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Total failure

Manila Standard

Several senators recently expressed disappointment over the failure of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to do its work in connection with the now-viral POGO hub in Bamban, Tarlac.

During the Senate investigation it was revealed the contractor that built the infamous POGO hub could not be found, there also being no trace of the P6.1 billion used to construct it.

For Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the AMLC “totally failed to perform their mandate,” saying the POGO hub was being used for large-scale money laundering by a syndicate.

The senator said the AMLC’s monitoring was “very weak,” this despite several government measures aimed at removing the Philippines from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Grey List, a roster of countries recognized for their weak anti-money laundering measures.

Weak monitoring is only a symptom of a much bigger disease— weak institutions. Weak monitoring begets even weaker enforcement.

Our regulatory authorities seem weak compared to large multinational companies holding dominant market positions with the power to ignore government actions.

Take Google and Apple for example.

These two tech platforms continue to defy calls to block unregulated players from their mobile app stores.

Several months ago, both the Securities and Exchange Commission and National Telecommunications Commission banned certain investment platforms for being unregistered in the country, aimed at protecting Filipino investors.

Both regulators issued warnings against popular platforms like Etoro, XM, and Gemini, with others being totally banned like OctaFX, MiTrade, and Binance.

The biggest is Binance—a widely used cryptocurrency exchange in the country—which has pleaded guilty to anti-money laundering infractions in the US and its founder to serve jail time for this and other offenses.

Both the NTC and SEC have requested a ban on these apps.

Months later, they remain available to Filipinos.

None of these apps are registered with SEC, much less AMLC, hence the ban.

If the AMLC cannot even monitor locally registered companies, what more unregistered foreign companies?

P6.1 billion will look like chump change compared to the billions of dollars that continue to be laundered through these unregulated platforms.

Apple and Google are manifestly indifferent to the national interest of the Philippines, where they enjoy a huge following.

How can these companies hold so much power that they can choose to ignore the government?

Maybe it’s about time for our legislators to review whether the Philippine Competition Commission is carrying out its mandate.

We should look into Google and Apple’s anti-competitive practices, since this is the only logical explanation for them to act with such impunity and ignore our regulators because of their dominant market position.

South Korea has even gone as far as passing an Anti-Google law addressing this.

What is clearly needed to overcome this challenge is a whole-of-nation approach to solve our shady global reputation for being a money laundering hub.

Whether our legislators and regulators will take any action remains to be seen.

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