President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to find solid basis to suspend operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), according to Malacañang.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President is waiting for a “comprehensive report” on the alleged illegal activities tied to POGOs before he could decide on whether to halt their operations.
“If (the President) has not received a comprehensive report on these illegal practices, then you cannot hurry him up. That’s how the President acts. He is a lawyer. We lawyers need evidence,” Panelo said at a press briefing.
The government earned at least P7 billion from POGOs but the proliferation of gaming hubs reportedly gave rise to illegal activities committed by Chinese nationals.
Panelo said Duterte may suspend the operation of POGOs if he receives verified complaints of anomalies, the same way he temporarily halted lotto operations by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) due to alleged “massive corruption”.
Panelo added the POGO issue should not be compared with the PCSO controversy.
“As far as the President is concerned, when he suspended (the PCSO-operated games), he had basis for doing so. In this case, he has no basis yet. It is still being studied,” the Palace spokesman said.
“You cannot compare because the investigation (on the PCSO games) had been completed. In this case, it’s not yet finished,” he added.
Lotto operation were suspended while the alleged irregularities were still being investigated.
Panelo said POGOs are a “huge source of income” for the government and could help bankroll projects and salary hikes of nurses.
“If there is anything wrong with the system on POGO then we have to review it, evaluate it and then streamline it, improve it. And all the agencies involved must do their job, so that any corruption, any unlawful acts can be either neutralized or completely stopped,” he said.
Panelo disagreed with Sen. Richard Gordon who said the problems surrounding POGOs are caused by Duterte’s being “too soft” on China.
Panelo also denied the administration is not doing anything about the issues tied to POGOs, saying Duterte has directed the customs and immigration bureaus, the National Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to look into them.
He reiterated that Gordon should help the administration address the illegal activities linked to POGOs by sharing information with law enforcers.
At the Senate, meanwhile, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed disappointment with Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for favoring the continuous operation of POGOs, for income consideration.
Drilon said the earned income was only short term and not worth the social problems that POGOs have brought to the country.
“All these things happened since POGO came into our shores. I am disappointed at the statement today of Pagcor, saying that we are in favor of POGO continuing because of the income earned. That is a short-range statement,” he said at the hearing on the gradual emergence of the country as a money laundering haven.
“Problems that POGO has brought to our country are not worth it. Let me tell you that to your face. For P8 billion from fees that you get, you are saying they should be here?” said Drilon.
He said fees generated from POGO by Pagcor are less than one third of one percent of the country’s economy.