By Rene Acosta, March 6 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) have tightened the lid on the financial transactions of suspected drug lords, and even terrorists, with the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Tuesday that seeks to stop the laundering of money from the illegal-drugs business.

The MOA was signed by PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino and AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie, as the antidrug agency ramps up its operations against illegal drugs in the country in coordination with other law-enforcement agencies.

The MOA zeroed in on the actual coordination process and requirement of and from each party in rendering support to combat money-laundering activities in relation to illegal drugs.

“Under the agreement, both parties have expressed their desire to promote and encourage cooperation to effectively prevent, control, detect and investigate unlawful activities under Section 3 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act [AMLA],” Aquino said.

The parties likewise pledged to cooperate in the areas of information exchange and capacity-building measures, including the exchange of studies, researches, information on current, new and emerging trends and typologies in money laundering and terrorism financing. Joint trainings may be undertaken by PDEA and AMLC to ensure the interoperability of their respective personnel.

Under the MOA, the parties agreed to include terrorism financing as a predicate offense and subject to the common provisions of assistance; establish a feedback mechanism to enable parties to monitor effectiveness and improve on the information shared; designation of focal persons to facilitate enhanced coordination and cooperation; and strict confidentiality of information shared, among others.

According to Aquino, aside from financing terrorism, laundered money comes from the production and trafficking of dangerous drugs, while banks and other regulated entities have become conduits for laundering drug money.

“Drug lords hide their profits to make it appear they were acquired through legitimate means. We need to track down their drug-money trail and prevent them from using their affluence and influence to evade punishment,” he said.

The PDEA and AMLC are members of the National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee-Sub-Committee on Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (NALECC Sub-Committee AML/CFT), and of the Enforcement Cluster of the Interagency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD).

The AMLC is the primary government agency mandated by the law to implement and enforce Republic Act 9160 or the AMLA of 2001 to protect the integrity and confidentiality of bank accounts and to ensure that the Philippines shall not be used as a money-laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity.

“The PDEA may request for financial information to support an ongoing investigation to any violations of the antidrug law. In return, AMLC may enlist the assistance of PDEA in the detection and investigation of money-laundering activities and other violations of the AMLA,” Aquino said.

PDEA spokesman Derrick Arnold Carreon said that in preview to the signing of the agreement, three financial investigation workshops clustered in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao have been conducted, with personnel of PDEA and AMLC as participants.

Also, three trainings on money laundering and financing of terrorism were administered to more or less 150 Drug Enforcement Officers (DEOs) as part of PDEA’s capability-enhancement program.

Carreon said that last year, the PDEA Anti-Money Laundering Desk (AMLD) referred 75 cases involving 102 targeted drug personalities and 64 personalities believed to be involved in illegal-drugs activities to the AMLC for financial investigation.

From 2011 to 2018, AMLC has frozen a total of P2.037 billion worth of assets, which include local and foreign currencies, real estate, motor vehicles and firearms, from all drug cases referred by the PDEA- AMLD.

“The efforts and resources used by PDEA in tracking down and arresting illegal drug dealers and manufacturers will definitely go for naught if we cannot freeze the assets of these criminals while they are being prosecuted,” Aquino said.

“We cannot go on arresting and filing the cases while the drug lords are freely using drug money to buy their way out of prison,” he added.