EDITORIAL - Follow the dirty money trail

The Philippine Star

It’s been over a week since Joel Escorial turned himself in and told police he was hired to kill broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa. Escorial said he and his gang of hired guns were paid a total of P550,000 for the hit. He also turned over his bank passbook to probers, who confirmed that it contained details of the deposits.

The source of the bank deposits could lead authorities to the mastermind behind the murder of Lapid. Escorial has said two “middlemen” – inmates in different facilities – negotiated the contract to kill that was put out by the mastermind.

One of the middlemen, Cristito “Jun” Villamor, died under mysterious circumstances at the New Bilibid Prison where he was serving his sentence for murder and frustrated murder. The other, Christopher Bacoto – a detainee of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology who has not yet been convicted – is alive and supposedly under the protection of authorities.

As long as the mastermind is at large, Bacoto as well as Escorial and the other suspects who are at large can still be permanently silenced. Even Lapid’s brother, journalist Roy Mabasa, is reportedly receiving death threats. Following the money trail in the P550,000 payment can lead to the mastermind.

Obviously, time is of the essence in tracking down the brains, before more people are murdered. Law enforcers must work with banking authorities to identify ASAP the source of the P550,000. Besides possibly leading to the murder brains, it could earn points for the country in its effort to get out of the so-called gray list of global dirty money watchdog Financial Action Task Force.

The FATF recently announced that it was retaining the Philippines in its gray list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring for money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation financing. The Philippines was included in the gray list in June last year, and has until January 2023 to correct the deficiencies.

Among other things, the FATF wants the Philippines to improve efforts to mitigate risks associated with casino junkets, as well as to demonstrate heightened capability to identify, investigate and prosecute terrorism financing cases. The FATF also wants enhanced and streamlined access of law enforcement agencies to accurate and up-to-date beneficial ownership information.

The Philippines has one of the world’s strictest bank secrecy laws, which probers have cited in the slow identification of the source of the P550,000 paid for Lapid’s murder. But the country has the Anti-Money Laundering Council, which can order banks to lift bank secrecy laws when it comes to covered crimes. Speedy action on Escorial’s bank account would not only help in giving justice to Lapid, but also show resolute determination on the part of the country to stop the flow of dirty money.

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