A shady legacy: POGO

A shady legacy: POGO Featured

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QUITE recently, President BBM was mulling over the possibility of declaring POGO illegal. Although quite tentative, it's an observation of alarming developments in the country.

To refresh our memory, POGO (Philippine offshore gaming operations) was an offshoot of former President Duterte's rapprochement with China. POGO immigration to the country accelerated perhaps as a dividend of the bromance with Xi Jinping. With this new regimen of refocusing toward China from our traditional relationship with America, Chinese visitors are expected to increase presence here. Our government, following Duterte's lead hopes to attract more investments and more importantly compete with Macao and Singapore as a gambling hub for moneyed Chinese visitors and gamblers.

But to put this in proper perspective, and to be fair to the Deegong, China has long exported gambling to the country since perhaps the time China has been trading with local natives, even before the Spanish colonization. It has been recorded that when Magellan came to the islands, bets were already placed by natives on cockfights. In fact, the first recorded cockfight in China was in 517 BC and it's being transported to the islands is not a remote possibility.

Gambling enthusiasts and their defenders within government have made a case of sanctioning what has been pervasive in the country for centuries since the time before we even became a nation. The numbers game, jueteng, and its derivatives have penetrated deep into the fiber and psyche of the Filipino that they can't simply be stopped. The best that government can do is to liberate them from the shady peripheral activities and the twilight zone of legitimacy, skirting our laws and shine the light of public scrutiny and enforce a certain type of discipline; allow, tolerate but regulate.

Pagcor's birth

Thus, Marcos père created the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) "...cloaking it with the authority and power to authorize, license and regulate games of chance, games of cards, and games of numbers." More importantly, Pagcor was to "serve as an additional source of revenue to fund various socio-civic projects such as flood control programs, beautification, sewage projects, and other public services." Further, it aims to "minimize, if not totally eradicate, the evils, malpractices and corruptions that normally are found prevalent in the conduct and operation of gambling clubs and casinos without direct government involvement." (PD 1067-A and RA 7922)

So far, so good!

POGO

But this is not just about gambling in general. It is about POGO in particular, that has proliferated in the country consonant to the Deegong's newfound relations with China in this ongoing bromance. This online platform caters mainly to the mainland Chinese — satisfying their compulsive craving for gambling. This type of online operation is illegal and prohibited in China under threat of capital punishment, something that the Chinese understand and respect. But not here in the Philippines, their base, from which they serve online Chinese gamblers offshore.

Upside — money coming in

Duterte's allowing expansion in Manila of POGO at the start of his regime injected a massive dose of gambling money and its downstream effects on property rentals, restaurants, transportation and induced a mini real estate boom with the banks getting into the act with funds lent liberally to builders, unmindful of a possible bubble.

What egged on Duterte was the money POGO gambling was bringing in for the country. In the ensuing Duterte years, POGO brought in a staggering P551 billion yearly revenues to the economy. But we had some voices on the sidelines, not of dissent but a warning. Former Finance secretary Sonny Dominguez had been declaring that POGOs and their workers were evading taxes. Budget chief Diokno himself warned that there was incalculable social cost that POGO imposed on Philippine society. But the Deegong dismissed these remarks from his Cabinet, in effect encouraging the industry. As in the Pharmally corruption episodes, the president turned a blind eye and stubbornly defended his Chinese friends.

The pandemic

Then the s**t hit the fan! Covid-19 came and wrought havoc on all these. POGO revenues plummeted to P3.9 billion in 2021, from P7.2 billion in 2020 and continued to slide further toward the end of the Deegong's term. But what was appalling were the practices of POGOs that now came to light. These were the attendant social cost that had reached staggering proportions. Witness a spate of headlines in the mass and social media:

"Cases of kidnapping targeting workers of POGO firms have increased by 25 percent on Sept. 9, 2022, from 36 kidnapping cases in 2021, according to the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group (PNP-AKG)." (Philippine Star)

"PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) arrested five POGO workers, four of them Chinese, following an operation to rescue a Chinese woman who was abducted on September 14 in Pasay City. The five are now in custody facing charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery extortion and possession of firearms and live ammunition without a license."

"The suspects were identified as members of the Zi criminal group, a syndicate linked to kidnappings and illegal detention of POGO employees in the southern part of Metro Manila, according to a February report of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence. The syndicate is one of "more than five groups" involved in Pogo kidnappings, based on police intelligence.

Kidnapping, extortion and prostitution reared their ugly heads. Chinese syndicates began to openly dominate the crime scene — abetted by the dark gambling money greasing the wheels of the police, bureaucracy and justice system.

Still, we have voices from the bureaucracy and the general populace reluctantly arguing that "anyway, these are just crimes done by Chinese against the Chinese!" How shortsighted and stupid these arguments are. All crimes impact society. And we are now deep in it!

Police protecting POGO bosses

Now it has just been revealed in a Senate hearing that 300 policemen were seconded to POGO bosses as bodyguards, including their "extended families." What is unbelievable is that this was tolerated both by the PNP chief himself, Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., and his direct boss, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos. This bodyguard/protection racket must have been lucrative to our police security system as Abalos directed his miniosn to stop the practice only after the Senate questioned its legality. These two public servants never did understand that this breeds corruption and are ignorant of their priorities. These incompetents give BBM's first 100 days a black eye.

BBM needs his own legacy

BBM, with his ambivalent position on the sordid legacy of the past president — Pharmally and now POGO — has laid himself vulnerable to being regarded as simply a continuation of the Deegong. The danger of his being branded as a weak heir may gain traction — and the tragedy is — heir not to FM but to Duterte!

Maybe the wrong heir was installed; perhaps an heiress would have been preferable, who declared in no uncertain terms that:

"If we cannot regulate [POGOs], then we better stop them. There are now abductions and killings," Sen. Imee Marcos said. "What's happening is already sordid and gruesome. They've been here for years, and obviously, we could not regulate them."

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Read 544 times Last modified on Wednesday, 09 November 2022 12:19
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