Prevent, contain, test and cure
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2020 - 12:00am

Stefano Becucci, a professor of sociology at Florence University and author of several studies on Chinese mafia groups in Italy once wrote, “Business is business. Criminals go where the money is.” Remember that scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s immortal film “The Godfather”, when Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) spoke to his godson Johnny Fontane (played by Al Martino) and uttered “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”? Put these two together and you will understand better the sentiment and reaction of Teresa Ang-See (Chair of the Anti-Crime Watchdog Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order) when she said, “The Philippines is becoming a haven for Chinese criminals and criminal syndicates.” 

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian likewise concurs that “those committing crimes in the Philippines didn’t come here and become syndicates, they were syndicates from the beginning.” The porous, flawed and lax immigration procedures make it easy for Chinese criminals to enter and leave the country. The situation is even exacerbated by the involvement of rogue law enforcement authorities who clandestinely act as protectors or shields of these syndicates. Sanamagan!

The much-publicized ill effects of the offshore gaming operations a.k.a. POGO and the concomitant and increasing incidents in criminal activities such as money laundering, prostitution, human trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, etc. are believed to be the works of an organized and well-entrenched Chinese syndicates. Chinese mafias are also involved in a massive illegal drug trade in the country even operating within the confines of the Bilibid Prison.

In hindsight, these illegal and criminal activities are only signs and symptoms of a more serious and a much bigger problem of CORRUPTION. These POGO-related syndicates and more so the Chinese and other foreign drug lords and cartels are not dumb and foolish to invest their time and money if they are not confident and assured of the protection from the crooked and corrupt government authorities as their co-conspirators and sponsors. Indeed, money matters – especially if the amount of bribery is an offer they can’t refuse.

The revelations recently made by Senators Risa Hontiveros and Richard Gordon in the Senate on the massive corrupt practices involving officers of Bureau of Immigration, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Manila International Airport Authority are supported by damning graphic evidences. Sen. Risa Hontiveros unearthed a long-time and well-entrenched modus operandi of bribery of BI officers by Chinese nationals entering the country. The alleged billion-peso business requires a Chinese national entering the country to pay P10,000 as grease money to get VIP treatment upon arrival. There are also allegations that there are Chinese nationals with Philippine passports. Susmariosep!

Sen. Richard Gordon revealed an equally disturbing report on money laundering where 60 individuals brought in to the country a staggering $633 million in a span of six months.  The unusual influx of foreign currencies is suspected to be laundered and linked to the cash flow in the operations of the POGOs.

Last year, PAGCOR made a proposal on establishing self-contained communities or hubs for Chinese POGO workers for the purpose of limiting their interaction with the locals and reports of their unruly behavior. This was not well received by the Chinese Embassy, saying that it is a violation of the Chinese workers’ rights in the Philippines. There were also complaints of restaurants catering only to Chinese customers. Due to the demand from Chinese workers, a rise of property and real estate prices was also cited.

In recent years, surveys revealed that a sizeable percentage of businesses have to pay grease money. Sen. Risa Hontiveros exposed widespread bribery of the Immigration personnel by Chinese nationals entering the country. In her report she said that some Chinese-run travel agencies in the Philippines advertise on WEChat that they can get Philippine passports, birth certificates and can open Philippine bank accounts for their Chinese clients without having to personally appear. The travel agencies also offer services to Chinese clients as “delisting from blacklist and airport release if barred entry.

In another report to the Department of Finance, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guevarra mentioned that syndicates sneaked in dirty money worth P18.7 billion into the Philippines with the help of some police, military and airport security personnel. He also said the money came from two groups, including one run by a Chinese. He added that couriers are paid P12,000 and P50,000 per flight, travel two or thrice a week in one to two pieces of luggage and are able to escape detection because they are escorted by their protectors from the PNP, AFP or airport police department at the Manila International Airport Authority. How true are all these?

Early this year, Transparency International report showed that the Philippines slipped 14 spots in a global corruption index. The Philippines was tied with El Salvador, Kazakstan, Nepal, Eswatini, and Zambia for 113th place out of 180 countries and territories. The Philippines scored 34 out of 100 in terms of perceived levels of public sector corruption. This is lower than the country’s score of 36 in the CPI 2018 where we ranked 99th. The CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) uses a scale of zero to 100 where zero means “highly corrupt” and 100 is “very clean.” The country at this time scored below the average global score of 43. Transparency International also noted that some governments in the Asia Pacific region “continue to restrict participation in public affairs, silence dissenting voices and keep decision-making out of public scrutiny.”

How can corruption be stopped in a country with leaders who continue to cuddle the corrupt. What happened to those government officials accused of corruption? Were they ever punished?  Sanamagan!

At this time, the government must consider the establishment of the POGO hub if only to justify PAGCOR’s mandate of regulating the gaming industry; BIR and DOF must run after the POGO tax evaders and delinquents; consider lifting Bank Secrecy Law by Congress that will make provisions/exemptions for high-value targets; and transparency of data similar to COVID-19 Worldometer that provides a daily update for speedy decision-making. If the same can be done for the POGO issue, then the president does not need to wait for the comprehensive reports from the different agencies that takes a long time because data is readily available.

*      *      *

On COVID-19 update: The fastest way to track the number of cases around the world is to log on Novel Coronavirus COVID – 19 Map: TRACKING COVID -19 outbreak in real time – CNA .  This map will show the number of cases in affected countries including reported deaths.  This virus that originated from China has indeed conquered the world.  Was this what China wanted all along?  It’s sad and it’s bothersome.  I hope people change for the better because of this tormenting experience.  Meantime, we must follow this protocol: PREVENT, CONTAIN, TEST and CURE. Truly, this virus reminds us how important personal hygiene is for good health.

STEFANO BECUCCI
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