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Taunting the Tigers of Tamil

(Article published in the Dec 17, 2008 issue of Manila Standard Today)

At just about midnight, all the lights went off inside their hotel in a foreign land.  Then, suddenly search lights sprouted skyward as if to sweep the dark dome above of some unwanted insect. Guns barked nearby.  Tracer bullets raced out of anti-aircraft machine guns and blasted at targets unseen. All in fifteen minutes.  Then quiet again.

I do not know how Mr. George Tan and Atty. Hubert Guevara took it. I would have been funked.  But not so was Atty. Richard David C. Funk ll.  Soon thereafter, Ricky Funk was back in the Philippines (I am not too sure it is a much safer country) casually telling the story at the monthly meeting of the members of the Financial Sector Liaison Committee (FSLC). 

The FSLC was established by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on 31 May 2004 to serve as a venue for consultation and coordination on meeting issues relating to the country’s adherence to anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing principles.  Its sessions are chaired by Vic Aquino, executive director of the AMLC, and is attended by senior officials of the supervising authorities, i.e. the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Insurance Commission (IC), and representatives of the trade organizations speaking for the so called “covered institutions” of the anti-money laundering law.

          Atty. Richard David C. Funk ll and Mr. George Tan both Deputy Directors of the AMLC Secretariat and Atty. Hubert Guevara, Director, Compliance and Enforcement Department of the SEC  were in Colombo, Sri Lanka last October 27-29, 2008 to attend the annual typologies workshop conducted by the Asia Pacific Group (APG) on money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism.


The APG is an Financial Action Task Force (FATF) style regional body composed of member jurisdictions located within the Pacific Rim and Asia with the primary objective of seeing to the compliance by its members with the FATF’s Forty Recommendations and Nine Special Recommendations. 

The Forty Recommendations as a body is a set of guidelines which prescribe the international standards which all countries are asked to comply in setting up a complete and internationally compliant anti-money laundering regime within each their respective territories. It enumerates the measures that all nations are encouraged to adopt in order to institute and implement an effective anti-money laundering program and covers a wide array of anti-money laundering activities, ranging from the enactment of laws, statutes and regulations against, and for the criminalization of, money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Our Anti-Money Laundering Council is the response to the Recommendations call for the creation of a financial intelligence unit (FIU) that is to serve as the central repository of all transaction reports generated by the institutions comprising the three main industries within the financial sector of an economy, banking, securities and insurance.

The Forty Recommendations also asks countries to establish a system of suspicious transaction reporting, encourages the relaxation or removal of bank secrecy laws and institution of a system allowing mutual assistance and cooperation between countries to apprehend and prosecute suspected money launderers. The Philippines complied when the Anti-Money Laundering Law added some exceptions to our otherwise strict Bank Secrecy Law, or R.A. 1405 and when it entered, and continues to enter, into a number of mutual legal assistance treaties with other countries. 

After 9/11, the FATF came up with the Special Nine Recommendations containing a list of measures specifically designed to address the burgeoning problem of terrorism and its financing. There was no better place than Sri Lanka for Funk, Tan and Guevarra to realize that terrorism was not just a newspaper item. Sri Lanka was home to one of the world’s most violent terrorist organizations, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). The Tamil Tigers for short. The LTTE is currently proscribed as a terror organization in thirty-one countries.

Not without reason is the Tamil Tigers a feared organization. Like the typical terrorist machine, it maintains several sub-groups. One is the Sea Tigers, an amphibious warfare unit focusing on utilization of naval firepower and logistics, mainly consisting of lightweight boats. Another is the Air Tigers which is an airborne group, consisting of several lightweight aircraft and having the dubious distinction of being the world's first air force controlled by an organization proscribed as terrorists. Finally, there is the Black Tigers, a suicide commando unit believed to be responsible for the killing of one Indian Prime Minister and a Sri Lankan Prime Minister.  In addition, the Tamil Tigers also supports an intelligence wing and a political wing.

It was no wonder then that the Tamil Tigers made their presence felt when APG held its anti-terrorist financing typologies workshop in Sri Lanka.  APG’s meeting in Sri Lanka was like taunting a tiger inside his own cave; any tiger would feel most unworthy of his stripes if he did not at least show his fangs to irreverent intruders. 

Thus, as the newspapers reported the following morning, what transpired at midnight of the second day of the APG conference was an attack by the Tamil Tigers on the nearby Kelanitissa power plant. A suspected Tamil Tiger aircraft dropped two bombs on the power station. In the process, it activated the air defense system of the City of Colombo  and  its suburbs was activated and authorities were constrained to suspend the electric supply to the city as a precautionary measure. Although the bombs caused no personal injuries but only a minor fire, it brought home to the conference participants that indeed, as widely believed, the Tamil Tigers had been able to build its so-called “air-force”, allegedly from solicited contributions of so-called charitable institutions and aircraft parts smuggled piece by piece into Sri Lanka.

The experience had not daunted our AMLC stalwarts.  They point out that no one is safe from terrorism.  They exhort the covered institutions to be alert to red flags, such as, among other warnings listed in AMLC Resolution No. 59  issued June 1, 2005, (1) wire transfers between accounts, without visible or economic business purpose; (2) transfers where sources or beneficiaries are citizens of countries which are identified or connected with terrorist activities; individuals receiving remittances from countries where they have no relatives; and (3) clients reported  and/or mentioned in the news to be involved in terrorist activities or under investigation by law enforcement agencies for possible involvement in terrorist activities.

The Philippines, claims Ricky Funk,  just like Sri Lanka is one of those countries daily facing the menacing threat of terrorism. As a country with world re-known terror organizations, it has had its share of terrorist attacks. Their Sri Lankan experience stresses the importance of everyone and every institution’s obligation to contribute to the effort to solving the problem of terrorism and strangling its financing.