Ace Barbers warns POGOs make PH vulnerable to drugs, money laundering

Mara Cepeda
Ace Barbers warns POGOs make PH vulnerable to drugs, money laundering

Rappler

The chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs says the online gambling industry has the potential to 'revolutionize' the money laundering process

MANILA, Philippines – House committee on dangerous drugs chairperson Robert Ace Barbers warned the rising online gambling industry would make it convenient to launder dirty drug money into the country. 

In a privilege speech on Monday night, September 23, Barbers accused Chinese nationals of using Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) as a front for illegal drugs and money laundering.

“What irked me most, Mister Speaker, is that the Chinese nationals engaged in gambling-related crimes have gone too far in disturbing our country. They are into illegal drugs and dirty drug money laundering,” said Barbers.

He said online gambling was dangerous as it had the capacity “revolutionize” the money laundering process, as the nature of the internet allows transactions to “occur almost instantaneously and with anonymity.”

“Thus, the online gambling operated by the POGOs may even be worse than the traditional casino gambling operation,” said the Surigao del Norte 2nd District congressman. 

China has previously urged the Philippine government to halt all online gambling operations, after linking the industry to crimes such as money laundering, kidnapping, and extortion.  (READ: A Chinese online gambling worker’s plight in Manila)

But President Rodrigo Duterte said he has no plans of banning POGOs, which rakes in some P551 billion to the Philippine economy annually. 

Barbers, however, believes the booming online gambling industry would hurt the bloody drug war being waged by Duterte. 

The congressman cited the 2019 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report, which states the shabu market in Southeast Asia and neighboring countries was estimated to be worth between US$30.3 billion to US$61.4 billion annually.  

If not prevented, the successful laundering of said US$30.3 billion to US$61.4 billion annual drug money means more drugs, more crime, and more violence because they will be used by the criminal syndicates to finance their operations, expand their illegal trade and undertake new illicit ventures,” said Barbers. 

“This leads us to speculate that – if money-laundering, especially in the area of casino and online gaming, is not abated – the government’s war against illegal drugs is doomed to fail. I do not want this to happen,” he added.

Barbers then said he wanted the House committee on dangerous drugs to probe into the possible links or connections of casino and POGO operations to the illegal drug trade. 

The House committee on ways and means chaired by Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda was also eyeing to investigate the online gambling industry and its overall impact on the Philippine economy. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.