For Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has been a prickly thorn in his side. Last year, Aguirre lashed out at them for not sharing financial information on supposed drug lords.
President Duterte took the cudgels for Aguirre and threatened the AMLC officials. “Until now, there's no report of this AMLA (sic)," Duterte said in December but he was not specific about the “report” he was referring to. (AMLA stands for the Anti-Money Laundering Act.)
“I'm going to charge all of you there, criminally. I'll count one to three, and if you don't resign, I will treat you as a drug addict,” he warned severely.
This was an escalation of what Duterte said in November last year, addressing the AMLC: "Better go to the Secretary of Justice or I will go to you. I will call for you and you have to answer so many questions. You choose. Do not make it hard for us otherwise I will make it hard for you."
Aguirre has been after the bank documents of drug traffickers detained in the New Bilibid Prison. But, as of November 2016, these had not yet reached his office. So far, lamented Aguirre, only the documents for the supposed “narco-generals” were submitted by the AMLC to the justice department.
Something is amiss here. What use is the information if the holders of these bank accounts can freely withdraw their stashed wealth?
Duterte and Aguirre do not appreciate the potency of the AMLC and how it can cripple the drug supply by turning the financial faucets off.
It is vital that the AMLC file cases with the Court of Appeals (CA) to freeze suspicious bank accounts. Doing the groundwork takes time and is cloaked in secrecy—and the AMLC doesn’t do this alone. It works with the Office of the Solicitor General.
In a Senate hearing, former AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino explained: "Before the AMLC can get a freeze order from the CA, it has to go to its statutory counsel from the Office of the Solicitor General before a petition to freeze is filed with the CA. By time of filing, many eyes have seen the petition.” (READ: Fast facts: AMLC)
The CA has 24 hours to act on a freeze-order case. A freeze order holds for 6 months, giving the AMLC time to probe further.
The freeze order is a “provisional remedy while we’re completing our investigation,” AMLC executive director Julia Bacay-Abad has told Rappler. “If it is established that these accounts are related to unlawful activities, then we refer the cases to the OSG which files a petition for forfeiture.”
Instead of these loud and high-profile harangues of Duterte and Aguirre versus the AMLC, demanding “documents,” it would be more productive if AMLC gets all the support in going after the financiers quietly. Surprise is a key element.
In the end, the AMLC will make an important and bloodless contribution to Duterte’s war on drugs. – Rappler.com