It is ironic that the first country to enforce the latest UN sanctions against North Korea by impounding a cargo vessel is the Philippines. That is because, until the election of President Aquino in 2010, the Philippines was not necessarily considered to be a leading example of adherence to the practice of best standards in enforcing international law. After six years of leadership under President Aquino, that appears to be changing, but as the country’s presidential election looms, it underscores the importance of maintaining the momentum that has been achieved over the past six years.
In a July 2011 report, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network revealed that the Philippines had made a high-level political commitment to work with the Financial Action Task Force to address its strategic deficiencies in anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing (CTF), but although the Aquino Administration had made some progress at the time, strategic deficiencies remained. Among the recommendations made were that the country should continue to criminalize money laundering and terrorist financing, implement adequate procedures to identify and freeze terrorist assets and confiscate funds related to money laundering, and enhance financial transparency.
That said, in 2012 the Philippines was noted by the U.S. Treasury for the continuation of ‘strategic deficiencies’ in its AML/CTF battle, but by 2013, the country was found to be in compliance with its obligations under the AML/CTF regime. The seizure of the North Korean vessel is high profile evidence of that, but much remains to be done to bring the Philippines into compliance with international law and best practices on a diverse range of other issues. For example, the country remains on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Watch List for non-compliance with Intellectual Property Rights, and as numerous international businesses continue to discover, equal protection under the law does not always apply to foreign investors in the Philippines.