"They pump hard cash into the economy, no matter how you or I stand on the immorality or criminality of gambling, er, gaming."
For a decade or so, it was the Cagayan Export Zone Authority (CEZA) raking it in online gaming. Though located in Santa Ana in the northernmost tip of Luzon, a loophole in the law creating CEZA, cleverly inserted by former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, was allowed and was conveniently tolerated to operate online gaming sites in Ayala Avenue towers upon Makati. There were also online gaming operations inside Fontana upon Clark in Pampanga.
When Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte became president, he wanted the geographical anomaly stopped, and directed Pagcor to be in charge of licensing and regulating the online gaming industry altogether.
News reports say there are now 60 licensed POGOs, with two of them still non-operational. But the 58 operations have a combined work force of at least two hundred thousand foreigners, mostly mainland Chinese, and counting. This has raised the hackles of many, including legislators who worry about some kind of a yellow plague invading our shores, and thus raise the flag on the issue. They conveniently gloss over the fact that POGOs, like BPOs, cater to a foreign market, and that while Filipinos can be adept at English, they cannot speak Mandarin. So work displacement is more imagined than real.
But POGOs pump some P8 billion minimum to Pagcor coffers annually. Moreso, they are the single biggest reason for the real estate boom, not only in the reclamation area where the entertainment capital is located, but all over the metropolis. While lessors are happy, and realtors giddy about increasing profits, many upwardly mobile Filipinos have found housing unaffordable.
An enterprising POGO operator bought a reclaimed island in Kawit, Cavite and with the permission of Pagcor, built a complex with dormitories for the online gaming employees, and when Pagcor announced this, the Chinese ambassador thought it was like a modern Parian, when the kastilas forbade the Chinese to enter Intramuros. Or worse, some kind of a ghetto emulating the likes of Hitler.
And then all sorts of sh*t began hitting the fan.
Gambling was illegal in China, if not evil. Yet they have Macau. And aside from the Philippines where POGOs operate, they have Cogos in Cambodia, Mogos in Myanmar, and I am told, there are newbie Logos in Laos.
There are after all 1.4 billion Chinese in the mainland. Even a tenth of this could overwhelm the sum total of the population of the PLMC countries of the Asean. One hundred million Filipinos plus 54 million from Myanmar, 14 million from Cambodia and 7 million from Laos. Just about a tenth of China, and don’t tell me only one in ten Chinese gamble.
Our national security people have raised concerns about POGOs located near army camps. Old timers evoke memories of Japanese residents of the Philippines who turned into “spies” for the Japanese Imperial Army when the Pacific War erupted. The Bureau of Immigration is in some kind of cold war with the Department of Labor on the issuance of “working” visas for transient tourists. And the BIR was able to get the POGO employees to start paying taxes on their incomes, raking in P2 billion initially.
In fine, the POGOs pump hard cash into the economy, no matter how you or I stand on the immorality or criminality of gambling, er, gaming.
And just when our president is about to embark on an eyeball-to-eyeball with Xi Jinping on the WPS/SCS issue among others, the spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry urged both Cambodia and the Philippines to stop issuing licenses for OGOs. Hun Sen, the Cambodian strongman, immediately ordered a stop to more OGOs, and our Pagcor said it’s 60 licensees and no more thereafter.
It’s been a booming business for POGOs in the last decade or more; a slow growth when CEZA monopolized the trade, an instant tsunami when Pagcor democratized the licensing and broke Cagayan’s clandestine monopoly.
Will boom now turn into bust?
But gambling, whether big-time as in casino high-rollers where millions are won and usually lost by the hour, or small-time as in jueteng’s piso-piso,or low-tech as in tong-its or high-tech as online gaming, will always be upon us, especially Orientals.
If prostitution is the oldest “profession,” then gambling must be the second oldest. And the “itch” will always be with humans for as long as they remain humans.
Demand creates its own supply.
And the supply is something China holds as an ace, to be conveniently used when it must, even if demand is beyond anyone’s full control.
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Meanwhile, a July Supreme Court doctrine that gives retroactive effect for a law giving “pogi” points for supposed good conduct of prisoners has gotten the country into an uproar because of the celebrated Antonio Sanchez, mayor of Calauan in Laguna, jueteng lord of his town and neighboring Bay and Victoria, and convicted rapist-cum-grisly murderer but alleged devotee of Mama Mary.
So devoted that he keeps his shabu treasure inside her image which he placed on a pedestal inside his air-conditioned and flat screen TV-equipped selda.
Sanchez has become the unwanted face of an otherwise well-intentioned law that would decongest our rotten jails in a rotting penal system.
Will memories of the dastardly crime of Sanchez and his bodyguards now goad Congress into passing the death penalty law for heinous crimes?
And will heinous crimes include what President Duterte in his SONA proposed apart from drug-trafficking, which is plunder?
Meanwhile, Sanchez remains in the slammer, as he should, despite being in the company of the graven image of his Mama Mary.
What a country!