MANILA, Philippines - The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) yesterday admitted it is helpless in going after big-time illegal gambling operators since no criminal cases have been filed.
AMLC secretariat officer Richard David Funk II said efforts to go after the bank accounts of suspected jueteng and masiao operators are difficult as law enforcement agencies have failed to file criminal cases against them.
Funk made the revelation during the second hearing of the Senate yesterday on the proliferation of jueteng.
Although Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile argued that the AMLC has the power to file a case and prove the existence of probable cause without police help, Funk said their hands were bound by a Supreme Court decision that requires the AMLC to inform a suspect beforehand that the council is looking into his account.
“We are empowered only insofar as the money laundering aspect,” Funk told the Senate Blue Ribbon committee members led by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III.
Funk said the AMLC could proceed to file a case if there is probable cause to freeze the assets of the suspect.
Asked why the AMLC did not act on leads provided during Senate public hearings and on news reports that illegal gambling operators have stashed high value assets abroad, Funk quoted Enrile himself as saying some five years ago that “all those exposés are hearsay; how can that constitute probable cause in a court of law?”
Enrile later said the AMLC should have followed up the leads from the current exposes and Senate investigations.
“We have been looking into jueteng lords your honor since the time of the creation of the AMLC,” Funk assured.
Bureau of Internal Revenue deputy commissioner Estela Sales also told the committee that they took the initiative to check out the assets of suspected jueteng operators.
Sales said the BIR has started checking the tax compliance and records of the persons named by retired archbishop Oscar Cruz and in the privilege speech of Sen. Miriam Santiago.
“Since these people are engaged in unauthorized form of gambling, they would not normally report any income derived from illegal activity… so we are using the net worth or expenditure method,” Sales said.
“We started and we shall continue, except that we are encountering roadblocks since the names that we were given are aliases and pseudonyms,” she added.
Guingona led the Senate Blue Ribbon committee in delving into the revelations of Cruz and Santiago in naming some personalities allegedly receiving payoffs from illegal gambling operations.
At the same time, Guingona called on the Bureau of Immigration to put former national police chief Jesus Verzosa in the watch list for failing to attend the last two hearings over the issue.
Verzosa was among the personalities named by Santiago.
Verzosa’s camp, however, said the former national police chief was in Singapore when the Senate notified him.
Verzosa had submitted the letter along with two folders of documents in explaining how he had tried to address the problem of jueteng during his term.
Businessman Antonio Cojuangco also submitted a letter to the Blue Ribbon committee denying the allegations made by Cruz against him.
Even while Guingona was keen on having Verzosa at the Senate hearing, he took it easy on Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo during yesterday’s hearing.
Guingona noted the statements of Robredo tasking Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno and Verzosa to intensify the campaign against jueteng.
Robredo told the committee that he was personally directed by President Aquino to address the problem of jueteng.
Robredo also defended Verzosa and Puno on allegations that they were on the take.
When asked by the committee on what he had done following the allegations, Robredo said he ordered an investigation and confronted Puno who denied the allegations.
“We were being tagged that we were part of the jueteng payola, and there were certain names that were mentioned. I wrote them, I told them that if you won’t do something people might tend to believe these reports,” Robredo said.
Robredo said he had an agreement with Puno to address the issue and urged Napolcom to suggest a better option to address the jueteng problem.
“Probably like most of us, you go to a blank wall. Aside from the reports that have been received, aside from the news clippings, it’s essentially what they say, there are no evidence, no hard facts to prove these allegations,” Robredo said.
During the hearing, Guingona ordered the issuance of invitations to the people mentioned by Cruz and Senator Santiago “so that they can air their side.”
Guingona said the resource person could merely send a letter to explain their side.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the committee on public order and illegal drugs, took the opportunity to call on PNP chief Director General Raul Bacalzo to submit recommendations on how to address the problem on jueteng.
Bacalzo told the committee that gambling operations other than jueteng have gone down to about 50 percent, citing reports from ground commanders.
He said jueteng operations were reduced by about five to seven percent following the exposes.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on the other hand, said there is a need to dismantle criminal organizations that operate illegal gambling before taking on the proposal to legalize jueteng.
“It is absolutely imperative that we continue to the very end, and we can say in good conscience that we have examined everything, turned every rug… talked to every witness,” Marcos said when Guingona ventured on asking Robredo on how to address the problem of jueteng.
“More and more we want to hear the various methods in making legal the illegal numbers game,” Marcos said, stressing his stand that there is a need to continue with the hearings beyond discussing the merits of legalization of jueteng.
Robredo defended the operation of Small Town Lottery (STL), pointing out the lottery draw is the only viable alternative of the government to neutralize the illegal numbers game.
“Between the time that it was legalized and now, I think we should come out with a better STL and work on it,” Robredo said.
“With the enforcement of STL, I don’t think we need to legalize jueteng,” he said.
Robredo recommended the STL should be localized in the municipal and city level and just give royalty to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). – With Jess Diaz, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Eva Visperas, Ric Sapnu, Teddy Molina