By Tiffany Lucin
Illegal activities have hounded Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) since they were given licenses to operate in the country in 2016.
The latest uncovering was revealed on January 23, when senators discovered the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation may have been duped by entering into a P6-billion “anomalous” contract with Global ComRCI, a third-party POGO auditor to monitor the earnings of the offshore gaming operators.
PAGCOR officials involved in the deal were also flagged by senators, given the questionable credentials of Global ComRCI.
The Senate hearing discovered the private firm was tapped despite its lack of a business permit and its alleged connection to crime-linked activities.
POGOs have likewise become a hotbed for gangsters and kidnapping activities.
In its report last year, the Philippine National Police disclosed kidnapping incidents linked to POGO personnel spiked through the years with a total 12 out of 36 POGO-linked kidnapping cases in 2021, and 17 out of 31 POGO-linked kidnapping cases as of September last year.
These incidents have led to a series of crackdowns led by the PNP in coordination with the Bureau of Immigration and PAGCOR as part of the government’s effort to preserve the country’s safe business climate.
With the harm being inflicted by POGOs to the country, multiple calls have been made by lawmakers to ban offshore gaming operations in the country.
One of the staunchest voices is Senator Alan Peter Cayetano who, with his wife Mayor Lani Cayetano of Taguig, has a track record of turning down offers to legally establish POGO hubs and other gambling establishments in the City of Taguig from way back in 2001.
In conjunction with the POGO hearing on Monday, Cayetano called on the government to be decisive in putting a stop to POGOs, saying they have become a breeding ground for illegal activities such as money laundering, kidnapping, and even murder of industry workers.
He noted the negative effects of these businesses on society far outweigh the supposed economic benefits.
Cayetano’s anti-POGO stance stems from his broader opposition to all forms of gambling operations of any kind, as we have seen when he opposed the granting of a franchise to the country’s first-ever e-sabong operator in September 2021 when he was a member of the House of Representatives.
We can perhaps credit the senator for then-President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision in May 2022 to stop e-sabong operations in the country.
This was followed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. issuing an executive order directing the continued suspension of e-sabong before 2022 ended.
Cayetano welcomed Marcos’ move against e-sabong as this signals he is not alone in this plea, adding that the EO is aligned with his anti-e-sabong campaign and called it a “necessary step” to protect Filipinos from the negative consequences of online cockfighting.
Aligned with the President’s comment on the issue the revenues made from POGOs might not be worth the social costs and that his administration is”continuously examining” the pros and cons of allowing POGOs in the country, Cayetano maintains risking the lives of our people is not worth the revenues from such unscrupulous activities.
In the Senate, the lawmaker has drummed up his campaign to ban all forms of online gambling by filing an Anti-Online Gambling Act (Senate Bill 63) in July 2022.
This was his response to the alarming cases of crimes, mental health issues, and suicides that are linked to e-sabong and other forms of gambling like online casinos, sports betting, and bingo, among others.
Even considering the billions of pesos in revenues that POGOs and other gambling operations bring into the economy, is it worth the rising cases of crimes, mental and health issues, family disintegration, and financial debt?
That’s too steep a cost to let gambling take root in the country.
POGOs and other forms of online gambling have to stop. Because at the end of the day, the country only loses from them.
(Tiffany Lucin is a Manila-based Christian leader and missionary who advocates against gambling and other vices. She studied Philosophy in Thailand, but continues to speak about her advocacies in her home country.)