MANILA, February 14, 2005 (STAR) By Des Ferriols  -  After losing its tag as a money-laundering haven, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said the Philippines would gain access to opportunities that have not been accessible to local financial institutions.

The Philippines was finally removed last week by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force on Anti-Money Laundering (FATF) from its list of non-cooperative countries and territories (NCCTs).

According to the BSP, removal from the NCCT list would immediately translate to a reduction in the friction cost of doing business with Philippine financial institutions because the country was no longer being singled out as a haven for money laundering.

BSP Governor Rafael B. Buenaventura said over the weekend that the immediate impact on the financial sector was the easing up on international transactions that used to be subject to extraordinary red tape.

"Being in the NCCT list meant that international financial institutions have to be doubly careful when dealing with us," Buenaventura said. "This means our friction costs would be substantially reduced."

More importantly, Buenaventura said the institutions that refused to deal with Philippine financial institutions because of the FATF blacklist would soon renew their dealing with these institutions.

"In the financial world, perception goes a long way," Buenaventura added. "Now that we are out of this list, it increases the stature of our institutions."

However, Buenaventura said that despite the delisting, the Philippines would still be subjected to regular monitoring of the FATF, making it necessary for the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to continue tightening on its monitoring of possible money-laundering through the financial system.

The BSP had already taken additional steps to comply with the FATF recommendations, particularly the move to require money-changers, remittance agents and foreign exchange dealers to register and report their transactions.

The BSP issued a new circular requiring the registration of non-bank institutions engaged in money-changing or remittances, in an attempt to calm FATF’s fears that these channels were being used to finance criminal and terrorist activities.

The circular was approved by the Monetary Board after months of resisting the mammoth job of registering and monitoring some 30,000 to 50,000 money changers and remittance agents.

Buenaventura said similar measures would be undertaken in the future to further tighten the noose on money-laundering.

"Money laundering is not a static process–the perpetrators will continue finding ways to go around the rules and the system has to be one step ahead of them all the time," he said.

Buenaventura said the AMLC would need ample financing just to upgrade its technical and professional expertise but especially in the recruitment of competent personnel.

"We’ll have to make sure that AMLC will have the resources to keep the country FATF-compliant," he said. "It’s the anchor of all the agencies that cooperate to work against money laundering."

The NCCT list is the roster of countries considered as the last bastions of money-laundering activities and continued inclusion meant increasing isolation from the international financial community.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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