Holes in the ‘whole of government’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

An official from the Department of Justice (DOJ) echoed a favorite catch-all phrase – “whole of government” approach. It was put forward as a way to check the Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) industry from becoming hubs for online scam and other crimes. These online hubs for scams and crimes were discovered in the raids of suspected illegal POGO establishments in Tarlac and Pampanga.

DOJ Undersecretary Raul Vasquez was quoted as saying a “whole of government” approach is the most effective way of handling the POGO industry. With such a hifalutin’ term, the DOJ undersecretary apparently oversimplified the crime problems and the socio-economic impact spawned by the illegal POGOs before they were disrupted in the raids done by our law enforcement authorities.

Using temporary license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), the criminal and other illegal activities were found being perpetrated right inside the POGO establishments in Bamban, Tarlac and in Porac, Pampanga. These were dismantled following the raids one after the other by law enforcement authorities led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC).

“A whole of government approach is the most effective way of handling the POGO industry,” Vasquez declared at a press conference last week. His remarks followed after proposals to ban POGOs were espoused by lawmakers in the 19th Congress. Certain Cabinet members of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. expressed support for the proposed ban on POGOs for various grounds.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. earlier even raised concern on the reported presence of international criminal syndicates posing as POGO hubs that pose a threat to the country’s national security. Much earlier, Finance Secretary Ralph Recto concurred that POGOs pose “reputational risks” for the Philippines in its campaign to woo foreign investments.

In February, the House committee on games and amusement approved a bill banning POGO because of crimes associated with them. The bill has yet to reach the plenary for debate and voting at the House of Representatives. Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Risa Hontiveros have filed similar bills following the Senate public hearings that exposed the illegal and criminal activities at the raided POGO hubs in Tarlac and Pampanga.

So how come these illegal POGOs proliferated?

Let us examine how the whole of government, or should I say ‘holes of government’ enabled them to ply their nefarious trades.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum last June 12, PAOCC executive director retired Police Gen. Gilbert Cruz retraced for us the common origins of the two raided POGOs in Bamban and Porac. According to Cruz, both POGO establishments started from the acquisition of huge tracts of land for their areas of operations. The PAOCC probers found out these lands were formerly classified as agriculture. But the two POGO establishments acquired them as “industrial” lands, Cruz noted. Obviously, at a much higher price per square meter, he added.

The land classification falls under the purview of at least three agencies of the government, namely, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR); the Land Management Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Land Registration Authority (LRA) under the DOJ.

Located in sprawling, “self-contained” compounds, the PAOCC-led raids were able to rescue victims of illegal detention, human trafficking and abused POGO workers. However, many of the rescued POGO workers did not possess any valid working permits from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) nor from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). The PAOCC arrested mostly Chinese and Mandarin-speaking nationals from Malaysia and Vietnam, some of whom were later identified as fugitives of the law in their respective homelands.

Traced in these POGO hubs were cases of heinous crimes of kidnapping, illegal drugs and even money-laundering. The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) though did not detect the entry and exit of monies from these two POGO hubs.

Aside from torture tools, Cruz noted with concern the PAOCC’s recovery of thousands of pre-registered SIM cards from these POGO raids. Paging the Department of Information and Communications technology (DICT).

In the aftermath of the POGO raid in Bamban, the Philippine National Police (PNP) relieved 49 policemen from their posts who are currently undergoing investigations by the National Police Commission. The head of the Pampanga Police Provincial Office (PPO) and the chief of Porac municipal police office were both relieved for their respective failure or negligence to detect the presence of criminal activities inside Lucky South 99 POGO hub.

Just last Monday, the PNP Central Luzon Regional Director was placed under investigation for the POGO-related crimes under his area of command.

Elected officials from the two local government units (LGUs) of Tarlac and Pampanga are also in hot water for the POGOs in their respective jurisdictions. Bamban Mayor Alice Guo is now serving preventive suspension for six months by the Office of the Ombudsman based on the complaint filed against her by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). The PAOCC last week filed at the DOJ criminal cases of human trafficking against Mayor Guo and several other co-accused.

On the other hand, the PAOCC is still preparing the criminal case against Mayor Jaime Capil of Porac, whose signature was found in both the Letter of No Objection (LONO) and the Porac Sangguniang Council approval of the business permit for Lucky South 99.

In defense of Mayor Guo, her battery of lawyers argued it is PAGCOR’s mandate, not the mayor’s, to monitor 24/7 the POGOs that were issued licenses. However, at the Senate public hearing on POGOs, the senators believed Mayor Guo had been lying under oath on her true identity based on her submitted birth certificate from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

The senators suspect hanky-panky in the issuance of the birth certificates of Guo and her siblings because they contained questionable differences. But the Guo’s were issued their individual Philippine passports by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

To quote Vasquez, the POGO industry is “not only the sole concern of the LGU, the PSA or the DOJ or PAGCOR itself, everybody is on board currently.” They need to plug the holes in this “whole of government” approach in the POGO industry.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with