The Philippines’ diplomat for China is either the one clear eyed person in the country’s ongoing disputes with China, or he totally missed a memo. Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana told the press recently that the Asian superpower has no say over the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operation industry.
Business World, an outlet of the Philippines, reports the ambassador made the comments at an August 29 press briefing from Beijing. “They can’t dictate on us,” he said, regarding China’s demand that the Philippines shutter its POGO industry. “That’s a sovereign decision. That is where we stand.”
This is what you’d typically expect to hear from a government seeking to defend its own industries and institutions. In fact, that’s exactly how President Rodrigo Duterte has responded to many foreign critics, recently decrying the New York Times for citing statistics regarding the Philippines War on Drugs.
That hasn’t been the case with the POGO industry, however. As online gambling operators fall into the perfect Venn Diagram of being about gambling, something Duterte dislikes, hiring Chinese nationals, something the population dislikes, and offering services to China, something China dislikes, it’s become the perfect scapegoat for many politicians in the Philippines.
Playing into China’s demand that the industry be put to an end, the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council recently began exploring what the economic impact would be if all POGO licenses were revoked. The defense secretary, playing on nationalistic fears, recently put out the idea that POGOs could be converted into Chinese spy outfits at a moment’s notice. Local mayors have also joined in on the game, springing raids on POGO’s based in their cities to gain political points.
But in the strangest twist of events, Mr. Sta. Romana, possible foreshadowing a new backbone for President Duterte, has indicated that the Philippines won’t back down to Chinese pressure, indicating that this is a domestic matter for the country to regulate. He also teased that Duterte would explain the matter further to Chinese leaders.
He’s not totally out of the loop though. Possibly referring to the idea that POGOs could be shut down, he added, “It will have an economic impact on us. So if we are to do it, we want a soft landing. We don’t want a drastic impact that will adversely affect our economy.”