Manila, Feb. 19, 2003 -- Officials of the US-funded lobby group Accelerating, Growth, Investment and Liberalization with Equity (Agile) will be questioned by the Senate this afternoon on the group's alleged "espionage" activities.

Initially, Agile caught the attention of the Senate when it was learned that the lobby group was behind the premature transmittal of a copy of a bicameral committee report on the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla) to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Based on the report, which was not yet ratified by both chambers of Congress, the Paris-based FATF said it was rejecting the amendments and gave the Philippines until March 15 to satisfy its demands, particularly the removal of the court order requirement on the opening of suspicious bank accounts.

At the House, Rep. Aniceto G. Saludo Jr. said Agile was also behind the move to replace the Bureau of Internal Revenue with a National Authority for Revenue Administration (NARA), which he described as a conspiracy whose ultimate aim is to privatize revenue collections and surrender fiscal authority to the private sector.

"A conspiracy that will bury forever all records and evidence of plunder at the BIR, leaving in its wake pretentious claims of transparency and good governance," Saludo said in a privilege speech.

The Senate sent invitations to Agile chief of party Dr. Ramon Clarete, managing director David Tardif-Douglin, project administrator Matthew Buzby, macro-policy task manager Rowena Arceo and bank supervision advisor Francesca Banigued.

Sen. Sergio Osmeņa III branded as "disturbing" the vast influence exerted by Agile on the crafting of economic policies by the Arroyo government.

Administration Sen. Ralph Recto said: "Philippine policy-making is directed from Maryland where a US government-funded lobby group is shaping Philippine laws to serve American interests."

Recto said that in addition to the satellite offices in various agencies, Agile agents are also in Malacaņang, "nesting in the office of at least one presidential adviser," whom he refused to identify.

In a privilege speech, Osmeņa III cited an article that appeared on the website of Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), the conduit for the $41 million given by the US Agency for International Development to Agile for its lobbying activities.

The DAI article said the "direct presence" of the lobby group in vital government agencies "allowed Agile to make great strides in (Philippine) policy reform."

Agile reportedly set up satellite offices at the Bangko Sentral, the departments of finance, of budget, of trade and industry, of transportation and communication and of agriculture, Securities and Exchange Commission, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Stock Exchange, National Telecommunications Commission, and the National Economic and Development Authority.

According to the article, Agile and its government and private sector partners assisted the SEC in preparing its rules and procedure on corporate recovery to implement the bankruptcy law, helped ensure the passage of the Securities Regulation Code, helped streamline procedures for the issuance of municipal bonds and helped modernize customs procedures with the enactment of the Coms Valuation Law.

Agile likewise helped install a public procurement system, worked to enact the General Banking Act of 2000, developed a capital adequacy framework, provided technical assistance in crafting and pushing for the enactment of the original Anti-Money Laundering Act, helped enact the Electronic Commerce Law, the Countervailing Measures Act, Anti-Dumping Act and the Safeguard Measures Act.

Osmeņa said the "Philippines has become a colony again of the United States" as he pointed out that the measures crafted with the help of Agile all bore the imprint of US interests.

"It has become apparent that most of the economic measures enacted were made to appear that these were legislated by Filipinos for Filipinos but were in fact for the Americans," he said.

Recto said "the policy concerns of Agile ranges from genetically modified foods to intellectual property rights to radio frequencies to shipping to BIR reorganization to rice importation to capital market to e-commerce to open skies."

The administration senator accused the heads of the agencies where Agile is holding office of "surrendering their duty and mandate to foreign agents."

"Are these agencies intellectually bankrupt that they have to privatize policy crafting? Do we really have to import foreign talents to do the thinking for us? What is their Ivy League education for if they will rely on artificial intelligence?" Recto asked.

He said the USAID project to capture policymaking in the country is a "blatant form of intervention by a foreign entity on the affairs of the host country."

Minority leader Vicente Sotto III said the revelations about Agile's influence in the legislature and the executive is "alarming."

"Agile is a threat to the whole nation, to the freedom of the Philippines. They think they know what is best for us. I think we should let the Filipino people decide for themselves what is good for them," he said.

Malacaņang warned that "things could get worse" once the FATF imposes sanctions against the Philippines for not complying with its required amendments to the Amla. (By JOAN DAIRO and DENNIS GADIL, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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