MANILA – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Wednesday pushed anew for the easing of bank secrecy after two suspected syndicates purportedly brought into the Philippines around USD370 million or PHP18.7 billion in foreign “dirty money.”

In a weekly Palace economic briefing, DOF Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II said the agency would ask Congress to lift bank secrecy in an effort to improve the government’s fight against crimes such as money laundering.

“We would like to maybe propose that again, that we lift absolute bank secrecy in the Philippines in cases of tax fraud or other nefarious activities para po ma-trace po talaga natin, kung meron po tayong hinala na malakas, is mabuksan po natin ang mga bank account (so we can trace or open bank accounts we suspect are being used for illegal activities),” he said.

Republic Act 1405, or the Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits, prohibits the disclosure of or inquiry into deposits with any banking institution.

The law states that all deposits with banks in the country are confidential and may not be examined or looked into by any person, government, official, bureau of office, unless the depositor gives permission or a competent court orders the disclosure.

A January 29 report from the Bureau of Customs divulged that two syndicate groups involved in the dirty money inflows had been identified as “Chinese” and “Rodriguez” which sneaked in USD167.97 million and USD200.24 million, respectively.

Lambino, however, explained that it is considered legal to bring a huge amount of foreign currency into the country as long as it is declared.

“The thing that we need to realize is this is not illegal in the Philippines because Congress has not passed a law making these types of transactions illegal. All you need to do is declare and you can bring it in,” he said.

Existing Philippine laws provide that amounts of foreign currency exceeding USD10,000 in value are allowed to be brought into the country for as long as they are declared.

Lambino said this particular issue would be brought up to Congress to convince them to lift bank secrecy.

“‘Yung mga nagde-declare (Those who are declaring the huge amount of foreign currency), they are allowed to bring it in because Congress has not made it illegal. So that’s one thing I think that we can work on, together with our legislators,” he said.

Lambino said the government would also ask an update from the Anti-Money Laundering Council with regard to the dirty money inflows.

“In terms of the money that’s coming in, that was also reported by Bureau of Customs to the Secretary of Finance and that was reported also to the AMLC. We should check with AMLC kung ano na ‘yung actions na ginawa nila diyan (what actions they have already done),” he said.

The AMLC, which implements RA 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act, is mandated to ensure that the Philippines will not be used as a money-laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity. (PNA)