Duterte clears POGOs despite alleged crime links

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night, March 10, cleared Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) of links to a wide range of crimes despite growing calls to ban the industry.

"Under my oath of office as President of the Republic, as elected by you, 'yang POGO na 'yan, malinis 'yan (those POGOs are clean). Laro lang 'yan para sa kabila (It's just a game for the other side) but it employs something like 20,000 in Manila," Duterte said in a speech.

Duterte made the statement after he recently decided he would neither ban nor suspend POGOs  despite their supposed crime links.

Elaborating on his decision, Duterte again claimed the Philippines needed the industry because of the economic benefits it provides.

"Why? Because it gives us P2 billion a month. Kaya sabi ko para muna (That's why I said let's pause first)," Duterte said, referring to criticisms against POGOs.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier defended Duterte's decision to keep POGOs running, saying the President had "enough basis" to make this decision, amid growing concerns that the negative effects of POGOs outweighed the benefits.

On Monday, March 9, Duterte also claimed "every centavo" from POGOs was "accounted for."

Yet the government's own finance officials said that a majority of licensed POGOs failed to pay a total of P50 billion in taxes in 2019.

POGOs have been under intense scrutiny after consecutive Senate hearings revealed the industry's alleged links to a wide range of crimes. Its crimes, senators claimed, included sex trafficking, corruption, money laundering, and the forgery of documents, among others.

Duterte's decision to keep POGOs is in line with his earlier decision to let the industry run despite China's call to ban it. For him, the Philippines "needs" the industry because of the jobs it provides.

While the industry does hire some Filipinos, majority of those employed are Chinese, as most POGO customers come from mainland China. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.