In anti-gambling Tarlac, how did a POGO rise in small town Bamban?

Joann Manabat

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In anti-gambling Tarlac, how did a POGO rise in small town Bamban?

Tarlac Governor Susan Yap delivers her message during the celebration of the 151st Araw ng Tarlac at the Provincial Capitol on Tuesday, May 28.

Joann Manabat

Tarlac Governor Susan Yap emphasizes that the situation in Bamban, including that of Alice Guo, is an 'isolated case'

TARLAC, Philippines – Add this to the reasons having Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs) in Mayor Alice Guo’s Bamban is odd: the small town is part of the province of Tarlac, which has adopted an anti-gambling policy.

In fact, the governor, who has authority over a municipal mayor, claimed she didn’t know that these POGOs existed in her province. Guo is her party mate.

Tarlac Governor Susan Yap told reporters on Tuesday, May 28, that the March raid at the Baofu compound owned by the Bamban mayor came as surprise to the provincial government. Licensing agencies, such as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), excluded the provincial government in the consultation on POGOs, she said.

“The licensing agencies have excluded us in the process. In our peace and order council, there was never a POGO operation [discussed]. I don’t know how long they have been operating,” the governor said in a chance interview during the Araw ng Tarlac celebration on Tuesday.

Based on PAGCOR’s application process for locally-based POGO operations, a letter of no objection (LONO) from the city of municipality where the gaming operations will be conducted is the only document required from the local government unit.

Other documentary requirements are:

  • A letter of intent
  • Offshore gaming license for a local-based operator application form
  • Company registration, company profile
  • Full disclosure of business plan
  • Personal disclosure sheet of all officers
  • IP blocking certification
  • Proof of payment

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP or provincial board) in January 2021 passed a resolution denouncing illegal online and offshore gambling and cybercrime operations in Barangay Anupul. The resolution also declared the anti-illegal gambling policy of the province.

The resolution stemmed from a joint blotter entry operation on December 2, 2020, with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) together with the Bureau of Immigration at the then-Baofu Real Estate Company Limited. 

A total of 332 foreign nationals, mostly of Chinese origin, were arrested and turned over to the NBI over alleged online illegal gambling, internet fraud, and other cybercrime operations in the December 2020 joint operation.

According to the Tarlac public information office, the resolution was issued by the SP as there were already unconfirmed reports about the operations as early as 2020. 

“Everything was only confirmed when the first raid in February 2023 happened. That was the only time that all Tarlaqueños, except those who are in the POGO operation, learned about its existence,” Tarlac PIO told Rappler on Wednesday, May 29.

“Anya mebigla ya kasi despite a resolution from SP, atin pa mu rin mitalakad a POGO. Anya bayu raid last year, ing sablang balu ning governor at SP, ala talagang POGO. But then again, ing PAGCOR dininan nala pala lisensya at itang dating mayor meg lual ya no opposition,” Tarlac PIO explained.

“Eya mireport yan keng peace and order council mi Tarlac kasi misalikut ya. Only the operators, pagcor and the then mayor and sb knew about it. Another thing, detang building mangaragul malls at commercial establishments la nyang telakad dala.”

(That’s why she was surprised because despite a resolution from SP, a POGO was still established. That’s why before the raid last year, the governor and the SP knew no POGO. But then again, PAGCOR gave them a license and the former mayor issued no opposition.

It wasn’t reported in the peace and order council in Tarlac because it was concealed. Only the operators, PAGCOR, the mayor and Sangguniang Bayan knew about it. Another thing, the tall buildings were supposed to be malls and commercial establishments when they were constructed.)

Based on records of the SP, no resolution was issued to authorize any entity to engage in or operate an online and offshore gambling within the province. 

“We have done so much to make our province known. That (Bamban’s POGOs) is an isolated one. There’s no POGO here so far. So that’s my directive. I am active in our peace and order [council]. That never came out [in the meetings],” said Yap.

Yap emphasized that the situation in Bamban, including that of Alice Guo, is an “isolated case.” It was the first time the governor addressed the issue “in detail,” according to its provincial information office.

Yap’s remarks came as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) initiated proceedings to revoke Guo’s authority over the local police and recommended her suspension to the Ombudsman.

“This is an isolated case. And the national government, the Senate, is already doing the investigation. We have been very cooperative with DILG as to all the investigations they are doing,” Yap said.

Party mates in NPC

According to Yap, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) where she belongs is also waiting for the outcome of the investigations involving Guo.

The NPC is also looking into Guo, who joined the party after winning the 2022 elections.

“No case has been filed against her. So we (NPC) wait for that also and find out. Until something substantial comes out of all these investigations and cases where she can prove herself, then we’ll take action.,” she said.

Yap said she only met Guo a few months after she became the mayor of Bamban. Most of their engagements were work-related, the governor said. – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    According to Tarlac Governor Susan Yap, licensing agencies such as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) did not involve the provincial government in the consultation on POGOs. There are also allegations that only the operators, PAGCOR, the mayor, and Sangguniang Bayan were aware of it. Governor Yap and Mayor Guo are party mates, and most of their engagements are work-related, but not all. This may be related to a significant amount of money.

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