POGOs

Convicted pork scam player transacted in 2020 for POGOs in Porac, Bamban, Laoag

Lian Buan

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Convicted pork scam player transacted in 2020 for POGOs in Porac, Bamban, Laoag
Cunanan's camp downplays his role in the registration of POGOs, saying these have been renewed without his participation. Documents show he transacted with Pagcor as a 'key officer.'

MANILA, Philippines – Dennis Cunanan, a former government official convicted of graft in 2023 for his role in the pork barrel scam, transacted for the controversial Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) that operated in Porac, Pampanga and Laoag, Ilocos Norte, as well as the raided POGO entity in Bamban, Tarlac, documents obtained by Rappler showed.

Several documents from 2020 showed that Cunanan was the one who applied for the POGO license of Lucky South 99, the raided POGO in Porac, Pampanga. He also transacted for Lucky South 99’s operations in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. Cunanan was likewise at least once a representative of Hongsheng Gaming Technology Inc, the POGO in Bamban, Tarlac linked to Mayor Alice Guo.

In a statement sent to Rappler on Monday, June 17, Cunanan’s lawyer Iryl Boco, however said, “Mr. Cunanan’s association with the POGO company, however minor, concluded in October 2022.” She did not specify which particular company was being referred to.

The statement also said: “We would like to emphasize that Mr. Cunanan had no direct involvement in the operations of any POGO company. His involvement in the POGO company was merely incidental.”

Cunanan used to head the now-abolished Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC), a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), that was used to funnel lawmakers’ pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles’ fake projects.

Because TLRC was used as a middle agency for many of the projects of multiple lawmakers throughout the years, Cunanan was charged with multiple offenses, too. He was convicted of graft in at least three cases, and is undergoing trial for several others. He’s been acquitted in at least 11 cases, his lawyer said.

“We do not see any relationship or connection between Mr. Dennis Cunanan’s alleged involvement in the PDAF scam through his work as the then-Deputy Director General of TLRC, and the current issues with the POGO,” said Boco in an earlier statement on Thursday, June 13, when Rappler first reported about his role in Lucky South 99 as its corporate communications and government relations representative.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said the involvements merit inviting Cunanan to the ongoing Senate inquiries into illegal POGOs, because “it seems that POGOs are deliberately tapping former and present officials they can easily corrupt,” she said in a statement on Monday.

Cunanan’s lawyer, however, said, “Should the investigation’s focus shift to Mr. Cunanan, our ability to comment further would be limited due to the pendency of some cases involving Mr. Cunanan.”

‘Incidental’ involvement

Cunanan downplayed the extent of his “consultancy” with Lucky South 99, a POGO that allegedly trafficked and tortured its workers. While his involvement was supposedly only “incidental” (Cunanan is not an owner, per business records), government documents showed he often transacted with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) on behalf of Lucky South 99. Pagcor’s chair at the time was Andrea Domingo.

But Cunanan’s lawyer said in the statement: “As far as the registration documents are concerned, his role was strictly limited to providing assistance and consultation during the POGO registration process. We reiterate that he had no operational or managerial responsibilities within the company.”

The registration documents, she added, are “outdated, as they have been renewed without Mr. Cunanan’s participation.”

Cunanan also did not only apply for the POGO license of Lucky South 99, but also deposited the required dollar bonds to secure its license. Documents obtained by Rappler showed he was less than truthful in his application.

Cunanan submitted a personal disclosure statement meant for “key officers for offshore gaming operations.” In that personal disclosure statement submitted to Pagcor in October 2020, he ticked the box “No” when asked if he had ever been convicted of an offense, and if he had been charged with an offense. Yet by October 2020, Cunanan had already been convicted of graft and malversation related to the PDAF of former Cotabato 2nd District representative Gregorio Ipong. His pork barrel scam charges had already been initiated at the time.

Before he figured in the pork barrel scam, Cunanan, a former councilor of Magalang, Pampanga, held government positions under the administrations of former presidents Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the late Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

Also connected to Bamban POGO

Rappler also obtained a September 2020 letter by Hongsheng Gaming Technology Inc. president Thelma Barrago Laranan to Domingo that indicated Cunanan’s designation as “authorized representative for the time being.” Hongsheng was the POGO in Bamban, Tarlac, located in the compound previously owned by Mayor Guo. Hongsheng was raided in February 2023, and eventually changed its name to Zun Yuan, which was again raided in March 2024.

Hontiveros said this is an indication of a scam operation.

“Cunanan figured in one of the largest corruption scandals our country has ever seen. Baka ‘yung ginawa niya sa PDAF ay ina-apply niya rin dito sa mga POGO. Pinapakita din nito na may koneksyon talaga ang Bamban at Porac na POGO. Tila nagsama-sama silang mga scammer,” said Hontiveros.

(Maybe what he did with PDAF, he’s also applying to these POGOs. This also shows there is a connection between the Bamban and Porac POGOs. It seems like the scammers had joined forces.)

Cunanan is the president of Advantage Management Consulting Philippines Inc (AMCPI), which has field operations in Angeles City, Pampanga. It’s unclear at this point whether Cunanan’s services rendered for the POGOs were done in his personal capacity in charge of “government relations” or if these POGOs were among AMCPI’s accounts. But in at least one government document, he claimed AMCPI’s office address in Quezon City as his own, too.

We sent Cunanan’s lawyer specific questions on Monday to address the points raised in this story, but she instead sent a statement that read, in part: “We urge the media to focus on the real issue here and not waste its resources on Mr. Cunanan, especially since Mr. Cunanan is not the authority responsible for approving the registration of the POGO companies.”

Cunanan also transacted for Laoag, Ilocos Norte operations

Government documents also showed that it was also Cunanan who registered the additional Lucky South operating sites in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte with Pagcor and paid the deposit bonds for them.

Documents showed two Lucky South 99 sites in the home province of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – one in Plaza del Norte – a commercial compound with a hotel and convention center – and another in Fort Ilocandia, which is located in a tourism economic zone.

Laoag City Mayor Michael Marcos Keon, the President’s cousin, issued a certificate of no objection to Lucky South 99’s operations in Plaza del Norte in May 2021, via a unanimous resolution by the Sangguniang Panlungsod.

Fort Ilocandia leased three buildings to Lucky South 99 in April 2021 – a two-story hotel with 156 rooms, a three-story administrative building, and a private club. The operations of these two Laoag sites, Rappler has learned, were voluntarily canceled by Lucky South 99 in 2023, for still unknown reasons. What has happened to the vacated buildings is also still unknown.

Rappler reached out to Keon Monday morning to ask for more details, including whether there were any violations committed by the two POGO sites when they were operating. Keon said he would check. We will update this story once he responds with details.

A Lucky South 99 document also names Harry Roque, former presidential spokesperson to Rodrigo Duterte, as legal representative. Roque denied it and maintained that his only link is to Whirlwind Corporation, the company leasing the compound to Lucky South. Roque said he is Whirlwind’s lawyer in an ongoing ejectment case.

Hontiveros said, “I call on my fellow public servants to join the growing call to ban POGOs now. We must show these POGOs that the Philippines does not have a price.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.