Senators eye measure to 'stop' POGOs amid spate of 'illicit' activities

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 03 2020 08:43 PM | Updated as of Mar 03 2020 09:35 PM

MANILA - Senators on Tuesday agreed to craft a measure that would declare as "illegal" the business of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) after incidents of Chinese-related money laundering, corruption and prostitution were raised in the plenary.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked his colleagues to "consider" the adoption of a concurrent resolution that would "stop" POGOs after Sen. Richard Gordon delivered a privilege speech about crimes linked to either Chinese nationals or the offshore gaming industry.

"These shenanigans that we see here all arise from the policy decision of allowing online gaming operations to stay here... Should we allow the operations of these POGOs with all the illicit activities that come with it?" Drilon said.

"We should have all options on the table including passing legislation declaring it as illegal," he said.

"The theory of the Chinese government is if it is illegal in my country, then it should be illegal for Chinese citizens to do the illegal thing outside its borders," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and opposition senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan backed Drilon's suggestion, noting that even the Chinese foreign ministry earlier "welcomed" the government's decision to temporarily halt the issuance of POGO licenses.

"I personally will be one with my colleagues if it will be the sense of the Senate to clamp down on their compatriots because of their illegal activities here," Zubiri said.

"I join the majority leader if there is a sense of the senate resolution, we will support it," Pangilinan said.

'NOT AGAINST FOREIGN WORKERS'

Sen. Joel Villanueva, who was against "wicked shenanigans perpetrated by POGOs," clarified the chamber was "not against foreign workers."

"We welcome foreign workers... But just last year alone, there were 6,678 illegal foreign workers. These workers are working in POGO service providers na nakakuha ng lisensya sa PAGCOR (that get their license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation). This is disheartening," Villanueva said.

Before drafting Drilon's proposed measure against POGOs, the Senate must first investigate Chinese-linked crimes to find out "who should be made liable" and "who earns" from the illegal schemes, said Gordon, who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

"It has crept into our society... Sino ba ang kumikita talaga dito (who is making money here)?" he said.

"I just want to raise the alarm bells, this is just Manila, we don't know what else is happening in other areas," he said.

Last year, House members also called for the removal of POGO firms in the Philippines after a Congressional inquiry showed that the rise of Chinese nationals in the country has resulted in a spike in criminality.

The country has seen a rise in Chinese-run POGOs and other Chinese investments in the country amid enhanced ties between Manila and Beijing under the current administration. 

This has led to the rise in Chinese visitors to the Philippines, some of whom come in as tourists but work without proper permits, a Senate hearing earlier showed.