Duterte not shutting down POGOs – spokesperson

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 8) — President Rodrigo Duterte is not shutting down Philippine offshore gaming operators despite multiple allegations of crimes linked to their operation, his spokesperson said Sunday.

Wala namang reason para i-shut down. Ano bang reason para i-shut down?” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told CNN Philippines, adding that the allegations have yet to be proven.

[Translation: There's no reason for a shutdown. What reason is there for a shutdown?]

In recent months, Chinese nationals working for POGOs have been tagged in a wide range of criminal activities, including corruption, money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, kidnapping and sex trafficking.

In view of these allegations, Panelo had previously said Duterte may order POGOs to halt their operations, in the same way he declared lotteries illegal over "massive corruption."

READ: Duterte may suspend POGO operations – spokesman

Demand for POGO ban

Vice President Leni Robredo has joined calls for the administration to make a decisive action on POGOs, and she says that the country’s income from these companies does not make up for the social costs of the crimes allegedly committed by Chinese nationals.

Lawmakers, for their part, have called for a ban of the offshore gaming companies, saying that the revenues brought in by POGOs do not equal the social ills they cause.

Senator Frank Drilon previously condemned the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) when it said it is still in favor of POGOs, as these are sources of taxes for the state.

"I am disappointed at the statement of PAGCOR saying [they] are in favor of POGO continuing in our shores because of the income we earn — such a short-ranged statement," the senator said.

"The social problems they have brought in[to] our country is not worth the regulation fees that you earn," he added. "Why are we so in love with POGOs?"

Surigao del Norte representative Robert Ace Barbers also urged PAGCOR to cancel POGOs’ licenses and stop the construction of proposed offshore online gaming hubs in Pampanga and Cavite.

Dapat i-cancel ang permits of these to operate. Hindi naman na kailangan ng legislation diyan. Itong nangyaring pagpasok nila, hindi naman kailangan ng legislation,” Barber said.

[Translation: Their permits to operate should be cancelled. There’s no need for legislation to do that. Their entry to the Philippines doesn’t even need legislation.]

Echoing the statement of Senator Panfilo Lacson, Barbers also said it’s likely that some of the Chinese nationals in the country are not POGO workers, but spies using the Philippines’ lax rules on POGO to freely conduct their operations.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy dismissed the crimes allegedly committed by Chinese nationals in the country as “isolated incidents” and condemned what they called “irresponsible remarks based on fake news.”