Offshore gaming operators from hell

The troubles that offshore gaming operators have brought to the Philippines since the Duterte administration’s blessings, are also worth the trouble to find out whether they are more than what meets the eye. What benefits have they brought to Filipinos and in what form?

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Philippine Daily Inquirer


File photo of Alice Guo. “‘Mayor Alice’ is a fake Filipino—or should I say, Guo Hua Ping. She is a Chinese national masquerading as Filipino citizen to facilitate crimes being committed by Philippine offshore gaming operators,” said Senator Hontiveros. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

July 8, 2024

MANILA – In my cinematic imagination, “a motherless farm girl” transmogrifies into a Hydra-like creature and the rest is fantasy. That is how the mysterious Alice Guo, mayor of Bamban, Tarlac, is pictured in the movie in my mind, her transmogrification becoming the main plot of a fantasy movie. We all know the story by now, thanks to the Senate investigations on the Philippine offshore gaming operators and how Guo, a suspected amnesiac alien with tear-jerking childhood tales she had woven, fits into the Pogo matrix.

Who is the real Alice Guo with the matching right DNA? How many Alice Guos are there? Whatever, as cynics are wont to say, we’ve been had. And how.

The troubles that Pogos have brought to our woebegone country since the Duterte administration’s blessings, are also worth the trouble to find out whether they are more than what meets the eye. What benefits have Pogos brought to Filipinos and in what form? That is granting that online gambling (gaming is a euphemism) could also be a blessing in disguise. Do the benefits far outweigh their detrimental effects? What forms of evil have they spawned that have been uncovered? To name a few: human trafficking, torture, money laundering, kidnapping, prostitution, modern-day slavery, tax evasion, illegal operations, alleged corruption of government officials, falsification of documents. All these are grist for a TV crime series, not a fantasy movie.

It is one thing to be shocked and angered by news reports on what the raids conducted by law enforcement authorities have yielded, that is, the extent of how Pogos have penetrated Philippine society while we were sleeping or watching singit-baring beauty pageants. It is another to get it straight from experts who have studied this new “virus” that has implanted itself on Philippine soil and grown massively like a Hydra monster. Ah, so many figures of speech to apply.

Are Pogos a bane or boon? A necessarily evil or simply evil? Last week, the foreign-based Global Transparency and Transformation Advocates Network (GTTAN) composed of Filipino groups based abroad held an online forum “Time to Go for Pogo?” The speakers were lawyer Barry Gutierrez of the University of the Philippines College of Law who spoke on the “Legal and Political Perspectives on the Pogo Issue,” and Cielo Magno, Ph.D., associate professor at the UP School of Economics, who spoke on “The Social and Economic Costs of Pogo.” Find the recording on YouTube ( GTTAN couldn’t have chosen a better pair whose presentations were, to me, like a douse of pure, clear water on a sizzling day. How I wished there were more of us listening.

My stand: Pogos must go. Time to crack the whip. No mercy.

Pogos provide online gaming for foreigners. Filipinos and foreigners in the Philippines cannot participate in Pogos. These operations were meant to earn revenues for the government but there are legal questions on whether the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. could license Pogos. When Congress created a law taxing Pogos, did it give Pogos an imprimatur? It seems the answer is no, not really. In Gutierrez’s view, as I understood it, the executive could have the last word on Pogos. So, bring it on!

But more important than the legalities about the Pogos’ existence are the political concerns. There are approximately over 300 illegal or unlicensed Pogos and almost 50 licensed ones, the latter operating on a large scale. The illegal ones could be mom-and-pop types. But one big issue is national security because these Pogos could be “fronts” and means for Chinese “infiltration” as evidenced by the discovery of Chinese military uniforms in impenetrable Pogo hubs. (Think West Philippine Sea.) Not to mention their links and influence on local government lackeys and the citizenry as in the case of the likes of Guo. Bamban in Tarlac and Porac in Pampanga are only the tip of the iceberg. And now what’s this we hear about the island province of Catanduanes? And this place, and that place?

What next? Well, there is nothing like loud public clamor. Have the masses and militant church people lost steam? The Senate and the House can move for their total ban and so can the executive but will they act in that direction?

Magno pointed out that majority of legit Pogo employees are foreign nationals who provide indirect benefit through taxes. She gave a rundown of figures as if on a balance sheet. Pogo presence may have a multiplier effect economy-wise but the social costs are another matter that cannot easily be quantified. The negatives far outweigh whatever revenues have been collected. The economic benefits pale in the face of the ills Pogos have wrought upon this land and the wretched generation of politicians among us.

“Malinis ’yan,” (They’re clean) former president assured then. The bag of s**t has hit the ceiling fan so how do you define clean?

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