Palace dictating on senators?


    SENATORS yesterday denounced what they said was Malacañang’s infringement on the separation of powers of the executive and legislative branches in relation to the certification as urgent of the approval of the measure proposing amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto, majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Grace Poe did not like the bullish tenor of a provision in the certification letter, which read: “This certification, however, is subject to the proposed reduction of the threshold for tax crimes to Twenty Million Pesos, retention of the prevailing reporting threshold for real estate transactions, and grant of the requested additional investigative powers to the Anti-Money Laundering Council as reflected in House Bill No. 7904 which was recently passed by the House of Representatives. I believe that these provisions are absolutely essential to achieving the objective of his bill.”

    President Duterte’s certification letter dated December 15, 2020 sought the Senate’s immediate enactment of Senate Bill No (SBN) 1945, or the measure proposing amendments to give more teeth to the AMLA.

    Sotto said that while there have been instances when the Executive department “would whisper” to lawmakers what it wants included in a measure “but it is never written in black and white.”

    “This is the first time that it is done. I don’t think it will qualify as a letter of certification as far as the Senate is concerned because it violates the separation of powers,” Sotto said.
    Sotto also said: “We will approve what members of the Senate want to approve as far as the second reading is concerned.”

    The Senate was still discussing in plenary proposed amendments to the law. Once the period of interpellation is finished, committee and individual amendments will be proposed and included in the draft measure after which it will be passed on second reading. And since it has been certified as urgent, the Senate can forego with its three-day rule and approve the bill on third reading before thy adjourn sessions for their holiday break.

    Lacson was the first to decry the dictatorial tone of the provision. “How do we resolve this issue considering that this contains some conditionalities, Mr. President?” Lacson asked as he took the podium after the Senate Secretary ready the certification letter.

    Zubiri replied: “This is the first time I have seen a certification with conditions and possible amendments.”

    Poe said the provision inserted in the certification dictates on the Senate, in direct contrast to the constitutional provision separating the powers between the executive and legislative branches of the government.

    “By putting those conditions…It basically tells us to pass that version alone if we really want this bill to be qualified for that certification so in short, nakadikta po dito kung ano dapat ang probisyon na dapat nating ipasa (it dictates what provisions in the measure we need to include and pass),” Poe said.

    Under the Senate proposal, real estate developers and brokers engaged in a single cash transaction in excess of P5 million will be included as covered persons. The bill noted that real estate activities are widely used as a front for money laundering and terrorism financing all over the world.

    The bill also includes a provision that the commission of tax crimes and violation of the Strategic Trade Management Act, which relates to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and its financing, as predicate offenses to money laundering.

    Likewise, the measure seeks to improve the functions of the Anti-Money Laundering Council by enhancing its investigative powers through express powers of deputization, power to apply for search warrant, and power to obtain information on ultimate beneficial ownership; authorizing it to implement targeted financial sanctions on proliferation financing; authorizing it to preserve, manage or dispose assets subject of asset preservation order and judgement forfeiture; and prohibiting the issuance of injunctive relief against freeze orders and forfeiture proceedings under its jurisdiction.