Philippine Military Lobby Demands Ban On POGOs

June 21, 2024
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Opposition in the Philippines to foreign-facing online gambling operators (POGOs) is spreading to military networks, with an influential group for retired senior officers calling for the closure of POGOs over threats to national “values and security”.
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Opposition in the Philippines to foreign-facing online gambling operators (POGOs) is spreading to military networks, with an influential group for retired senior officers calling for the closure of POGOs over threats to national “values and security”.

The Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO) on Wednesday (June 19) asked the government for the “complete closure” of POGOs because “they pose [a] serious security risk to the social fabric of the society and greatly undermine government efforts to curb corruption”.

The statement, signed by AGFO president and chairman Emilio C. Marayag Jr, a retired vice admiral, said the majority of online gambling operations in the Philippines are now unlicensed and are leading corruptors of central and regional administrators.

“To establish, maintain and operate 85 percent of some 300 POGO platforms without valid documents, the illegal franchisees have to bribe government officials to buy their silence and cooperation,” Marayag wrote.

“This unholy alliance between the POGO and government officials attracts criminal syndicates to engage in illegal activities leading to national insecurity.”

The intervention of the AGFO in a broadly civilian matter is notable, as its lobbying activity is ordinarily limited to military and national security issues.

The AGFO statement did not identify Chinese government operatives as the primary security threat, despite allegations of Beijing’s involvement by senators and other anti-gambling commentators.

However, it said that POGOs have become “fronts by organised crime groups for human trafficking, prostitution, kidnapping, cyber scam, illegal drug trade, torture, surveillance and cyberattack on government agencies and other offences that severely threaten Filipino values and security".

“They not only adversely affect the income, growth and investment opportunities of legitimate gaming sites like the casinos, but also create negative perception of gambling that deters players from considering legal gaming establishments.”

The AGFO statement follows a press release by the Department of National Defence on June 12 stating that “criminal syndicates posing as POGOs are national security concerns”, citing defence secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

However, Teodoro appears not to have used the expression “threat to national security”, which could give the green light military intervention in illegal operations, amounting to a drastic escalation against the industry.

Instead, national security advisor Eduardo Año said in a June 13 statement: “We do not view POGOs per se as a national security threat at the level that would necessitate the direct involvement of the defence forces.

“At the moment, it is a national concern that law enforcement and regulatory agencies can address.”

Even so, the National Security Council is gathering its own information on the online gambling industry to seek a “balanced and informed perspective”, Año said.

“We are also doing our own assessment of its implications to national security.”

Meanwhile, officials in Pampanga Province just south of Clark Freeport, where the most recent raid on a POGO-linked cyber-scam facility took place in early June, will move to expel all online gambling operations from their jurisdiction, whether licensed or not.

Pampanga Governor Dennis Pineda and Vice Governor Lilia Pineda are backing a draft resolution submitted by local town mayors that would throw out existing operations and block others from setting up shop, emulating three city governments in Metro Manila.

In addition to concerns among local government, the military and the national security apparatus, the latest raid has crystallised more intense opposition to the industry in both houses of Congress, where bills have been tabled that would shut down the industry.

The Catholic Church has also weighed in, with the former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, joining calls for a full POGO ban in a letter on Saturday.

“The recent raids that revealed the extent of the evil at these POGO hubs — including incidences of human trafficking and torture and money laundering — make it a moral imperative that they be outlawed,” he wrote.

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