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Review POGO approval process, lawmakers urge gaming regulator

MORE THAN 160 Chinese nationals who worked for POGO Zun Yuan Techonology, Inc. were deported on May 14, 2024. — PRESIDENTIAL ANTI-ORGANIZED CRIME COMMISSION

THE PHILIPPINE Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) should review the approval process for offshore gaming operators in the country, congressmen said on Monday, amid allegations that a former Cabinet official had lobbied for the accreditation of some of them.

Corruption charges should be filed against the unidentified official and Pagcor should revoke the licenses of these Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace S. Barbers said in a Viber message.

“On the alleged role of the ex-official, a review of the requirements and qualifications of the companies that he had lobbied for is a must,” he told BusinessWorld. “If they are found to be wanting, then charges may be filed for corruption against the ex-official and the licenses of those companies revoked.”

“Additional charges may also be filed if there are violations and criminal activities committed [by POGOs],” he added.

Pagcor’s Gaming Licensing and Development Department and Offshore Gaming and Licensing Department did not immediately reply to separate e-mails seeking comment.

Pagcor earlier claimed the former Cabinet official had helped some of these POGOs including those recently raided by authorities get a license.

The state gaming operator and regulator did not name the official but promised to identify “controversial individuals behind these criminal POGO enterprises” at the proper forum.

“I call on Pagcor to reveal all government officials, past and present, who interceded for the granting of POGO franchises or protecting illegal POGOs,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez said in a separate Viber message.

He urged the House of Representatives committees on games and amusement and good government to conduct a joint inquiry into the matter.

The House committee on public accounts could also launch a separate investigation, Mr. Barbers said in Filipino.

He also called on Pagcor to disclose accredited and illegal POGOs in the country.

“POGOs, whether licensed, legitimate or illegal are nothing but fronts for criminal activities,” he said in a separate statement. “Ranging from money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking… and engaging in POGO politics, name it and surely it is all there.”

There are now only 43 accredited POGOs from 298 under ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, Pagcor said in a statement at the weekend.

“The current administration has been doing its part to weed out illegal operators, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of licensees,” it added.

Also on Monday, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian urged Pagcor to reveal all former high-ranking government officials who had a hand in legalizing some POGOs.

“The involvement of a former Cabinet official with illegal POGOs is deeply alarming and proves POGOs’ link to high government officials,” he said in a statement.

“Any conflicts of interest or breaches of legal and ethical standards must be fully addressed with the utmost severity,” he added.

The Senate committee on women, children and family relations last week summoned Bamban Mayor Alice L. Guo and her associates after they failed to attend a hearing investigating their alleged ties to illegal POGOs and Chinese espionage.

Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, who heads the committee, said the National Bureau of Investigation had confirmed that the mayor’s fingerprints matched those of another Chinese national.

The Bureau of Immigration last week issued an immigration lookout bulletin against Ms. Guo over her alleged link to illegal POGOs in her town, which she has denied.

Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. has said criminal syndicates posing as POGOs, which are mostly Chinese gambling companies that operate online casinos from the Philippines, are national security threats and must be stopped.

“Pagcor must disclose all information and reveal other personalities involved to aid in the ongoing investigations,” Mr. Gatchalian said. — Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio and John Victor D. Ordoñez

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