Responding to Watchdog, Philippines Vows to Prosecute Terrorism Funders

Marielle Lucenio
Manila
2021-06-28
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Responding to Watchdog, Philippines Vows to Prosecute Terrorism Funders Supporters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, protest near Malacañang Palace in Manila over peace talks in Oslo, Norway, March 31, 2017.
AFP

The Philippine government vowed Monday to investigate and prosecute those responsible for funding terrorist groups after a global watchdog placed the country on its gray list of states facing scrutiny over efforts to combat money laundering and other illicit financing.

The Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based intergovernmental body, said on Friday that it added the Philippines, Haiti, Malta and South Sudan to its list of countries “subject to increased monitoring” in order “to address strategic deficiencies in their regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing.”

In Manila, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines was serious about instituting reforms.

“There were no counter-measures imposed. This only means we will be under increased monitoring,” Roque told a virtual news briefing. “We have promised to implement our action plan to include amending the Anti-Money Laundering and CTF (Counter-Terrorism Financing) laws,” he said.

Terrorism financing investigations and prosecutions are to be increased, along with public awareness efforts, he said.

The Philippine government made a high-level political commitment this month to boost its laws against money laundering and terror financing, the task force said, adding that Manila was required to submit progress reports three times a year.

The task force noted that the government’s action plan includes demonstrating that effective risk-based supervision of non-financial businesses is occurring and that supervisors are using proper controls to mitigate risks associated with casino junkets. In the Philippines, casino junkets and the gaming industry cater largely to high-spending gamblers from China.

The plan also includes demonstrating an increased use of financial intelligence and in identification, investigation and prosecution of terrorism financing cases, according to the task force.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Money Laundering Council of the Philippines said it was working to address deficiencies at the national level. The council said the country’s strategy was being updated and that all loopholes would be plugged.

“The mere identification of the Philippines as having ‘Jurisdiction under Increased Monitoring’ with serious AML/CTF deficiencies does not automatically mean imposition of countermeasures,” the council said in a statement on June 25, referring to the money laundering and terror financing laws.

“It is only when the country fails to meet the deadlines will the FATF call on countries to impose countermeasures against the Philippines,” it said. “Hence, all government agencies involved should deliver expected outputs on the action plans pertaining to them.”

Recipients of illicit funding

Roque called out the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, which the government has placed on the country’s list of terrorist organizations, as likely recipients of dirty money from foreign donors.

“So we really need to trace and shut their sources of funds,” the presidential spokesman said. “This is also to the benefit of the republic and we agree that more efforts have to be exerted so that the sources of funds of these terrorists would dry up.”

Besides the outlawed communists, Muslim militants in the southern Philippines linked to the Islamic State (IS) group have been known to receive funding from foreign backers. In recent years, authorities have arrested several Filipino and foreign militants in the south who had allegedly helped funnel funds to the region, according to authorities.

“These shadowy figures often use Filipino Muslims in Mindanao to donate money for charitable work in the name of Islam, but part of these funds often find their way into the hands of militant organizations,” said a Philippine official with knowledge of terrorist financing in the south, but who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.

Filipino intelligence officials have said they do not know how much funding was needed to finance the 2017 siege of the southern city of Marawi by pro-IS militants, although one of the IS lieutenants killed during a five-month battle there was Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad. The intelligence official said that Mahmud had channeled funds from foreign militant backers.

In 2019, a Jordanian man identified as Mahmoud Afif Abdeljalil, was arrested in the southern city of Zamboanga and subsequently deported.

Police identified him as an operative of al-Qaeda who was an associate of Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, who was killed in Madagascar in January 2007 and was known to have funneled money to Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines.

There was no evidence to link Abdeljalil to the Marawi attack, although his arrest “showed the extent of foreign militant network in Mindanao,” the Philippine official told BenarNews.

A BenarNews correspondent in Zamboanga, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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