Malacañang has accused Cagayan Economic Zone Authority chairman Jose Mari Ponce of receiving P300 billion in kickbacks from illegal gambling operations in the country.
“Ceza, according to the President, has unremitted earnings amounting to P300 billion annually; it is currently headed by Jose Mari Ponce. a holdover from past administrations, who was appointed in 2004,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
In a statement late Friday, Abella said President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned that he was still looking for the “proverbial honest man” to head the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, “which he inadvertently referred to as Peza-or Philippine Economic Zone Authority—over which the President has already appointed Ms. Charito Plaza as Director General.”
Abella clarified what Duterte said on Thursday after the President claimed that a certain “head” of the Peza—the state regulator of special economic zones—whom he didn’t name were receiving more than P300 billion in bribes to protect the alleged online gambling operations of Chinese gaming tycoon Jack Lam.
“Even about Jack Lam, we know about it, they have this… [expletive] game that’s online, it’s being played here, the gamblers here [in the country] get taxed but the gamblers from abroad, they receive it, but we have no records [of foreign gamblers paying taxes to the Philippines],” the President said in the vernacular.
“Andrea [Domingo, the chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.] said we don’t get anything from (online gaming), so I asked her, ‘How much would we get if we did [tax online gaming operations]” Duterte added.
“[Domingo’s] estimate was 300 billion [pesos]. The government isn’t earning that, it’s all going to that Peza head,” the President said. “A lot of people are recommending someone there—I know, I won’t mention names—that’s why I was never tempted to assign a person there,” the President said.
Ponce could not be reached for comment at presstime. According to the Ceza website, he is a Career Executive Service Professional with more than 20 years of experience in government service, “with expertise in resource mobilization and negotiations for Official Development Assistance, project development and management, agribusiness, integrated area development and rural development.”
Ponce is a former acting secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform and has been recognized with several awards, “among which are Citations for Resource Mobilization by the UN-FAO, the Undersecretary’s Award for Excellence from different institutions, and a Citation from the World Bank in line with the implementation of Agrarian Reform Communities Development Projects.”
Ceza is “the first and only Gaming Jurisdiction in Asia and one of the fastest growing economic zones in the Philippines today currently with 102 locators, 46 of which are involved in I-Gaming and Support Services,” and Ponce “is a regular speaker and panelist in interactive gaming conventions and conferences in the region,” the agency website added.
Duterte has recently ordered Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to investigate the extent of Lam’s gaming operations in the country and benefitting from an “onerous contract” that allowed him to remit only one percent of taxes from his online business operations to the government.
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