It took the Anti-Money Laundering Council only a little over an hour to respond to President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to give them a good, long talking to before the agency delivered. But when the AMLC did submit to the Department of Justice the bank records of persons the government was investigating, it could only give data on the five “narco-generals” named by Duterte four months ago.
But at least AMLC seems finally over its role as the favored weapon for financial harassment by the previous administration. And if AMLC runs true to form, I think it’s now set to perform its old task under the new Duterte administration.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II related to me how Duterte finally got around to looking into the mystery that is AMLC. On the day that Duterte was supposed to give a speech at the anniversary rites of the National Bureau of Investigation, Aguirre said, he was able to have some private time with the president in the “holding room.”
In the short time that he had to confer with Duterte, Aguirre narrated how he was having problems pursuing the the cases the president wanted pursued because of the apparent stonewalling of AMLC. Duterte nodded his head and, when he got to the podium, gave the anti-money laundering “the treatment.”
Earlier, the justice secretary had been accused by Senator Leila de Lima of fabricating evidence against her, while drawing criticism for not filing the appropriate charges against the controversial lawmaker in the proper courts. Aguirre has repeatedly declared that he wants to build an “airtight” case that will stand up to any judicial scrutiny—including bank records of the senator and other personalities linked to the illegal drug trade.
That sort of information can only come from AMLC, which has access to suspicious activity in bank accounts and other financial transactions. And that agency was not cooperating with Aguirre.
In his speech, Duterte told of how, as a candidate in the May elections, he was accused by Senator Antonio Trillanes of keeping more than P200 million in an Ortigas-area bank. The AMLC, according to Duterte in his speech, did nothing to absolve him despite his own protestations that he had no such sums stashed away.
And then, Duterte started what is now one of the biggest guessing games in town: he disclosed how one “guy” had laundered more than P5 billion in dirty money through a legit corporation he set up with his family.
AMLC suddenly woke up and submitted documents on the five generals to Aguirre’s office. But it still hasn’t delivered on De Lima and the various other government officials and suspected drug lords named in the many lists and affidavits in the DoJ’s possession.
* * *
Of course, everyone who kept up with the news in recent years knows how AMLC was “weaponized” by the Aquino administration. Under the leadership of Executive Director Julia Baccay Abad (who is not, I’m told, related to Aquino-era financial wizard and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad), AMLC used its vast powers and information to expose the financial dealings of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, businessman Roberto Ongpin and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The AMLC reports on these three personalities—who were, incidentally, three of the biggest perceived political enemies of Noynoy Aquino—seem to come from everywhere, including mysterious “little ladies” who dropped off papers at the homes of prosecuting congressmen. AMLC, formed to fight the laundering of terrorist and drug money during the Arroyo years in compliance with the stringent rules imposed after the 9/11 bombings in New York, became merely another tool for political persecution under Aquino.
AMLC never reported how it stopped drug syndicates or terrorist groups by freezing their bank accounts because it never did so, despite its original and continuing mandate. And year after year, its officials would appear before Congress to beg for funds, despite having no real accomplishments outside of being a very effective financial truncheon employed against Noynoy’s foes.
(Congress never really investigated AMLC despite the agency’s failure to do its job over the years. I’m told that lawmakers were only too willing to give the agency a free pass, because they did not want an AMLC that would be so powerful that it would cause the repealing of bank secrecy laws.)
But despite AMLC’s display of new-found willingness to cooperate, perhaps Duterte can still demand that Abad and her officials explain what they’ve been doing—and what they haven’t done. In particular, AMLC should say if it’s true, as Aguirre has alleged, that the agency won’t give information on De Lima’s bank accounts because two of its top officials are fraternity brothers of the senator in San Beda law school.
Aguirre has revealed that these two hold the positions of deputy executive director and chief of the agency’s investigating unit. These officials are not unknown entities—they will be named, Aguirre said, in a report he promised to submit to Duterte about the secretive agency that they work for.
It’s about time AMLC underwent some serious scrutiny itself. Cuss words from the president himself directed the agency’s officials when he meets them are optional—but they will be very well-deserved.