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Government sticks to POGO, cites benefits

President Rodrigo Duterte will not order the closure of Chinese-owned gaming hubs in the country despite the controversies hounding them, such as money laundering and other crimes, Malacañang said Sunday, adding the government is earning from their operations.

READ: Abused POGO worker says PH government exec behind crimes

President Duterte backed the continued operation of offshore gaming hubs after the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. gave him a “good” report about the economic benefits of the industry, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“His position remains the same. He will not suspend it nor will [he] stop it. He told me yesterday that he received a good report from PAGCOR. He said the report was good. So he's okay with POGO operations, Panelo said in a radio interview.

In related developments:

• SURIGAO del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Sunday urged PAGCOR to cancel the licenses and close down the operations of established and planned offshore online gaming hubs in Clark, Pampanga and Kawit in Cavite.

  He said Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators hubs could likely become havens for undesirable aliens and drug trafficking as well as other crime syndicates for money laundering and illicit operations.

• The Department of Foreign Affairs is still waiting for the Bureau of Immigration to submit its report on Chinese nationals reportedly holding Philippine passports.

Nonetheless, the department said it was already closely working with Immigration to ensure the foreigners coming in and out of the country were not using Philippine passports.

• The entry in the Philippines of billions of pesos worth of foreign currency in recent months has revived concerns about laundered money being used to set up illegal businesses for gambling, human trafficking, prostitution and illegal drug dealing, and to fund anti-government and terrorist activities, Senator Imee Marcos said Sunday. 

As a result, she said, there was a need to amend the Anti-Money Laundering Act or face the risk of international sanctions that would dampen confidence in the country’s business environment and political stability.

• If the Philippine government removes the Philippine Overseas Gaming Operators industry, Senator Richard Gordon said, there should be a replacement to provide for Filipino workers who would lose their jobs.

“Like I said, if we  get rid of POGO, there should be a replacement for the drivers, the people benefiting... not just remove them,” Gordon said.

• Rep. Ronnie Ong on Sunday expressed support for the initiative of PAGCOR to conduct Good Manners and Right Conduct and culture-sensitivity training for Chinese workers of the POGOs.

Such should not just cover POGO workers but to all arriving Chinese mainlanders who had become very notorious for their unruly and disrespectful behavior even to law enforcement authorities.

PAGCOR says the government has collected P7 billion from fees and licenses from the offshore gaming companies despite the issues plaguing it.

Panelo said the funds could be used in increasing the salary of nurses and teachers, as well as in containing the deadly novel coronavirus. 

He added the government could implement stricter rules and regulations to address concerns brought by the  POGOs.

“We have many projects that need funds―salary of nurses, teachers. We also have a problem with coronavirus, it can be a source of...You know, the problems in operation could be fixed. We will need to establish laws, regulations, Panelo said.

Panelo had earlier said the President would consider suspending POGO operations should the irregularities linked to it further escalated.

Some senators have previously expressed their stand to declare POGOs “illegal” due to money laundering, crimes and other suspicious activities linked with their operations.

The government has already imposed a moratorium on new licenses for 60 recognized POGOs, following the issues besetting the offshore gaming firms.

READ: Senators slam AMLC inaction

In a Senate hearing last week, the Anti-Money Laundering Council told senators that P14 billion of the P54 billion in transactions by POGOs from 2017 to 2019 were linked to “suspicious activities.”

Figures presented by AMLC Executive Director Mel Racela during the hearing showed that around P138 million in transactions were linked to drug trafficking, which the President had been seeking to eradicate. With Rio N. Araja, Rey E. Requejo and Macon Ramos-Araneta

READ: POGO workers laundered P10 billion in 'dirty money,' Gordon says

READ: Pastillas scheme: Travel firms linked to fake passports for Sino tourists

READ: Ex-DOJ chief tagged in 'pastillas'

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp , Salvador Panelo , Robert Ace Barbers , Ronnie Ong , Anti-Money Laundering Council , Philippine Overseas Gaming Operators
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