Finance chief orders Customs to work with AMLC on dirty money probe

Robie de Guzman   •   March 2, 2020   •   498

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez on Monday, March 2, ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to closely coordinate with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in probing alleged attempts by syndicates to bring in large sums of foreign currency into the country.

Dominguez issued the order in response to the BOC report about several attempts by individuals and groups to sneak in copious amounts of dollars and other foreign currency into the country using travelers arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The DOF said Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero estimated in his report that $370 million or around P18.74 billion were brought into the country by two groups, identified as the “Rodriguez” and the “Chinese” groups.  

Guerrero said that through backtracking and monitoring, the bureau learned that the Rodriguez Group brought around $200.24 million or around P10.18 billion while the Chinese group was able to sneak in $167.97 million, equivalent to about P8.54 billion.

The bureau further found that the Rodriguez group had declared Excellent Forex Inc. as the recipient of the money which entered from July 2019 to January 2020.

The Chinese group, meanwhile, brought its stash from December 2019 to January 2020.

The BOC also found that couriers of the money are paid between P12,000 and P50,000 per flight which happens almost twice or thrice a week.

The bureau said couriers of the money are able to escape detection because they are escorted by police, military or airport officials.

“Alarmed by the foregoing circumstances, considering the apparent intent of the said groups to bypass the country’s banking system and its prevailing regulations, this Bureau coordinated with and brought the matter to the attention of the AMLC,” Guerrero said in his January 29 report to Dominguez.

“Since then, this Bureau and the AMLC remain in close communication regarding this concern. The NICA was likewise apprised of the said facts,” he added.

The BOC chief has recommended the creation of an inter-agency body to keep a tight watch on the inflow of foreign currency into the country through the country’s ports and to recommend measures to deter the use of these funds for illegal activities.

This concern has also been raised to members of the Congress “as possible basis of policy changes on the protocol to be observed regarding hand-carried foreign currencies passing through our airports.”

“Given the global threat of terrorism, organized crimes, money laundering and the possibility that such foreign currencies find their way to such unlawful activities, it is respectfully recommended that an inter-agency body be established through a presidential directive, purposely organized to monitor the continuous inflow of foreign currencies by individual couriers, profile the personalities involved and the recipient thereof, and recommend measures to ensure that such sums of money will not be used in any illegal trade or activities,” Guerrero said in his report.

Under Philippine laws, any person is required to declare any amount exceeding $10,000 or its equivalent to other foreign currency being brought into or out of the country.

DOF eyes tailor-fit tax, non-tax incentives to lure investors under ‘new normal’

Robie de Guzman   •   May 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is proposing a “more proactive” and “targeted” investment promotion strategy to attract the kind of foreign investors that the government wants to relocate here as part of the efforts to restart the country’s economy.

In a statement, Dominguez said these investors may be offered a set of tax and non-tax incentives tailor-fit to their needs.

Dominguez said the government should discard its old “one-size-fits-all” incentives program and shift to a demand-driven approach where it identifies the types of industries that the economy needs to flourish.

He explained that these incentives can be granted based on the specific requirements of the industry players that the government wants to set up shop in the country.

“What we should be doing is identifying these industries and then going to each of the companies–each of the leading companies in those industries around the world—and asking them: what do you need for you to come to the Philippines? Instead of waiting for them to apply, we should be going to them and offering them a package,” Dominguez said during a virtual press briefing held on the sidelines of the recently concluded online “Sulong Pilipinas: Youth Partners for Progress” workshop.

“These industries include those that are labor-intensive and thus create stable, decent-paying jobs; provide excellent technology transfers that improve the skills of the country’s workforce; and have stable markets,” he added.

Dominguez said the “obsolete one-size-fits-all” formula of attracting prospective investors has “failed to make the Philippines an investment magnet, with the country persistently lagging behind its Southeast Asian counterparts in terms of the volume and amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows despite being among the first economies in the region to offer fiscal incentives.”

He said the administration’s economic team and the Congress are now in the process of crafting a comprehensive stimulus program to revive the economy waylaid by the coronavirus disease 29019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lacson supports DOF bid to hire more contact tracers amid COVID-19 crisis

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday expressed support for the proposal of the Department of Finance (DOF) to prioritize the hiring of contact tracers to boost the country’s efforts to curb the transmission of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“Contact tracing is a key first step in addressing the COVID-19 threat. It should provide the baseline data or reference on who to test. Without it, our mass testing will be like shooting at the moon or running around like headless chickens,” Lacson said in a statement.

In a briefing aired earlier in the day, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III proposed to ramp up the government’s contact tracing efforts to boost efforts to stop the COVID-19 transmission and provide jobs to stimulate the economy through spending.

“Kung maipapatupad ang mungkahing ito nang maayos, maaari nating lutasin agad ang dalawang problema,” Lacson said.

The senator added that the proposal’s materialization will depend on the Department of Health.

“Ang bagay na ito ay nasa kamay na ng liderato ng Department of Health: Maiimplementa kaya nila ang mungkahi ni Secretary Dominguez?” he asked.

As of May 12, the Philippines has recorded 11,350 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,106 recovered patients and 751 fatalities.

Philippines, ADB sign $200-M loan deal to augment gov’t cash aid to poor families

Robie de Guzman   •   April 30, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Thursday said the Philippines and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have signed a $200-million loan agreement to augment the funding for the government’s cash assistance program to poor and vulnerable households greatly affected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and ADB Country Director for the Philippines Kelly Bird signed the loan deal on Tuesday, April 28, the DOF said.

This is the second additional financing provided by the ADB under the Social Protection Support Project (SPSP), which supports the Government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“We thank the ADB for its swift and continuing support for the Duterte administration’s efforts to blunt the impact of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak on our people and the economy,” Dominguez said in a statement.

“This SPSP loan will help the government achieve the No. 1 priority set by President Duterte in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is to save lives and extend a lifeline to millions of poor and low-income Filipinos who lost their incomes and livelihoods following the pandemic-driven work stoppage,” he added.

The SPSP aims to provide cash grants to beneficiary-families under the 4Ps covered by the emergency subsidies under Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act.

This budget-support loan will help bridge the immediate financing requirements of the government’s response to this coronavirus crisis through the distribution via cash cards of cash grants to beneficiaries of the 4Ps.

For his part, ADB Vice President Ahmed Saeed commended the Philippine government for rolling out the emergency subsidy program aimed at helping poor and vulnerable Filipinos get through this health and economic crisis, as the pandemic curve is flattened.

“This $200 million loan to assist the government in financing COVID-19 cash grants to poor households under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) will help achieve this purpose,” he said.

The loan for the project, which carries a maturity period of 29 years inclusive of an 8-year grace period, is expected to be disbursed by June this year.

Last April 24, the ADB and the Philippines signed a loan agreement that would let the Duterte administration access up to $1.5 billion in budgetary support from the Manila-headquartered lender to augment funds for its stepped-up efforts to contain the global health crisis.

This loan for the COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) program is the largest budget support ever extended to the Philippines by the ADB, according to President Masatsugu Asakawa.

The CARES program loan is under the ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility Pandemic Response Option, which is a quick-disbursing budget-support facility to aid countries like the Philippines in mitigating the severe economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and bankrolling measures to prevent the further spread of this highly contagious virus.

President Asakawa said ADB’s financing for the CARES program loan “is part of a well-sequenced support package that will provide financial and technical advice to help the [Philippines] meet the challenges posed by a crisis that is wreaking havoc both globally and nationally.”

The ADB president has commended the Philippine government for “its strong leadership and decisive actions to halt the spread of COVID-19 and quickly implementing financial assistance packages to families and small businesses to address the economic downturn.”

The ADB was among the first multilateral development institutions to provide assistance to the Philippines’ COVID response efforts with its delivery of a $3-million grant for the government’s purchase of medical supplies for its frontline health workers.

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