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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Close them down

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Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. has raised the warning board on illegal offshore gaming operators in the country, the echoes of his decibel unsparingly vibrating with jabbing disquietude.

The 60-year-old Teodoro boomed out the warning criminals posing as center points of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs have become national security concerns.

POGOs are online gambling firms operating in the Philippines but cater to customers outside the country. Licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), these nerve centers can operate legally.

“The concern is that we should stop these syndicated criminal activities operating out of our base, which weaken our financial standing, our country ratings, [which] corrupt our society,” Teodoro said.

Offshore gambling in the Philippines on a large scale dates back to 2003 but it was only in 2016 when POGOs began receiving official licenses from PAGCOR.

According to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, 300 illegal POGOs continued to operate although licenses from PAGCOR have expired.

“When they felt their license won’t be renewed anymore due to violations they were committing, they decided not to reapply…These entities don’t want to be regulated,” PAOCC Undersecretary Gilbert Cruz said.

PAGCOR chairman and chief executive officer Alejandro Tengco said 255 former POGOs are running illegally although their licenses had been rescinded in September 2023 due to criminal activities – from 298 POGOs in 2023, the number plunged to 43 active licensees today.

“We found that many of those who have this license were not operating as overseas gaming. They used PAGCOR’s license for criminal activities, like credit card fraud, investment fraud, cryptocurrency fraud, love match and love scam fraud,” he said.

To differentiate legitimate operators from illegal POGOs, PAGCOR now refers to its overseas gaming operators as IGLs, or Internet Gaming Licensees, Tengco said.

In February, a House panel approved a bill seeking to ban POGOs in the country, but it has yet to be tackled at the plenary.

“There is a process…We will listen to all stakeholders about their position on the issue, and then we will weigh in on what we should do,” Speaker Martin Romualdez said.

The crackdown on these hubs has been prompted by reports of POGO-related crimes like human trafficking, torture, kidnapping, and fraudulent activities like credit card, crypto investment, and “love scams” — when criminals adopt fake online identities to persuade victims to give them money.

Some said POGOS have contributed P5.2 billion to public funds in 2023 and their closure would negatively impact 25,000 Filipino employees.

What an abominable and limping argument, that one, considering the poking social costs.

To borrow Steve McGarrett’s signature expression to his sidekick Danny Williams in the television police drama Hawaii Five-O in the 60s, we say “Book-em Danno.”


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