The banking industry in the Philippines is in hot water due to the series of controversies that happened in the past few months. It could be recalled that Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) has been involved in a $81 million money laundering scandal wherein hackers siphoned off money from the Central Bank of Bangladesh and transferred to RCBC. The illegal transaction came into authorities’ attention when the name of the recipient was found to be erroneous. Hence, raised red flags and fro further investigation was proved to be initiated by a syndicate. However, the proceeds could no longer be retrieved as the money was said to have been used in the casino. According to sources, Solaire Resort and Casino received a large chunk of the money. A few months later, Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Roa Duterte found himself in the middle of a full-blown controversy as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV revealed documents showing bank transactions amounting to more or less P211 million pesos. Accusations hurled at him were vehemently denied by his camp. The alleged account under the Julio Vargas branch of the Bank of the Philippine Islands was later validated to be existing. This raised questions as to whether the Duterte who has been parading a poor man image was indeed what he claims to be.
With the issue spreading like wildfire and banking customers losing confidence in the industry, BPI had to do damage control and conduct their own investigation to determine if a leak really occurred. In a matter of days, its management released a statement clarifying that a breach of confidentiality did not happen within the bank. Furthermore, BPI, through Ayala Corporation’s Chief Financial Officer guaranteed that the documents which Trillanes put forward were not official papers from the bank. Meaning to say, it could be possible that the so-called evidence was fabricated. To clarify his side, Duterte executed a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) authorizing his lawyer to open his accounts with BPI certifying that single or accumulated deposits done to his account did not amount to P211,000.00.
Regardless if the Anti Money Laundering Council could address the abovementioned issues, one thing stays clear—that there are loopholes with banking laws such that existing protocols are not enough to ensure that the Philippine banking industry stays clean. The $81 million bank heist could have been prevented had bank executives adhered to the rules in place which requires them to be on the lookout for suspicious transactions. Trillanes on the other hand, could have chosen to raise his concerns with AMLA instead of exposing the story to the media, making everything a trial by publicity a wherein he evidently lost.
Finally, if the Anti Money Laundering Council of the Philippines is dead serious about its mission to keep the country free from money laundering activities, it should proactively involve itself with efforts to return the money to the Central Bank of Bangladesh and create laws on regulating monetary activities in casinos. Otherwise, the integrity of the financial system of the Philippines would be jeopardized.