MANILA – Malacañang denied on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte is keeping a “soft” stance with China amid scandals plaguing the Chinese-run Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the remarks a day after Senator Richard Gordon claimed that Duterte being soft on China triggered the problems hounding the POGO industry.
“I disagree. Many (do) not know this President. The President is never soft on anything that relates to the national interest. He’s a very decisive President,” Panelo said in a press conference.
There has been a move from the Senate to declare POGOs as “illegal” due to the supposed influx of crimes in the Philippines linked to the online gaming.
Money laundering, corruption, and prostitution are among the issues besetting POGOs.
The offshore gaming firms are also accused of violating the Philippine laws on labor, tax, immigration, and national security.
Panelo said President Duterte has already directed all concerned government agencies to look into the problems hounding POGOs.
He ensured that Duterte would take a “decisive” action with regard to the controversies surrounding the online gaming.
“Any malpractice, any corruption, (and) any irregularity relative to any activity or project in this government are always being investigated. And after the findings, the President will act, as always, decisively,” Panelo said.
Don’t rush PRRD
On Wednesday, Gordon said Duterte’s alleged lenient treatment of China might have fueled other government agencies to tolerate the crimes connected to POGOs.
Gordon also accused the Palace of being “hurt” whenever China is involved in several scandals in the Philippines.
Panelo vehemently denied Gordon’s allegations.
“(It) is wrong. I cannot even understand why he’s saying that… Certainly, we are not hurt,” he said.
Panelo said Duterte is not in a hurry to decide on the POGOs’ fate.
Duterte, as a “judicious” president, needs to see a “comprehensive report” on offshore gaming companies before making a decision, Panelo said.
“I don’t think it’s difficult (for Duterte to decide). You know, when the President decides on something, he has the goods to back up his decision. If he has not received a comprehensive report on these illegal practices, then you cannot hurry him up. Ganoon si Presidente. (That’s how the President acts),” he said.
Economic benefits from POGOs
To date, there are 60 licensed POGOs operating in the country.
The government, however, has imposed a moratorium on new licenses for POGOs, following controversies hurled against the online gaming.
Panelo said Duterte still believes that the country needs POGOs to further boost its economy.
“Since it’s still operating, wala pa siyang sinasabi na (he has yet to say that) he’s against it,” he said, when quizzed if Duterte is against POGOs’ operations.
Panelo also noted that in the last three years, the government collected PHP17 billion from POGOs.
He added that there is also a plan of Duterte to make the earnings from POGOs as a “huge source” for the proposed salary increase for nurses in the country.
“You must remember that the POGO is giving us PHP17 billion in the last three years. Prior to this, we’re only receiving about PHP57 million on online gambling. In another words, it’s a huge source of income for this government where it can be used to all kinds of projects,” Panelo said.
Panelo also said it would be better for the government to “review, evaluate, streamline, and improve” the “wrong” with the system on the POGO industry.
“All agencies involved must do their job so that any corruption, any unlawful acts can be either neutralized or completely stopped,” he said. (PNA)