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Duterte won't ban POGOs despite alleged crime links – Panelo

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will neither ban nor suspend Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) despite their supposed links to a number of crimes in the Philippines, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Sunday, March 8.

"Nandoon pa rin (They will stay). He will not suspend it, nor he will stop it," Panelo said in a DZIQ interview.

Panelo said Duterte arrived at this decision after receiving a report from Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) Chairperson Andrea Domingo, which highlighted the need for POGOs in providing revenues to the government.

"Ang sabi niya sa akin kahapon, maganda ang report ni Pagcor head. So okay, kailangan talaga natin ng pondo galing diyan. Marami tayong projects na kailangan natin ng pondo," Panelo said.

(He told me yesterday that the Pagcor head's report was good. So okay, we really need the funds from POGOs. We have a lot of projects that need funding.)

According to Panelo, projects funded by Pagcor's earnings included salary increases for nurses and teachers. He also raised the possibility of tapping Pagcor's earnings to provide funds for the government's response to combat the novel coronavirus.

"The government can use that (Pagcor funds) in any undertaking and activity of the government," Panelo said.

Duterte's decision comes only days after Panelo said the President "cannot be rushed" into deciding on calls to suspend POGOs.

At the time, Panelo said that unlike Duterte's earlier decision to suspend the operation of lotto outlets nationwide due to alleged "massive corruption," Duterte was still waiting for a "comprehensive report" on supposed crimes linked to POGOs.

Senate heats up

Consecutive hearings at the Senate carried out by several committees have revealed the POGO industry's alleged links to a wide range of crimes, from sex trafficking and corruption to money laundering and the forgery of documents.

Some senators have called for a ban on POGOs.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said it is "stupid" for Pagcor to allow POGOs to keep operating solely for money. Government revenues, he added, should not come at the expense of increased crime and "social problems" linked to the industry.

"It's such a short-term, short-ranged statement," Drilon said.

Despite China's call for the Philippines to ban online gambling, Duterte earlier said he was not inclined to ban POGOs because the Philippine economy needs the jobs that the industry provides.

While some POGOs do hire Filipinos, however, most hire Chinese employees as many players are based in 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.

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