Duterte won’t ban online gambling, earnings useful for COVID-19 response: Panelo

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President Rodrigo Duterte will neither ban nor suspend the operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators (better known as POGOs) despite allegations they’re responsible for a spike in crime, because the money they bring in can be used to combat COVID-19, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview yesterday.

Late last week, the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council flagged some PHP14 billion (US$276.5 million) in “suspicious transactions” by POGOS between 2017 and 2019, allegedly linked to, among other things, drug trafficking, ABS-CBN reports.

Following the findings, Panelo told radio station DZIQ in an interview that the president was satisfied with the earnings report of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the state-run body that regulates POGOs, which is why he has no plans to get rid of the controversial companies.

“What he told me yesterday was that he was satisfied with PAGCOR’s report. So, OK, we really need funds from them. We have a lot of projects that need funding. For instance the salary of the nurses, teachers, and so many others. Now we have this problem with the coronavirus. Funds can be pulled from POGO revenues,” Panelo said in Filipino.

Read: ‘I want to go home’: Taiwanese trafficking victim cries abuse, alleges gov’t official ‘protecting’ POGO

Panelo had previously said in a press briefing that the president “cannot be rushed” into deciding whether or not to suspend POGOs, and that Duterte is still waiting for a comprehensive report on the supposed crimes linked to the gambling firms.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue has already shut down several POGOs for alleged tax evasion, and just a few weeks ago, another gambling firm was shut for allegedly also failing to pay millions in taxes. 

The Philippine Senate has conducted a string of hearings detailing a range of crimes that are allegedly caused or exacerbated by the POGO industry, including money laundering, a billion-peso bribery scheme, prostitution, and drug trafficking.

Senator Franklin Drilon said in one such hearing last week that PAGCOR was “stupid” for allowing POGOs to continue to operate in the country.

“PAGCOR said that it collects PHP8 billion (US$158 million) from fees and licenses from POGOs, which is just 0.03% of the economy… Is it worth all these problems that we face?” Drilon added.

The country’s central bank chief, Benjamin Diokno, meanwhile, told GMA News that a POGO pullout would have little impact on the Philippine economy. Like Drilon, Diokno said that based on the “benefit and cost” of the online gambling industry to the economy, he is not in favor of POGOs’ continued operations.


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