"We better start looking at ourselves."
Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators now appear to be a festering problem between this country and China. Many of our countrymen have expressed their concern about the deleterious effect of this hi-tech variation of gambling for the simple reason that a large number of Chinese nationals visiting this country posing as tourists are in fact engaged in gambling done by the use of cross-border telecommunication facilities to place their bet. Most countries consider this as essentially constituting the crime of illegal gambling.
Many Filipinos and some politicians wanting to ride on this issue easily blame China for the fact that most are Chinese nationals. Seldom do our grandstanding politicians consider that the site and/or operation is taking place right here in our own backyard.
Taking this into account, the burden of containing or eradicating this vice is therefore on us, being the situs or location of the gambling operation. Of course China’s Ministry of Public Security carefully screens its nationals wanting to travel to the Philippines, but that merely serves as a safeguard until one has actually violated the law like engaging in what we now call cross-border telecommunications fraud.
The greater burden remains in us to prevent them from for violating our own laws. Anticipatory measures may be taken by us like preventing the entry of known POGO gamblers and/or operators, but that would be silly and could seriously affect our tourism industry and even violate the law our President protested when the US barred the entry of Philippine officials to the US for alleged violation of human rights in the Philippines.
I remember three years ago, China’s Vice Minister of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention and Director General of the Department of International Cooperation of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China, Liu Jianchao, visited the country to secure closer cooperation to prevent the commission of crimes by each country’s nationals. At that time, the issue of offshore gambling had yet to get the attention of the local media. This was why he probably did not mention that even as he surely had an eye on the problem.
The problem actually begins with us. Since this type of gambling is one of commercial transaction involving the use of telecommunication, we are duty bound to impose stricter rules on the use of our banking facilities like the prevention of fraud and other forms of swindling; the prevention of money laundering and insuring that whatever amount of tax paid by the POGO operators and bettors are promptly collected by the government.
Likewise, facilities being used for offshore gaming without permit, nightclubs which are sometimes used as fronts for prostitution may be padlocked. Notably, the consequence of heavy gambling often leads to the commission of crimes like illegal on-line gambling, meaning operating outside and without the permit of the POGO operator itself, money laundering, illegal employment mostly aliens, kidnapping, extortion, torture, murder which affect the legitimate rights and interests of the two countries to promote friendship.
Only by taking these stringent measures will we be able to understand where we stand and squarely deal on this vice that dissipates the economy and moral fibers of our people. But it seems we are barking up the wrong tree. A deeper analysis of this particular problem, will tell that it is financially dissipating to the economy of China, yet this country is not doing anything to protect its own interest not really with an eye of cashing in on this vice but to collect the revenue and income for the use of our territory as site for their operations. China is doing everything to regulate this kind of vice so that their operations will not be derailed to illegality or lead to the commission of crimes.
While telecommunications gambling is not allowed in China, the Chinese government is extra careful not to dictate what measures we are going to take like telling us what to do. The Chinese government is more concerned in prohibiting their nationals suspected to have committed long-term telecommunications fraud crimes from committing them here. If they managed to elude their pre-departure screening, that side of the obligation is now on us. We cannot deport them unless they violated our laws or that the Chinese government has sought their extradition under our treaty obligation with China.
Theoretically it is their money that flows out through the facilities of cross-border telecommunication. For clearer understanding of the modus operandi, it simply means that no money is actually taken out of China, or that the money refers to bank deposits made in a third country. On our part, while we are supposed to understand that the players are here to gamble, many of us are complaining that we virtually get nothing in terms of revenue. Some say the amount collectable is estimated to be more than P50 billion.
In truth that money never physically entered the country or was handed to the bettor. The amount placed as bet is all theoretical as one might say. So, if we could not get hold of the money at least for tax purposes, the best that we can do is ban, prohibit and penalize the bank or telecommunications owner or operator for allowing him to use his facilities.
We should do more to refocus our attention to reaping the positive aspects like what PAGCOR has been doing. While gambling is not the main purpose, the tourists that come means added and more purchases during their stay. Remember, it remains our duty to ensure that their operations here are well within the bounds of what is legal and permissible. To decry the presence of the Chinese tourists engaged in offshore gambling is not the solution. We have to take advantage of their influx while the economy is on the upsurge.
Gambling is definitely a contributory source of revenue. As our trade with China and with the rest of our neighbors continue surge, tourism will naturally increase. This means there are more places to visit and more products to buy, provided we are able to maintain our peace and order. There is nothing for us to be sorry about POGO the same way we discarded the Laurel-Langley Agreement with the US in 1974.