Duterte should not be rushed into decision on POGOs – Panelo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 5) – President Rodrigo Duterte is unlikely to make a hurried decision on the fate of Philippine offshore gaming operators or POGOs in the country, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Thursday.

"When the President decides on something, he has goods to back up his decision. If he has not received a comprehensive report on these illegal practices, you cannot hurry him up," he said in a press briefing.

"If there is anything wrong with the system on POGO then we have to review it, evaluate it, and then streamline it, improve it and all the agencies involved must do their jobs so any corruption, unlawful acts can be either neutralized or completely stopped," he added.

On Tuesday, Panelo said Duterte may temporarily halt POGO operations – the same way he ordered a stop to lotto games over "massive corruption."

The President's slow action on the matter is a departure from his quick order last year to declare the suspension of all gambling operations granted by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

On July 26, 2019, Duterte gave law enforcers only 24 hours to remove all PCSO gambling schemes such as lotto, Peryahan ng Bayan, and small town lottery in public places. He even ordered the arrest those who will violate this order.

After five days, Duterte ordered the lifting of the suspension on lotto operations, claiming that it is less prone to corruption compared with other gaming activities.

Duterte 'never soft' on China

Meanwhile, Panelo refuted Senator Richard Gordon's claim that the President has been "too soft" on China, paving the way for money laundering activities, among other alleged POGO-related crimes in the country. He reasoned that economic benefits brought by the industry should not be ignored.

"You must remember that POGO is giving us ₱17 billion in the last three years. Prior to this, we are only receiving ₱57 million in online gambling," he said.

"The President is never soft on anything that relates to national interests. He is a very decisive President," Panelo claimed.

"If you can stop all these illegal practices, then POGO is good," he added.

On Tuesday, Gordon bared that 47 people, mostly Chinese nationals, arrived in the Philippines from September last year to last month carrying $447 million or ₱22.7 billion, citing information from the Bureau of Customs. He said the huge amount brought in during that six-month period could be linked to Philippine offshore gaming operators in the country.

China last week began its own crackdown on its nationals working for the Philippines, following other reported violations including the online sex trafficking scheme and the controversial airport payoff “pastillas” plot.

Over ₱27 billion worth of tax liabilities also remain uncollected from the POGO sector, the Bureau of Internal Revenue earlier said.