Pasig officials charged as Vico Sotto cracks down on illegal businesses, fixers

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Pasig City government formally accused 4 high-ranking officials of corruption as Mayor Vico Sotto warned city hall workers against transacting with operators of illegal businesses, especially Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO), which he said were “no good” for his city.

On Monday, March 2, Sotto announced a “crackdown” on POGOs and other businesses that lack official permits and licenses from the local government. He'll also go after city hall workers who double as POGO fixers.

“Alam ‘nyo, hindi ‘nyo po talaga ako makukumbinse na okay ang POGO para sa Pasig City, lalo na po ngayon na narinig po natin ‘yung mga nasyonal nating opisyales, kasama po ang iilan sa mga senador natin, na nagsasalita na rin laban sa POGO, dahil nakita nila kung gaano ito kasama para sa ating bayan,” Sotto said during the weekly flag raising ceremony at city hall on Monday morning.

(You know, you really cannot convince me that POGOs are good for Pasig City, especially now that we’ve heard our national officials, including a few of our senators, who have spoken against POGOs, because they’ve seen how bad they are for our country.)

Sotto stated reasons for his opposition to POGOs: they often don’t pay the right taxes so the government doesn’t really earn from them; they don’t generate jobs for Filipinos because they employ foreigners; above all, they are altogether bad for the economy, the mayor said.

“Hindi naman po nagti-trickle down ang epekto sa mga Pilipino. Yung artificial na pagtaas ng mga land value sa lugar kung nasaan laganap ang POGO, hindi po maganda para sa atin. Ang nadi-displace at nahihirapan, ‘yung mga taga-doon sa lugar kung saan may mga POGO,” Sotto added.

(The effects don’t trickle down to Filipinos. The artificial spike in land values in places where there are many POGOs, that’s not good for us. People who live in those places are getting displaced and having a hard time.)

Saying the Pasig City government respects the licenses national government agencies granted to some POGOs, Sotto said they will go after illegal businesses, or those that lack the mandatory permits.

Du’n po tayo galit na galit (They’re the ones we’re very mad at),” he said, adding, “diyan po tayo magka-crackdown sa susunod na mga araw, sa mga susunod na linggo (They’re the ones we’ll crack down on in the coming days, in the coming weeks).”

One-strike policy 

Of the 4 officials accused of “old corrupt practices,” two were preventively suspended – barred from working lest they attempt to influence the investigation of their cases.

On Sunday, February 23, Sotto gave a stern warning to operators and workers of illegal businesses after he ordered the shutdown of an illegal Chinese restaurant in Pasig. 

“If you want to do business in our city, you follow our laws,” the mayor said on his official social media channels. 

But he also warned his own people at city hall with a “one-strike policy,” noting the apparent complicity of some local government workers.

At Monday’s flag ceremony, Sotto reiterated the warning to the city government’s employees arrayed before him: “Do not negotiate with POGOs.” 

“Baka akala ninyo, wala po akong alam sa mga nangyayaring negosasyon, at ‘yung iba po, ginagamit pa ang pangalan ko. Tigilan ‘nyo na habang okay pa tayo dahil hindi ko po kayo titigilan at hindi po ako papayag na ginagamit yung pangalan ko sa mga kalokohan ninyo,” Sotto told them. 

(Perhaps you think I don’t know anything about negotiations going on, and that some even use my name. Stop it while we’re still okay because I will hunt you down and I won’t let my name be used in your shenanigans.) 

Some city hall workers have even accepted bribes from POGOs, Sotto added. While he wouldn’t name them for now, he said he was eyeing a few people with evidence mounting against them. 

Then on Monday evening, Sotto tweeted that cases had already been filed against 4 officials after that morning’s flag ceremony – although their alleged offenses did not involve POGOs.

Get with the program

Sotto then appealed to “some” in the bureaucracy who still wouldn’t get with his program of reform and good governance. 

Another 61 city government employees had just been regularized, or given job security, bringing the total to 170 permanent hires since January. Sotto noted how it was the reforms he introduced that made the feat possible. 

A stricter, more transparent bidding process for city government service and supply contracts also resulted in millions of pesos in savings that were used in social services, the mayor pointed out.

He warned those who still refused to straighten up, “Eh good luck na lang po sa mga kasong haharapin ‘nyo (Well good luck then on the cases you will be facing).”

Sotto reminded the city’s workers that ultimately, they are accountable not to the mayor but to “the new generation of Pasigueños and Filipinos who are sick and tired of corruption, who want to see good governance in their city” – who had elected him to end the 27-year reign of his predecessors, the Eusebio family, marked by patronage politics. 

POGO problems 

Pasig, which hosts a portion of the Ortigas Center business district, has seen a few raids of POGOs and arrests of their illegal workers by internal revenue and immigration agents.

Senate inquiry has exposed criminal activities that run parallel to POGO, such as human trafficking and prostitution rings that cater to Chinese POGO workers.

Last week, Sotto lauded the sacking of immigration officials allegedly involved in a bribery scheme that allowed the illegal entry of Chinese POGO workers.

Businesses catering to a Chinese clientele, such as the restaurant Sotto shuttered, have sprung up around POGOs. The government has shutdown a number of such establishments over legal violations.

National defense and security officials have also noted the security threat the influx of mainland Chinese workers pose, as the Chinese government may easily use them to spy on the Philippines, particularly on the military and police.

In December 2019, the Makati City Police noted a spike in abductions of Chinese nationals by their fellow Chinese – mostly POGO workers. Because they gamble large sums, gamers sometimes end up in disputes with POGO workers, a police investigator had told Rappler. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.