority measure of the Aquino administration but questions over the inclusion or noninclusion of specific industries among those required to reveal big-ticket transactions could stall the measure.

The Amla amendments seek to increase the covered transactions and predicate crimes that would merit the monitoring of bank accounts by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Sen. Joker Arroyo has warned the measure could be used by whoever controls the administration against its political opponents.

He said this was the reason a number of senators were against the measure and why it had yet to make headway in the Senate.

Arroyo also wanted banks among the institutions that would be penalized for accepting “dirty money” from launderers and other criminals.

He said it would be illogical to prosecute launderers without sanctioning the banks that accepted their ill-gotten deposits.

Several parties representing jewelers, realtors and other businesses that would be required to reveal their transactions to the government under new Amla rules were also reportedly balking at the idea.

First-quarter passage

Congress needs to pass the second round of Amla amendments by the first quarter of this year as required by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global organization that monitors money transfers throughout the world as part of antiterrorism efforts.

The FATF has delayed placing the Philippines in its blacklist of “uncooperative countries” after Congress passed an initial set of amendments and officials assured it that Congress would soon approve the second round of Amla amendments that it required. The country is presently in FATF’s dark grey list.

Senate banks committee chair Sergio Osmeña III said Malacañang may have to flex its muscles and indicate its desire to have the Amla amendments approved to save the Philippines from the blacklist.

“The Palace is always the key to passing controversial bills,” the senator noted.

“We will try [to pass] the antitrust law, the amendments to the [Anti-Money Laundering Act] and some dangerous drugs amendments. [The freedom of information bill] is already finished in the Senate,” Sotto said in a text message.

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Tags: Amla , Anti-Money Laundering Act , Congress , FOI , Freedom of Information bill , Philippine Senate , Tito Sotto , Vicente Sotto III

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