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POGO problem persists under Marcos

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA  —  His predecessor Rodrigo Duterte may have opened the floodgates for the entry of Philippine Overseas Gaming Operations (POGOs) to the country, but current President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has done little to end the scourge that is a known center for illegal gambling, gun-running, prostitution, and usurious lending, among others.

Worst of all, thousands of POGO workers are believed to be working in the country illegally, mostly Chinese. In the last couple of years, hundreds have been deported back to China, but POGOs continue to operate following a rebranding, which changed nothing.

This, despite many of Marcos’ allies recommending that all POGOs be shut down, despite their supposed contributions to the economy.

Administration Senator Joel Villanueva who has been leading the call to permanently shut down all POGOs last week said the Department of Interior and Local Government should “walk the extra mile” following reports of their presence in exclusive subdivisions.

He said he had been receiving reports of POGOs renting houses in places like Merville in Paranaque, as well as the various villages and condos in Makati.

Aside from the noise they create, Villanueva said the alleged entry and exit of luxury cars in the villages raised suspicions that they were owned by POGO executives.

“It’s hard to sleep at night without peace of mind,” he said.

Several lawmakers have urged the president to completely ban POGOs, as they only “made the country a fertile ground for various crimes.”

The biggest recent scandal involving POGOs is the case of Bamban, Tarlac mayor Alice Leal Guo, who has been the subject of Senate hearings regarding her citizenship.

She is suspected of being pure Chinese, as she has been unable to produce birth, school, or other records. Guo says she is a Filipino born out of wedlock in a farm of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, neither of whom have stepped forward to confirm her claim.

Her unexplained wealth  — Guo acknowledges owning a helicopter and has been attending the Senate hearings in a MacLaren sports car – despite saying she only owns a piggery, has placed her in hot water.

Guo has also been found to be hosting a POGO in her town, in a property that she owns.

The Senate hearings headed by Senator Risa Hontiveros held an executive session attended by representatives from the Philippine National Police, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the Office of the Solicitor General, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the National Security Council, among others.

Senator Hontiveros and Sherwin Gatchalian had exposed Guo’s alleged links to POGOs. Compounding her problems was the finding that the POGOs operating in the property in her town were not licensed.

After Marcos claimed that he, too, was against POGOs, his actions did not match his words.

The state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR)recently issued 40 licenses to rebranded POGOs. It was a matter of same dog, different collar. Yesterday’s POGOs are now called Internet Gaming Licensees, or IGLs.

Aside from the 40 already issued licenses to operate as of last month, another nine are waiting for PAGCOR approval to operate.

The local gaming industry reported gross revenues of P285 billion last year, which PAGCOR CEO Alejandro Tengco said surpassed pre-pandemic levels. This includes legal casino operations, both operated and/or franchised by PAGCOR.

Of this total, POGOs only brought in P3.15 billion, or 4.31 percent. Total gaming revenues last year were pegged at P79.37 billion, showing that POGOs actually account for a small fraction of total revenues of the industry.

Meanwhile, netizens have cited the former Cavite resort known as Covelandia as having become an untouchable haven for POGO operations, with locals banned from entering.

They say powerful people are protecting the site, which was formerly owned by the family of Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.

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