POGOs and other crimes
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Gambling is a crime in China. Officially, China considers offshore gambling through the internet a criminal activity. Why is China tolerating POGOs then?

 Officially, the Chinese foreign ministry asked our government to ban online gaming involving Chinese citizens because it is a crime in China. The Duterte government acted as if they heard nothing.

When the Chinese government called the attention of Cambodia, its other client state in the ASEAN, the Cambodians immediately sent the Chinese gamblers home. It didn’t matter to the Cambodians that Shihanoukville, the city that served Chinese gamblers, became a ghost town overnight.

But here, even if Duterte himself has expressed dislike of gambling, POGOs continue to operate. Some of our officials point out a crackdown would be bad for the economy.

I imagine that the Chinese government is not inclined to embarrass their friend in Malacanang by insisting the Philippine government ban POGOs. So, they are acting on their own.

Over the weekend, there were reports the Ministry of Public Security of China has started to crack down on Chinese citizens known to have worked or are working in gambling operations overseas.

The police have a list of people they claim have committed telecommunications crimes abroad to include online gambling. The local police units are confiscating their passports as these people are now classified as persons prohibited from exiting China according to the Exit-Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China.

The crimes listed down by the police includes telecommuniations fraud, illegal online-gambling, money-laundering, illegal employment, kidnapping, extortion, torture, murder etc. Come to think of it, all of those are happening here these days because of the influx of Chinese POGO workers.

For all the money our property owners are making from POGO operators and their imported workers, POGO has also generated a crime wave all their own. Chinese hooligans have been caught committing such crimes as kidnapping, extortion, murder and prostitution.

BSP Governor Ben Diokno, very early in his watch, declared that he would rather we didn’t have POGO here. Ben’s worry is money laundering which tarnishes our financial reputation and could get us blacklisted by the international financial community through the FATF.

Actually, even licensed casinos have facilitated money laundering here as what happened with that Bangladesh Central Bank case. But at least, Congress has amended the law to include casinos under the jurisdiction of our task force watching out for money laundering activities.

Worse, the massive Chinese influx further corrupted our bureaucrats at immigration, labor and PAGCOR. There was the “pastillas” scandal denounced by Sen. Risa Hontiveros involving a very large number of immigration bureau officials.

It is very disturbing to realize that our immigration people have sold entry to the country to the point that we no longer know how many illegal aliens are here. We have apparently also become a haven for criminals wanted in China and other countries, thanks to our immigration people.

Such a bunch of traitors ought to be shot. Corruption is bad enough, but getting illicit money with no regard to endangering our national security should be seen as an unpardonable crime.

It is sad we have yet to see the Duterte administration actually punishing corrupt immigration people beyond a press release announcing dismissal of unnamed people from government service.  

I think the Chinese government got tired waiting for our government to act, so it started cancelling passports. I imagine Beijing is continually getting embarrassed by the involvement of Chinese citizens in kidnappings, human trafficking, corruption, and other such crimes.

The Chinese government is to be lauded for doing what our own government should have done a long time ago: arresting gangsters and organized crime lords that have been operating here.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is correct to have pointed out that the losses the country had sustained and would continue to experience far outweigh the P12 billion that POGOs were estimated to have paid the government. He calculated POGOs should pay at least P50 billion more in taxes.

“We are not gaining anything from POGOs … while causing negative impact in our society because of the increase in criminal incidents related to the POGO industry. If POGOs only evade taxes and bring in fugitives and criminals from China, what’s the use of this industry? This business is not sustainable. It’s not good for our country,” he said.

It is too early to rejoice about the demise of POGOs. We do not know if China will cause them to evaporate from the scene as quickly as they had in Cambodia, or if this will happen gradually.

Indeed, the story going around is that the POGO operators have no intention of leaving soon. They are now scouting around Southeast Asia for ethnic Chinese who speak Mandarin and various other Chinese languages to replace the Chinese workers being held up by the police in China.

President Duterte must make a definite statement that he supports China in its anti-gambling campaign to include POGOs. Otherwise, he will have no one else to blame for the rising crime rate attributable to POGO operators and their workers.

Let us not worry too much about the negative impact to the property sector if POGOs leave. They have made their money and they always knew this was temporary, an unsustainable thing.

We have to be more concerned about how our young people and our officials are being corrupted by an industry that is deemed illegal in its home country.

The long-term consequences of the ills the POGO industry has brought into the country gives their departure urgency.

And given the contempt by which many of the POGO workers view our country and our people, it is not right for our government to take those insults as acceptable.

Don’t believe Immigration’s threat of mass deportation. Pinapataas lang ang presyo ng pastillas.

Hopefully, China will do what our own useless government is unable to do: cancel passports of POGO workers and end the evil they have exported here.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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