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Opinion

From pastillas to Peking duck

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

From the “Pastillas Gang” that used to operate at the Bureau of Immigration frontlines, it seems the newest group in the block is the “Peking Duck Gang” and their modus operandi involves keeping Chinese nationals who are already in the Philippines, in the country, at the cost of anywhere between P3 million to P1 million after negotiations. No, it’s not a form of hulidap or kidnap but rather a “stay out of jail” card, just like in the game Monopoly.

During our interview with Senator Wyn Gatchalian on the program AGENDA (on Cignal TV & Facebook), I shared that several sources have informed me that a number of Chinese nationals who fall under the category of the 40,000 POGO employees for deportation are now negotiating to be removed from the list in exchange for one to three million pesos. Those prices may seem unbelievable to you but as far as Senator Gatchalian is concerned, the claims make sense as he pointed out that in China, gambling is illegal and carries a minimum prison term of three years if not more. Given that the 40,000 potential deportees are all employees of “legal” and illegal POGO companies victimizing or taking advantage of the Chinese predisposition to gambling, it is almost certain that they will land in different jails in China after arrival.

My only hope is that by putting this reported “stay out of jail” scheme in the open, it will bring the matter to the attention of my former neighbor, Secretary Boying Remulla, who is tasked with arranging the gathering, processing and turnover of the 40,000 Chinese nationals to the Chinese embassy. At best we can hope that it is speculative, but given that some sources of the info are allegedly Chinese, it is hard to ignore.

Aside from the potential opportunity for corruption or victimization of the employees concerned, another serious issue that has to be threshed out is whether the soon-to-be deportees will be immediately charged criminally in China for illegal gambling, will they be given their day in court and not just shipped off directly to Chinese penitentiaries or as victims of human trafficking. Some may say it’s no longer our concern, but 40,000 or even just 1,000 of them ending up in prisons is not a small figure that can be ignored by human rights watchers or bashers of China and inevitably will drag the Philippines into a potential humanitarian and political crisis.

This is the price “we” pay for the handiwork of people in the past administration who could not see beyond $$ signs and refused the appeals and protests of the Chinese government. Given this potential tragedy, you have to wonder why some elected officials and public personalities persist on promoting the financial gains from POGO. In a country where statistics, market data and tax records are so sketchy, all those claims of financial gains are bloated, to say the least.

Incidentally, Senator Gatchalian could only shake his head in dismay when I pointed out that if the legislative and executive branches allow the reopening of POGOs by foreigners, the e-sabong operators will most certainly assert that Filipino businessmen should likewise be allowed to operate the online sabong!

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Not very long ago, I heard that Grab the company that gave us Grab car, Grab deliver etc. had bought up or bought into Move It, the third and smallest player in the MC taxi or motorcycle taxi sector. Currently on top of the group is Angkas, followed by Joy Ride. When word leaked out that Grab bought up Move It, the top two were understandably ruffled or disturbed, knowing how big Grab is and that they would pose a serious threat. Those concerns eventually made it to the public space and on social media, but instead of benefitting those who are threatened, it opened a Pandora’s box of other issues never settled under the Duterte administration or the last Congress.

It turns out that the congressionally engineered Technical Working Group (TWG) to study and submit recommendations establishing MC taxis during the Duterte administration was co-terminus with PRRD and no longer exists, failed to deliver the expected outputs to guide Congress and left the emerging sector in much the same mess as it started out. Yes, they were able to establish a “pilot project” with basic rules, but the pilot project never grew wings, just a lot of wasted time! I also learned that half the strength of the dominant company Angkas was allegedly operating on borrowed slots or allocations for riders owned by Move It, who now wants it all back. If the intention was to test the business model and the market, the lease or loan of allocations already skewed the outcome that never came. There is also an allegation that because of the pilot project status, the players never got to pay the appropriate taxes due from such a business model.

In the meantime, Grab has been quoted as stating that they are merely acquiring Move It as a corporate asset, will inject the necessary funding and support for operational competitiveness but have no intention of directly managing the company or interfering with operations, since the current management are better qualified to do so. Grab reportedly acquired Move It for a much lower amount than is required for clearance from the SEC or the Philippine Competition Commission, so even regulators can’t say much because for all intents and purposes, there is no official MC taxi sector because Congress has not recognized it by virtue of a law or piece of legislation. Without the law, no one has broken the law! Instead of complicating matters, Congress and Malacañang should simply let the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board or LTFRB handle the problem. This is what they do and what they manage. Don’t reinvent the wheel!

KIDNAP

POGO

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