âDuterte may suspend POGO operationsâ
Asked how the Palace intends to deal with reports on POGO-related illegal activities, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday said the Chief Executive won’t tolerate corruption, particularly those that affect the government on a large scale.
BusinessWorld/File
‘Duterte may suspend POGO operations’
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is not ruling out suspending Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) as the Senate and other agencies begin investigating the reported ill effects of the industry on the country, including the rise in criminal activities like money laundering and human trafficking.

Asked how the Palace intends to deal with reports on POGO-related illegal activities, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday said the Chief Executive won’t tolerate corruption, particularly those that affect the government on a large scale.

Suspension or eventually shutting down POGO operations is one of the options the President is considering – depending on the results of the investigations, Panelo said.

“That’s how he does things. He suspended the lottery when it had problems and had it resumed when things became OK,” Panelo said in Filipino, referring to the President’s order to stop the operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in July last year.

The President, Panelo said, did not think twice about suspending the operations of the PCSO due to possible irregularities. He only lifted the suspension days later after he was given assurance that all operational issues had been settled and that erring operators had paid their obligations to the government.

The Palace, Panelo stressed, is definitely not sitting on reports that POGOs were being used for illegal activities.

“The POGOs, presently existing, will be under evaluation given the fact that there are complaints of illegal practices and corruption,” he said.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) on Tuesday said it was not advocating the “continuance” of POGOs, especially if it would be proven that the gaming regulator would not be able to exercise power over offshore gambling.

Indicating that Duterte will have the final say on the matter, Panelo noted that relevant agencies like the Department of Finance are investigating alleged anomalies in POGO activities.

Since there is an ongoing inquiry at the Senate, Panelo maintained the Palace will also wait for legislative action on offshore gaming.

Just like any new government endeavor, Panelo said there is a continuing review of offshore gaming operations, to determine if their positive impact on the economy and on society can outweigh disadvantages.

Duterte may opt to act immediately on the POGO issue, depending on the extent of corruption that initial investigation might unearth.

“It’s up to the President, depending on how extensive,” Panelo said. “If you are talking of options, everything is open on the table. It depends solely on the President. The President has the discretion to do anything within the law,” he said.

As President, Duterte has vast powers to order a review, suspension or even stopping of illegal operations, not just of POGOs.

The Palace at the moment is on a wait-and-see attitude pending the result of the investigation of the DOF, he said.

The Department of Justice has also stepped into immigration-related issues, amid an expose in the Senate on the so-called “pastillas” scheme.

“These are all ongoing,” Panelo said, referring to the review. “In any office or department, if there is a complaint there, on the people involved there or the system itself, then there is a review… where the wrong is coming from.”

Panelo belied insinuations that the Chinese in the country are getting special treatment.

Lift bank secrecy

Amid reports of the country evolving into a money-laundering haven, the DOF said it is pushing for the lifting of the bank secrecy law to allow authorities to look into suspicious bank accounts.

Finance Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino raised the proposal in the wake of the exposé of Sen. Richard Gordon that some $447 million or P22.68 billion entered the Philippines from September 2019 to February 2020. The senator said the proliferation of POGOs led to bigger money-laundering activities.

“So, we would like to maybe propose again that we lift absolute bank secrecy in the Philippines in cases of tax fraud or other nefarious activities so that we can trace these funds, and if we have a strong reason to believe that these accounts, we can look into the bank accounts,” Lambino said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

The DOF official said the tax amnesty measure being pushed by the finance department includes a provision on easing rules on bank secrecy. The measure failed to hurdle Congress, he lamented.

“That was also included in the draft bill for the tax amnesty. Again it was removed in the congressional deliberations – the lifting of absolute bank secrecy. So, again, we will work with Congress to ask that these tools be included in our arsenal for addressing these challenges,” Lambino said.

The DOF has intensified its monitoring of POGOs to pinpoint those not paying the proper taxes.

“So, we’re running after those not paying taxes and second, we are also asking that the tools to trace the amounts of money that have come in, these massive amounts be also included in our tool kit for addressing these challenges,” Lambino said.

“In terms of the various things that are being investigated, in the various committees in the Senate… they said that they will look at all of these factors on the table and make an informed policy response or put in place an informed policy response,” Lambino said.

“I think that’s a very thoughtful way to go. Let’s put everything on the table and work on policy options. We are here to provide support in terms of analysis and data that are available to our legislators,” he added.

According to Lambino, the government has intensified the campaign against erring POGOs, resulting in the increase of collection by 169 percent from the previous year.

“In terms of the other issues that were raised again, looking at it as a holistic set of challenges and potential problems is a thoughtful way to go before we actually look at all the options that should be on the table,” he added.

POGO RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE
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