For as much noise as senators have been about the Philippine Offshore Gambling Operators (POGOs), everyone knew that the person who’s opinion mattered most on the industry’s fate was always going to be President Rodrigo Duterte. For all the accusations lobbed, not much impact has been made, as Duterte still insists the Philippines needs POGOs.
In statements relayed to the media by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Duterte announced he “won’t suspend or stop” POGOs. He based this decision based on feedback from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), who gave the tremendous endorsement of saying POGOs were “okay.”
However, PAGCOR’s advice may have been just a bonus, as the emphasis on why POGOs will be allowed to continue was firmly on the money they bring in. The Philippines “need[s] funds coming from POGO operations,” Panelo wrote, noting P17 billion ($340 million) in revenue in the last 3 years. “We have a lot of projects that are in need of funding,” he concluded
This vote of confidence in the POGO industry comes despite several senators demanding to investigate the industry thoroughly. Senator Risa Hontiveros has gone hard after the recruitment practices of POGOs, investigating possible corruption in the Bureau of Immigration, including bribery and the possible sales of Philippines Passports.
Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon has used the tragic death of a POGO worker, who was shot in a money exchange deal gone wrong, to question if the POGO industry is being used as a front to smuggle and launder Chinese funds. He’s gone so far as to question if the money involved might be used to help establish a spy network.
Duterte’s decision to continue supporting POGOs makes a good deal of sense. It is an economic driver in the country, and for as many scandals as the senators can find, there are many more stories of honest businesses just trying to get by. And PAGCOR has demonstrated they are attempting to do their job to clean up the industry, working in partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat money laundering and other cybercrimes.
All the same, Duterte has given POGOs his vocal support in the past, and Senators who have been loyal to him, like Gordon, have been vocal critics of the industry all the same. We’ll see if this new proclamation makes any difference.