MANILA, Philippines – A plunder charge isn’t stopping retired police general Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero Jr from campaigning to make the Philippines Asia’s hub for online gaming. He’s doing interviews to send President Rodrigo Duterte a message.
“Everybody will be surprised and amazed of what the industry stakeholders can contribute in nationbuilding by generating the revenue to support the special projects of the President and the Marawi rehabilitation,” Sombero said in a Rappler Talk interview.
Sombero said there are about 200,000 “expats” in the Philippines – mostly Mandarin-speaking Chinese citizens – working for companies that service online gaming websites based abroad. They cater mostly to Chinese online gamers who prefer to talk with Chinese agents.
The industry goal is to have one million of them by 2020 and Sombero said the government can make a lot of money from taxing these expats and from facilitating their work visas.
“I call it a positive exposé. I’d like the government to be informed about this. Natitiyak ko na once ma-manage and maging fully compliant [ang industry], magbabayad sila ng proper taxes (I'm sure that once the industry is fully compliant, they will be paying proper taxes),” Sombero said.
He said Chinese call center agents working for these companies earn 15,000 renminbi yuan, or P108,000, a month. One million of these call center agents in the Philippines will translate to P1.3 trillion a year.
He said 60% of these salaries is expected to spent in the country. The government will also earn from facilitating their work visas.
Sombero is a self-proclaimed online gaming industry expert. He is the president of the Asian Gaming Service Provider Association (Agspa), which includes people running companies that service online gaming web sites that are based abroad.
Here’s the crux of Sombero’s advocacy, a technicality that he wants the government to agree with. He wants the government to stop raiding the "online gaming" companies and discourage investors from setting up these kinds of ‘BPO companies’ in the Philippines.
Sombero said it is important to recognize that the Philippine-based companies that service online gaming websites are not engaged in online gambling themselves. They are BPO companies that merely service the web sites they do not own.
This technicality means these BPO companies may operate even in areas where gambling may not be operated under Philippine laws.
"My advocacy is to let you know that there is an industry like this. Huwag kayong raid ng raid (Don't keep on raiding these companies)," said Sombero.
The bribery scandal
It was a government raid against one of these companies in Pampanga that put Sombero in the middle of a bribery scandal that threatened to involved no less than Justice Secretary Vitalliano Aguirre himself.
“After my arrest, I will no longer be allowed to be interviewed. Gusto ko samantalahin ang pagkakataon na ito habang nakalaya pa ako (I want to take advantage of this opportunity while I'm still free),” he said.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense.
Wenceslao was caught on CCTV handing over payoff money to Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles in exchange for the release of some 1,300 Chinese nationals arrested at the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino inside the Clark Freeport Zone in November 2016.
The raid was conducted for illegally operating online gambling in the Philippines. Some of the Chinese workers had work visas but most were in the country as tourists.
The company owned by gaming magnate Jack Lam, who was ordered arrested by Duterte after allegations of bribery floated.
A Senate hearing was called over the bribery scandal, where Sombero also found opportunity to explain why the government should stop raiding the BPO companies. But the retired police general's brash style ruffled the feathers of some senators.
Senator Joel Villanueva called Sombero a "scumbag" for arguing that there was nothing illegal in the presence of Chinese workers in the Philippines without the proper visas.