MANILA – Except for a few involved in illegal activities, not all Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) are bad, Malacañang said on Monday.
“Pinagpipilitan niyo na yung POGO ay masama. Eh hindi naman masama, ang masama yung mga nago-operate na iba. E di yun ang tigilin natin (You are insisting that POGOs are bad. They’re not bad, what’s bad are a few operating illegally. They’re the ones we should stop),” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
On Sunday, Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte has no plan of ordering the closure of all POGOs in the country amid suspicious activities associated with POGOs such as money laundering, prostitution, illegal drug trade, among others.
He pointed out that Duterte “has enough basis” to decide not to suspend POGOs.
“The President does not decide just like that. He’s a very cautious person. The President, when he makes a decision, it’s a decisive one and he has basis to support his decision,” he said.
Recently, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) reported that the government was able to collect roughly PHP7 billion from fees and licenses from offshore gaming companies.
Panelo said the social ills associated with POGOs like prostitution and illegal drugs have been “with us for the longest time”.
“All these issues on illegal practices are addressed by the agencies involved. Customs, Immigration, AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council). They should function very well so that they can stop whatever illegal practices or corruption that are present,” he said. “Kumbaga (It’s like), you cannot be burning the entire house just because there are so many rats there.”
Panelo said Duterte still has no plan of ordering the shutdown of all POGOs but his decision could change depending on the circumstances.
“He [Duterte] makes a decision on the basis of circumstances prevailing at the time of making that decision when circumstances change, there may be a change of position,” he said.
Heads will roll
Panelo, meanwhile, warned that agencies that failed to do their jobs of prosecuting POGOs with violations could risk being sacked.
“Basta merong illegal practice, gawin niyo yung trabaho niyo. Prosecute niyo, hulihin niyo otherwise heads will roll kung nalaman niya na wala kayong ginawa (As long as there is illegal practice, do your jobs. Prosecute them, arrest them, otherwise heads will roll if the President finds out you’re not doing anything),” he said.
He also questioned why critics badly wanted POGO operations stopped despite it providing “funds to finance projects” of the government.
“Wala kang pang finance sa mga projects then failure mga projects mo. Pag failure mga projects mo, e di failure ang gobyerno (If you have money to finance the projects then your projects are a failure. If your projects are a failure, then your government is a failure),” he said.
Earlier, Panelo raised the possibility that POGO tax collections could be used to supplement the government’s response to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the country.
Asked how much would be set aside for Covid-19 response, Panelo said “as much as needed.”
Currently, around 60 licensed POGOs continue to operate in the country.
A moratorium on new licenses for POGOs has been imposed until issues surrounding the operations of online gaming are addressed.
Panelo assured that POGO workers, who are Chinese nationals, are not receiving “blanket protection” from the government amid the close ties between the Philippines and China. (PNA)