Defense chief wary of POGOs near military bases: They may 'shift to spying'

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 16 2019 06:04 PM

Phil-Asian Gaming Expo features offshore games targetting bettors outside the Philippines. Games can be played on desktop or mobile devices. Photos taken at the SMX Convention Center. July 12, 2019. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) located near major military bases may be a security risk, the defense chief said Friday. 

There are POGO centers in Araneta Center-Cubao and Eastwood, which are close to Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); and at the Resorts World in Pasay, which is close to Villamor Airbase, headquarters of the Philippine Air Force. 

A POGO facility is also located at Island Cove in Cavite, which is across the Naval Base of Sangley Point.

“That is very concerning, kasi until such time na makita ko yung mga mapa, sabi ko, oy, malalapit na rito,” Lorenzana said.

(That is very concerning, because when I saw the maps of the POGOs' locations, I thought they are already near military bases.)

Lorenzana emphasized the electronic, online, and closed-door nature of POGO operations make it possible for these facilities to be used for surveillance purposes.

“It’s very easy for these people to shift their activities to spying, kung meron mang mag-eespiya. Mabilis lang,” said Lorenzana.

(It’s very easy for these people to shift their activities to spying, if there will be someone to spy. It's quick.)

Much of POGO clients are reportedly Chinese nationals. Some POGOs are believed to be run by Chinese businessmen, while some are staffed by Chinese workers. 

Lorenzana favors the transfer of these POGO facilities into a single hub for easier monitoring.

“I support the idea to put them in a hub na malayo sa mga kampo. Doon lang sila, para makontrol sila ng authorities saka ng Finance saka Immigration. Para kung sino ang pumapasok, sino ang lumalabas,” he said.

(I support the idea to put them in a hub far away from military camps. They just stay there, so they can be controlled by authorities, including from Finance and Immigration. So anyone who enters and leaves there will be watched.)

The defense secretary, however, acknowledged the problem that comes with questioning their motives. 

“We encouraged these people to come here, to invest. We are making a lot of money from these POGO workers, POGO industry, and to now question bakit sila nandito, is parang hindi tugma ang ating policy na we encourage tourists to come here, so we can earn money from our tourist industry...," Lorenzana said.

(We encouraged these people to come here, to invest. We are making a lot of money from these POGO workers, POGO industry, and to now question why they are here, is contradicting our policy on encouraging tourists to come here, so we can earn money from our tourist industry...)

Lorenzana said he personally thinks "there should be no need to worry over the rise of POGOs, saying it is just “always good to think ahead” so there will be no regrets on the side of the Filipino people.

The top defense official said his department is looking at all angles “because of the distrust" of Filipinos on China, regarding disputes between the two countries in the South China Sea.

"Medyo alanganin tayo masyadong magkumpiyansa sa kanila,” Lorenzana said.

(It is uncertain for us to trust them.)

Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, AFP chief of staff, said it is their job to look into all possible risks to the nation.

He declined to say, however, if the POGO situation was a high-or low-risk concern.

“We have always advocated na development and security should come together,” Madrigal said, adding that it would be better if the security sector were consulted even for economic projects so that they could give their recommendations.