The Philippine Congress approved a bill Wednesday that makes terror financing a crime with a long prison term in a Southeast Asian nation that has long been roiled by bombings and kidnappings by extremists.
Financiers of terrorism were previously treated as mere accomplices, but the bill considers them as key players in terrorism. Aside from a 40-year prison term, convicted offenders will be fined up to 1 million pesos ($23,255), according to a copy of the bill.
It also empowers the government's Anti-Money Laundering Council to examine assets and bank accounts of suspected financiers of known terrorists and extremist groups even without a court order, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said.
"Since terrorism essentially depends on the financing it may obtain, it is a matter of grave and urgent concern to any reasonable government to criminalize the financing of terrorism," Guingona said. The bill, he said, "will help curb the spread of terrorism by paralyzing the very lifeline of unscrupulous groups and individuals."
The Anti-Terrorist Financing Bill passed easily in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, sending it to President Benigno Aquino III. It was sponsored by key congressional allies, indicating he is likely to sign the legislation into law.
Guingona said an offender would be punished even if a terrorist attack he funded failed. The would-be law could be applied only to financiers of extremists and organizations blacklisted as terrorists by the Philippine government and the international community.
The Philippines has long been battling a number of al-Qaida-linked groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for bombings, beheadings and kidnappings and accused of harboring extremists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East.