By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Richard Gordon was not surprised at how the Palace addressed calls for the suspension of Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs).
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Thursday that President Duterte cannot be rushed into ordering the halt of offshore gambling businesses in the country.
Despite earlier statements from concerned government bodies and law enforcement agencies on the violations of and crime incidents related to POGOs, he said the Duterte government still needs a “comprehensive” basis for shutting down the industry, which hires mostly Chinese nationals.
“S’yempre sasabihin niya ‘yan (Of course he will say that), am I surprised?” Gordon told reporters in an interview after the Senate blue ribbon panel’s first hearing on the alleged money-laundering schemes linked to the rise of POGOs.
Gordon also downplayed the position of state gaming regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), which favored the continued operations of POGOs for its supposed contributions to government revenues.
“All government agencies that require fund generation, from [Bureau of] Customs, to Pagcor, s’yempre hahanap ng paraan para lumaki income nila (of course they will look for ways to increase their income),” he said.
Like his fellow senators, Gordon said the solution to the negative impacts of POGOs would be to stop it or simply transfer its workers to a single area for strict monitoring.
“Ang kumikita sa sweldo, mga Chinese-speaking (Those are benefiting from the salaries are Chinese speakers). Ang kumikita ‘yong mga nagre-rent ng kotse, van (Those who earning are those who rent out cars and vans for use of the Chinese workers), [who] could be their own people as well,” he said.
“Some of them, I’m sure, are doing business here illegally. So kung ‘yon lang ‘yon, ay alisin na natin ‘yan (if those are what we are getting from POGOs, then we might as well remove them),” he added.
Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) secretariat Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela on Thursday said they flagged at least P14 billion worth of suspicious activities related to POGOs from January 2017 to October 2019.
On the other hand, he said net inflow from POGOs amount to some P7 billion, which is only 0.04 percent of the P18.6 trillion Philippine economy.
The BIR, meanwhile, said it collected some P6.4 billion in taxes. For its part, Pagcor said it collects some P8 billion in fees from the POGOs.
Sen. Frank Drilon, in the hearing, described Pagcor’s position as “stupid.”