POSTSCRIPT / January 8, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why don’t we just ask the Fed to run our banks?

LOWER THRESHOLD?: There is pressure for Congress to lower from “above P4 million” to “above P500,000” the minimum transaction that banks are required to report under the newly enacted anti-money laundering law (RA 9160).

Lawmakers are split on what the minimum should be. From our easy chair, we think that a bank client doing legitimate business need not quibble over a threshold of above P500,000, provided he still makes money despite the rules and the taxes.

It’s a different matter, of course, if a serious type invokes principles in objecting to surveillance of bank transactions that are generally presumed to be confidential.

But foreign pressure — principally from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force — had caused the enactment of RA 9160 as the country’s reluctant contribution to the global tracking of illegally acquired funds.

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MANILA A LAUNDRETTE: Easy-going Manila had become in recent years a haven of foreign-sourced laundered money. It was so easy to hide dirty money in many of our very accommodating banks.

This reputation suffered, however, when banks suspected of holding illicit funds of former President Erap Estrada and his cronies were forced during his impeachment trial in 2000 to divulge confidential details of their questioned transactions.

We’ve been told that right after the red-hot envelope containing the “Jose Velarde” bank records were submitted to the Senate, billions stashed in secret accounts flew out of Manila at such a velocity that the peso is still reeling from the flight.

The usual pressure groups now tell us that our P4-million threshold (around $80,000) is too high to catch smaller or piece-meal laundering attempts. It looks rather high to us also.

In the United States, any bank transaction above $10,000 is reported to federal authorities. In fact, any traveler carrying that amount is also required to declare it at the US port. Carrying the money is not illegal per se, but failing to declare it is.

In the Philippines, amounts overshooting the P4-million threshold must be reported by the financial institution concerned to the Anti-Money Laundering Council headed by the governor of the Central Bank.

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U.S. SURVEILLANCE: How close to the US minimum should ours be? The $10,000 (P500,000) threshold in the US is eight times lower than the P4 million under our RA 9160. But do we have to do what Americans do? And do we have to do what they tell us to do?

Having been pressured to open our banking system to foreign surveillance, do we open it up some more? When do we say “Tama na!” (Enough!)? Assuming we can.

We have news for you. The Philippine government has just agreed to accept US technology and technicians to “help” monitor money moving through our banking system. We’re that hospitable, even to moles.

What else will we be asked to do? Well, we’re now being asked to lower our, huh, threshold, and open our, huh, bank books. Do we submit to it? If it’s inevitable, as one Raul once said, might as well lean back and enjoy it.

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DEBATE ON THRESHOLD: Manila Rep. Jaime Lopez, House banking committee chairman, said he was amenable to bringing the threshold down to P2 million or P1 million, “but not P500,000.” He said that since transactions in the range of P500,000 or less are so commonplace, there would be a flood of reports.

But another Manila congressman, Mario Batacan Crespo (better known as Mark Jimenez) who is chairman of the anti-money laundering subcommittee, favored the adoption of the “universal” threshold of $10,000. We’re inclined to vote with him.

If data submitted to congressional committees are correct, 93 percent of savings deposits of Filipino clients are in the range of P200,000 and below. We don’t think this mass clientele will develop inferiority complex if its money is not subjected to high-tech surveillance.

As for the “flood” of reports that the lowering of the threshold might generate, this should not be cause for worry. Mammoth computers will handle that. Bank transactions on these islands are not even a drop in the US bucket, but you don’t hear American bankers complaining of a “flood” of reports.

The real problem, it seems to us, is that the tightening of the rules will drive away the money-launderers (is there such a word?) who, for a while, made life a bed of roses for the more imaginative bankers and their pare and mare in government.

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UNFINISHED BUSINESS?: We’re fearful for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with the way former President Fidel V. Ramos is holding her hand and grinning at her in that front-page picture of the STAR yesterday.

Mr. Ramos’ picture reminds us of the cat just before the tricky kitty swallowed the canary.

To relax our hyperactive mind, we repeat what we’ve been saying all along: If FVR wants to run for president in 2004, let him.

The way he still hovers around, in contrast with Cory Aquino who is taking retirement with grace, one would think FVR is worried about some unfinished business he had left in the Palace. Let him run in 2004 then, and get it over with.

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INFOTECH NOTES: We want to acknowledge the quiet assistance being given by ePLDT.com and Infocom Technologies to shield subscribers from computer viruses. ePLDT takes the initiative of scanning all email meant for or coming from Infocom subscribers.

If a virus is detected, they try to clean it out before it reaches the client. Failing that, they delete the infected file and inform the intended recipient of the action taken. For those who have unreliable anti-virus software, this is a big help. Other Internet service providers (ISP) might want to extend similar service or something better.

ONE software we’ve found useful is Norton System Works 2002. Aside from the usual action against viruses, this multi-use software detects and corrects errors and bugs in the operating system, registry and files. It even rummages through your trash bin for a missing file or some potential problem — and fixes problems while you’re having coffee.

If you happen to be connected to the Internet at that time, it will also automatically update your virus patterns. Users who don’t have either the expertise or the time to tinker with their computers will find this Norton useful.

SOME friends who have shifted to the vaunted Windows XP operating system of Microsoft are no longer excited about it. They report that the XP (does it mean “experimental”?) just looks, feels and works like the older Windows 98.

This may be because they still use their old hardware and have not shifted to Pentium 4 and related equipment, but we really can’t say at this point since we have not used Windows XP, content as we are with our Win98SE. If you’re the ordinary user, you can stick to your Win98 for a while longer.

IN Silicon Valley in California, word has gotten around that the archrivals Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices are coming out with even faster processors. While Intel is expected to unwrap a 2.2-gigahertz Pentium 4, AMD will stay in the race with its upgraded Athlon XP 2000+ running at 1.67 gigahertz.

Months ago, Intel bounced back with a Pentium 4 rated at 2 ghz after AMD grabbed the lead in the speed race with its Athlon XP 1900+ at 1.6 ghz.

Local distributors we contacted still do not have the literature and the prices for Pentium 4 2.2 ghz and Athlon XP 2000+ 1.67 ghz. We’ll tell you once we get them.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 8, 2002)

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