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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Money laundering joins list of crimes that flourished under Noynoy Aquino government

March 18, 2016
by Ilda
It looks like Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino is going out with a bang. Less than two months before the next Presidential Elections, an audacious cyber heist incident has sent shock waves around the world. If not for its sheer brazenness, that it involved a tiny Third World Catholic country like the Philippines makes this theft remarkable. Who would have thought, right? Whoever pulled this off – syphoning $81 million from a Bangladesh Central Bank account in the United States and transferring it to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) in Manila – deserves a spot in Ripley’s believe it or not. Hollywood should produce a show called Without a trace: Money Laundering based on this case.

Weak leadership led to steep rise in criminality in the Philippines.
Weak leadership led to steep rise in criminality in the Philippines.
And for the record, lest Aquino supporters pin the blame on the previous or next administration, this heist happened during BS Aquino’s watch. Yes, all kinds of scams, big and small have flourished during BS Aquino’s term. Some scams like the bullet-planting scam — extorting money from helpless passengers at the country’s international airport — went undetected by the General Manager of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), retired Brig. General Jose Angel Honrado. It is important to mention that Honrado is a close family friend of the President going way back during his mother’s term in office.
This is just the kind of thing we need to prove to the international community once and for all, what an inutile government the Philippines has. It has been all but impotent in addressing the rampant criminality plaguing the nation. Criminality goes up when the leader is perceived as weak and incompetent. Indeed, the country has now become a safe haven for both local and foreign criminal syndicates.
Just look at the so-called “investigation” being conducted at the Philippine Senate. It’s all a farce. Most people know that the investigation is not going to amount to anything significant. It is neither going to get the money back nor throw the right people in jail. A lot of the senators are just using the latest scandal to grandstand and get some free media mileage. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually welcome this event particularly since some of the senators are up for re-election or are running for higher office. This is free publicity for publicity-hungry public servants.
Frankly, if you ask some Filipinos, this theft is not something that would surprise them. They live in country where Congress is considered the biggest criminal syndicate in the country. Some of the members of Congress have been syphoning public funds for decades and they still get elected again and again. Perhaps some Filipinos would be surprised with the amount – it’s not big enough compared to the amount of money being stolen from the public on a regular basis. We are talking about billions of pesos annually being syphoned off through mechanisms such as Priority Development Assistance Funds and Disbursement Acceleration Program.
This money-laundering case is not something Philippine Congress can easily solve. Solving it would actually be against their very nature. Of course the only solution is to get rid of the country’s archaic bank secrecy laws, which are considered to be among the strictest in the world. Removing that law or even just amending it would mean going against themselves. Some (okay, not all) members of Congress could be hiding stolen public funds – accumulated throughout the years in secret bank accounts. This is precisely the reason why the antiquated law will not be going anywhere, anytime soon. Attempts to remove it will be met with outrage especially from the leader of the House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. He was against scrapping the law back in 2015 and would be against it for the same reason today:
Leaders of the House of Representatives yesterday rejected Malacañang’s proposal to scrap bank secrecy laws, saying it would discourage investors and could be used to persecute political opponents.
Malacañang earlier said it will support proposals from the Senate and the House to reduce income taxes if Congress will agree to lift bank secrecy to aid the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in digging up hidden deposits for tax purposes.
“I am against it (scrapping bank secrecy) because this will scare off local and foreign investors,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said.
RCBC Jupiter Street branch Maia Santos-Deguito with her counsel Ferdinand Topacio. (Photo source:  GMA News)
RCBC Jupiter Street branch Maia Santos-Deguito with her counsel Ferdinand Topacio.
(Photo source: GMA News)
The irony of what Belmonte said escapes him. While the bank secrecy law, particularly Republic Act 6426 the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines (FCDA), which makes the revelation of foreign currency details unlawful, is supposed to protect the depositor from prosecution, it did not help former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona back in 2012. Some allies of BS Aquino managed to get information about Corona’s dollar savings account even without his permission. It was used against him during his impeachment trial even when the charges against him did not include theft of public funds. The senator-judges during his trial did not even investigate who divulged his bank account details considering they broke the law.
Indeed, the laws of the land only work when you have the right connections. The question now is whether or not President BS Aquino is going to ask his allies to find the real culprits behind the Bangladesh bank heist. It has been noted that the President has been very quiet about this whole thing and is keeping a low profile. It is odd considering the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is involved too. One would think that BS Aquino would be compelled to do something drastic to solve the case as quickly as possible because it is putting the name of the Philippines in the hall of shame. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he and his supporters would quickly wash their hands off this. A valid excuse for BS Aquino would be to admit that he has become a lame duck and has lost the ability to pull any strings.
So what now? Bangladesh police have launched their own investigation and RCBC is also conducting their own internal investigation to find out who broke protocol in the bank’s layers of procedures. Someone has to know something. The smoke hasn’t cleared yet so we will all have to wait for the next bombshell. Something tells me the culprits are still removing some evidence – something the country’s bank secrecy laws allow them to do.

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