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Monday, July 15, 2024

Crackdown on POGOs

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THE national government appears dead-set on going after illegal Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) in various areas of the country and shutting them down once found to have violated our laws.

According to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) the state gaming regulator, between 250 and 300 POGOs are operating in the Philippines without a license, six times more than the 46 legitimate operators.

Together with the police, PAGCOR wants to identify these illegal operators, conduct raids, and shut them down.

The online gaming industry emerged in 2016 and grew exponentially as operators capitalized on the country’s liberal gaming laws to target customers in China, where gambling is banned.

At their peak, POGOs totaled 300 and employed more than 300,000 Chinese workers. But the pandemic and tighter tax rules forced many to relocate or go underground.

The ongoing crackdown has been triggered by reports of POGO-related crimes like human trafficking, torture, kidnapping and fraudulent activities like credit card, crypto investment, and so-called ‘love scams’ where criminals adopt fake online identities to persuade victims to give them money.

In the most recent raid on a POGO in Porac, Pampanga by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), they discovered Lucky South 99 has been operating in a 5.8-hectare compound within the vast Royal Garden Estate without any valid permit from PAGCOR.

There, they found several Chinese military uniforms and medals in several of the 46 buildings in the compound.

They also found several rooms with bloodstains. The rooms were believed to be torture chambers where POGO workers were beaten up for not complying with management directives and for failing to reach their quotas.

One of the buildings forcibly opened by police officers showed a large KTV bar with VIP rooms and rooms with beds. Authorities believed the building was used for the sex trafficking of foreign and Filipino women.

Following recent raids on POGOs in Bamban, Tarlac and Porac, Pampanga, the clamor for President Marcos Jr. to ban all POGOs for posing a threat to national security and being the breeding ground of various crimes has been gaining ground.

Senate President Francis Escudero, who has supported calls for total phaseout of illegal POGOs, has urged the Department of National Defense to discuss with PAGCOR the concerns they had raised regarding the presence of POGOs near military camps.

For his part, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., a total ban on illegal POGOs is necessary on national security grounds because, he said, these “weaken our political, economic, social, and peace and order fabric.”

Will Malacañang heed the clamor? We’ll know soon enough.


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