Drilon to Pagcor: 'Stupid mindset' to allow POGOs for money

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Thursday, March 5, said it was "stupid" for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to allow Chinese-run online gambling operations in the Philippines just for government revenues.

Drilon said this at the Senate hearing on money laundering connected to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), after hearing Anti-Money Laundering Council chief Mel Racela explain why the AMLC cannot immediately declare as laundered money the  $447 million that suspiciously flowed into the country.

After Racela explained that the "burden of proof is with the government" in relation to money laundering charges, Drilon said he disagreed and pinned the blame on Pagcor for allowing POGOs to operate in the Philippines.

"I'm disappointed, for the record, with the statement of Pagcor, saying that we are in favor of POGO continuing in our shores because of the income we earn. It's such a short-term, short-ranged statement," Drilon said.

"The social problems, Mr Sevilla, that POGO has brought to our country is not worth the regulation fees that you earn for Pagcor. Let me tell you that right in your face. For P8 billion as fees that you get, you're saying that they should be here," Drilon said.

He was addressing Pagcor Assistant Vice President Dave Sevilla, head of the agency's anti-money laundering supervision and enforcement department, who was also at the hearing seated beside Padilla. Sevilla used to be Pagcor's casino licensing senior manager.

The minority leader continued scolding Pagcor, citing the crimes on the rise linked to POGO operations. (READ: POGOs linked to crimes: Forged PH passports, money-laundering, sex trafficking)

"You know, that statement is such a stupid statement. That indicates the kind of mindset we have – basta pera pumasok (as long as money comes in), all these things…we can tolerate all these things," Drilon said.

"It is common knowledge that we generate from Pagcor is nothing compared to the social problems that occur because of this," he added.

Currently, there are a 61 POGO operators and 240 POGO service providers according to Pagcor POGO manager Victor Padilla. There are only 12 Pagcor-licensed casinos and one operated by the gaming agency.

Padilla confirmed to the committee that there are indeed illegal POGO operators.

"Usually, they are the ones inside the residential areas, your Honor…. We have at least a hundred verifications that we have sent to PNP and NBI," Padilla said.

Citing data from January 1, 2017 to October 2019, POGO firms and POGO service providers had roughly P54 billion in transactions, Racela said. Of this sum, at least P14 billion were linked to suspicious activities, the AMLC chief said.

The total net inflow is P7 billion, as there were around P30 billion in cash inflows and P23 billion in outflows.

Based on the data of the Bureau of Customs cited by Senator Richard Gordon on Thursday, "suspicious" money that entered the Philippines September 2019 to March 2020 reached at least $663 million (P32 billion).

Racela said they could not confirm if the amount was indeed laundered money, as they were in the process of intelligence gathering. – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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