Virtual currency gaining popularity in Philippines

Lawrence Agcaoili - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is fasttracking the two-stage evaluation of the applications of 12 virtual currency exchange operators in its bid to strengthen financial consumer protection.

Melchor Plabasan, deputy director and head of the BSP’s core information technology specialist group, said the central bank is evaluating the application of 12 companies to operate virtual currency exchanges.

Of the 12 applicants, Plabasan said eight are completing the submission of the required documents, while four have completed the presentation of their business models.

“We are fasttracking the registration of the 12 applicants,” he said.

Plabasan said the BSP has approved the application of Rebittance Inc. and Betur Inc. (Coins.ph) to operate virtual currency exchanges in the country.

Bitcoin is the most popular form of virtual currency.

The volume of bitcoin transactions in the Philippines now averages $8.8 million in the first half, more than four times the $2 million per month average in 2015.

Last January, the BSP issued Circular 944 laying down the guidelines for virtual currency exchanges. It is the policy of the central bank providing an environment that encourages financial innovation while at the same time ensure that the Philippines will not be used for money laundering or terrorist financing activities and that the financial system and financial consumers are adequately protected.

Thus, the regulator recognizes that virtual currency systems have the potential to revolutionize delivery of financial services, particularly for payments and remittance, in view of their ability to provide faster and more economical transfer of funds, both domestic and international, and may further support financial inclusion.

As a safeguard, Plabasan said large value payout amounting to more than P500,000 should be via check payment or direct deposit to accounts.

“We just regulate, we don’t endorse virtual currency because it’s not currency. We only regulate if it is used in delivering financial services like remittance,” he clarified.

He said the BSP started monitoring virtual currency particularly bitcoins as early as 2014 when it issued a public advisory.

Plabasan said the BSP is set to issue a public advisory to warn the general public about virtual currency scams.

He explained there’s a lot of pyramid schemes right now disguising as initial coin offerings.

“We want to advise the general public to be wary of these,” he said.

Virtual currency bitcoin hit another all-time peak of $17,428.42 on Tuesday.

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