Villar pushes bill against scamming as Poe calls for arrest of SIM registration violators

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Photo from Senate shows Sen. Mark Villar (right) and Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian during the hearing the Monday, Sept. 18

Sen. Mark Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies, led a hearing on Monday, Sept. 18, on three Senate resolutions, four Senate bills, and one House bill, collectively called as the Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act or AFASA.

“The number of phishing attacks in the Philippines during the first half of 2022 already surpassed the number of attacks in the whole year of 2021. In that period, over 1.8 million attacks have been detected compared to 1.34 million attacks in 2021,” Villar said.

Villar said the rising cases of online scams that victimize Filipinos are extremely concerning as data from Kaspersky Security Network reveal that cases of financial phishing attempts in the Philippines from February to April 2022 were highest in Southeast Asia.

He emphasized that AFASA will deal with cases of online fraud and provide a regulatory framework that penalizes scammers and entails safeguard measures to protect Filipinos and their financial accounts.

“Because of the lack of a regulatory framework that penalizes these scammers, there are and there will be more victims in the foreseeable future. Even as we speak, there are individuals being victimized by these scammers who seize every vulnerable opportunity available to them. We cannot watch from the sidelines as scammers take advantage of our people,” Villar added.

The senator further emphasized that cases of online fraud endanger the public’s trust in financial institutions. He stressed that by enacting the AFASA into law, the public’s trust in banks and financial institutions would then be strengthened.

The public committee hearing was followed by an executive session due to the confidentiality and sensitivity of the issues and information that will be discussed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Grace Poe said authorities should start to test the mettle of the SIM Registration law by arresting and penalizing text scammers.

Poe said the law has good provisions, which should be put into effective use by concerned agencies, law enforcers and telcos, instead of halting its implementation.

“Nasa awtoridad ang responsibilidad ng maayos na pagpapatupad ng batas na ito. Ang sabi ko nga, kung may matibay na ebidensya laban sa mga nahuli na lumalabag sa batas, sampolan n’yo na,” said Poe, the principal author of RA 11934 or the SIM Registration Act.

“Ang dapat talaga, pinatutupad ang ang batas. Kapag may nakita ang ating mga kababayan na nahuli at kinulong dahil dito nga sa mga fake registration ng SIM o nagbebenta ng pre-registered na SIM, kahit papaano mababawasan yan,” she added.

The senator said that police have made recent raids on cybercrime hubs which led to the discovery of hundreds of pre-registered SIM cards.

“Ano na ang nangyari doon sa mga nahulihan ng may fake na SIM card? Hindi ba dapat iyon ang ikulong o kasuhan?” she said.

“Dati, kung may makita na may fake na SIM cards, hindi makasuhan dahil walang batas, ibig sabihin, hindi iligal ‘yun. Ngayon, binigyan na natin ng armas ang awtoridad sa pamamagitan ng batas. Umaasa ang ating mga kababayan na gagawin nila ang trabaho nila,” she added.

Poe said she expects the inclusion of the live selfie as part of the verification process in SIM registration.

The National Telecommunications Commission and telcos are discussing ways to beef up the law’s implementing rules and regulations amid the continued proliferation of text scams.

She said proposals to impose a fee starting on the fourth SIM as a deterrent to its illegal use should also be discussed.

However, she said those in charge of the SIM registration should also give consideration to legitimate companies that need to register their employees as a group.

Poe said government agencies and tecos must closely work together to bolster mechanisms for reporting about text scams and related fraud.

“Dapat may mas madaling reporting mechanism kapag meron tayong nakukuhang mga fake na SIM card o may mga nanloloko. Dapat laging may sumasagot sa telco hotlines na pwedeng tumulong sa ating mga kababayan,” she said.

“Dapat may timeline din ng pag aksyon sa mga nire-report at may agarang feedback para naman maging mas epektibo at mabisa ang batas,” Poe added.