In his final year in office, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has included a measure to relax the country’s tight bank secrecy regulations in his legislative objectives, according to the central bank.
The move comes just weeks after the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) moved the Southeast Asian country, along with Haiti and South Sudan, to its grey list of countries under enhanced scrutiny.
The Philippine central bank, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), has pledged to try to guarantee compliance with FATF recommendations and to leave the list by 2023.
The Bank Deposits Secrecy Bill will give the BSP increased investigative powers, making it easier for the regulator to examine suspicious bank accounts, and impose heavy penalties.
It will equip the BSP with tools “necessary to prove the commission of fraud, serious irregularity or unlawful activity if reasonable basis exists”, the central bank said in a statement.
The BSP has long pushed for such measures, but attempts by previous administrations to amend or repeal the law to combat tax fraud failed amid fears about breaches of privacy or being used to harass political opponents.
Business groups, including the Bankers Association of the Philippines, have thrown their support behind the bill.
To soothe privacy fears, the BSP stated that the results of any investigation would not be made public on the spur of the moment, and would only be shared with courts and other authorities if it was required to prevent or prosecute a crime.
Despite its rigorous anti-money laundering regulations, the Philippines has been the target of a number of high-profile bank thefts in recent years, including a $81 million cyber heist in 2016 involving funds taken from Bangladesh’s central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.