Philippine Finance Minister To Recommend POGO Shutdown

July 9, 2024
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The Philippine finance minister has said he will recommend to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr that foreign-facing online gambling operations be shut down amid escalating reports of criminal activity, violence and congressional anger.
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The Philippine finance minister has said he will recommend to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr that foreign-facing online gambling operations be shut down amid escalating reports of criminal activity, violence and congressional anger.

The latest call from a top Cabinet official for the termination of all Internet Gaming Licensees (IGLs, popularly known as POGOs) follows months of accelerating revelations of crime, violence and fraud in the online gambling sector.

Finance secretary Ralph Recto told reporters in Manila on Monday (July 8) that the damage inflicted by underground POGO operations, such as that of two compounds raided in Tarlac and Pampanga provinces this year, led him to give up on the industry.

“Frankly, I’m not a fan of gambling and, two, I’m not a fan of POGOs, really,” Recto said in a mixture of English and Filipino.

“But if they were not doing any hanky-panky and they’re paying taxes, fine with me. But I think there are many issues already surrounding the POGO industry, right?”

Recto’s loss of support for the industry follows his predecessor’s pressure on POGOs and ensures that enduring finance department hostility to the sector will be front and centre in communications with the President.

Former finance secretary Benjamin Diokno’s calls for the eradication of POGOs go back years, including during his terms as central bank governor and chairman of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

“Given [POGO lawbreaking] … I’m willing to recommend to the President not to continue with POGOs,” the GMA online news service quoted Recto as saying.

“I think in general we don’t have to pin our [tax revenue] hopes on POGOs. In my case, with regard to the Department of Finance, I’m not in favour of POGOs.”

The March raid in Tarlac, just north of Clark Freeport, and the June raid in Pampanga, just to the south of Clark, delivered more evidence of abuse and torture of enslaved foreign and local workers forced to conduct cyber-scamming and uncovered alleged criminal connections to Singapore.

Alice Guo, the mayor of the Tarlac town of Bamban, whose co-ownership of a compound led her to become a suspect in wider syndicate operations, is now accused of impersonating a born-and-bred Philippine national after senators released fingerprint and passport data suggesting she migrated from China.

Guo is again due to testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the deaths of nine foreign nationals whose bodies were found littered around Pampanga are being investigated by provincial police as possible POGO-linked homicides, the Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission announced on Saturday.

It was not immediately clear if the deaths of the six Chinese, one Japanese, one Malaysian and one Vietnamese were linked to POGOs and a recently discovered incinerator at the Pampanga property, commission spokesperson Winston Casino said.

Police on Saturday, carrying a heavily delayed search warrant, also discovered an indoor firing range, tunnelling and a two-bedroom underground safe house within a leisure resort abutting the formerly PAGCOR-registered POGO operation that was also under the syndicate’s control.

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