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Justice Leonen: Laws ban poor man’s gambling, but POGOs allowed?

Lian Buan

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Justice Leonen: Laws ban poor man’s gambling, but POGOs allowed?
'We have to continue calling attention to these kinds of discrepancies,' Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen on Saturday, May 2, pointed out the “discrepancies” in Philippine laws that ban forms of gambling accessible to the poor, but allow Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) patronized by the rich.

“That kind of situation exists. You have Presidential Decree 1602 for the poor but you have Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) franchising bigger gamblers and owners of casinos,” Leonen said on Saturday at an online forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).

“We have to continue calling attention to these kinds of discrepancies, and we in the judiciary have no choice except to simply implement the laws, but it’s something we should address to our political and economic situation,” said Leonen.

PD 1602, enacted in 1978, punishes with fines and jailtime forms of gambling usually popular among the lower to middle class like jueteng, jai alai, cara y cruz (heads or tails), and the like.

On the other hand, Pagcor and several economic zone bodies are authorized to license casinos. In 2012, the Court of Appeals said online gambling is not punishable under PD 1602.

PD 1602 punishes those that play cara y cruz on the streets and our metropolitan trial courts are witnesses to the many prosecutions under this. On the other hand, big gambling like casinos and POGOs are treated differently under our specific laws,” said Leonen.

In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 13, which says “nothing shall prohibit the duly licensed online gambling operator from allowing the participation of persons physically located outside Philippine territory.”

That authorizing clause is precisely how POGOs operate – it allows Chinese overseas to gamble from where they are, whether they’re in China where it is illegal, through online gambling platforms that are run from the Philippines.

The Duterte government has given preference to POGOs for their supposed economic contribution, even allowing them to operate under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

In an earlier tweet, Leonen said: “As a citizen, I urge our leaders to prohibit all forms of gambling local or foreign.  What they bring in terms of revenues is not worth the lives they destroy, the politics they infect, health risks and the values they instill.”

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had earlier called on Congress to pass a law to ban offshore gaming operations. 

POGOs are linked to several alleged crimes like kidnapping, money laundering, sex trafficking, and forgery of documents, as exposed in a Senate investigation before the pandemic broke out.

POGOs are also accused of not paying the right taxes. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.