Panelo defends Duterte's decision to keep POGOs running: 'Hindi naman masama'

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Monday, March 9, defended President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to neither ban nor suspend Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) despite their supposed crime links, saying problems associated with the industry were commonplace.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters in a press briefing in Malacañang that Duterte had "enough basis" to make this decision, amid growing concerns that negative effects of POGOs outweighed their economic benefits.

Panelo also sought to separate crimes linked to POGOs from those that government agencies have had to deal with independently.

"I don't know how he (Duterte) consults but when the President makes a decision, it's a decisive one and he has basis to support the decision," Panelo told reporters on Monday.

He added, "Ang problema, pinagpipilitan niyo na 'yung POGOs masama. Hindi naman masama. 'Yung masama 'yung mga nag-ooperate ng iba. Eh di 'yun ang pigilin natin, i-prosecute natin."

(The problem is you're trying to insist that POGOs are bad. They're not. What's bad is those who are carrying out [illegal] operations. We should stop those, prosecute them.)

Panelo on Sunday, March 8, said Duterte decided he would not ban or suspend POGOs as revenues gained from the industry were needed to fund various government projects. The development came only 3 days after he claimed Duterte "cannot be rushed" to make a decision on calls to suspend POGO operations.

Asked if the government had no other viable source of revenue, Panelo answered that aside from taxes collected, there were "apparently not enough" sources of funds for government projects.

POGOs under fire

Various government agencies, such as the Bureau of Immigration, have been under intense scrutiny after back-to-back hearings at the Senate uncovered the POGO industry's alleged links to a wide range of crimes.

At several Senate hearings, senators showed evidence that POGOs were linked to crimes including sex trafficking, corruption, money laundering, and the forgery of documents, among others.

This prompted some senators to call 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 as these should not come at the expense of increased crime and "social problems" linked to the industry.

Senator Richard Gordon, for his part, listed Duterte's "soft stance" towards China among the reasons behind the rise in crimes linked to the industry.

Panelo denied Duterte turned a blind eye to these, saying crimes related to POGOs were already being addressed by concerned agencies.

"'Yung sinasabi niyong social ills, that has been with us for the longest time," he said. (Those social ills mentioned have been with us for the longest time.)

"Kumbaga (In other words), you cannot be burning the entire house just because there are so many rats there," he added.

Duterte's decision to allow POGOs to keep running keeps 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 the industry provides. – 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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