MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte rejected suggestions to suspend offshore gambling activities in the country, most of which are Chinese-run, amid allegations of corruption and other crimes hounding the industry, his spokesman said Sunday.
Duterte "won’t suspend or stop" the operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs), Salvador Panelo said in a text message.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation reported to Duterte that POGO operations are "okay," said Panelo.
Panelo, who is also Duterte's chief legal counsel, said the Philippines "need[s] funds coming from POGO operations," which he pegged at "P17 billion in the last 3 years."
"We have a lot of projects that are in need of funding," Panelo told ANC.
Some lawmakers had called for a suspension of POGOs after a number of crimes, including bribery for the entry of Chinese workers, trafficking, prostitution, money laundering and tax violations, among others, were discovered to have been associated to the industry.
A Senate inquiry saw several immigration officers, allegedly in cahoots with Chinese and Filipino travel agencies, pocketing P10,000 for every Chinese national allowed to enter the country as tourists and later work in gambling hubs.
The same Senate probe revealed that sex trafficking in the country rose due to the influx of Chinese POGO workers.
Sen. Richard Gordon also flagged some $446 million that entered the country in the past 5 months, which he said was likely laundered through the purchase of POGO properties and investments.
On Sunday, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers joined calls for the shutdown of POGOs, saying that although it has "brought income and investments to the country, the benefits fail miserably due to many of its social ills."
Barbers, who chairs the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, suspected POGO hubs to be "safe havens" for those involved in illegal drugs and money laundering, and may have even encouraged operations of the Golden Triangle drug syndicate in the country.
He noted that of the 60 POGOs granted permits by PAGCOR, only 11 are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"You need to substantiate those kinds of allegations. The President cannot be listening to tsismis (rumors) or accusations without evidence," Panelo said.
"We welcome any investigation coming from the Senate because in the process there may be some proof to those allegations," he added.
Panelo said he had "not heard of any report that will alarm us as if it's a virus, it's a contagion that is being committed by these operators or personnel of POGO operations."
With a report from Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News