THE chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs on Sunday urged authorities to probe and go after “colorum” Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) that may undermine the local anti-money laundering and anti-drug and criminality campaigns.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, the panel chairman, said he has received reports that 46 out of the 58 POGOs licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) are unregistered local or foreign corporations.
“I may not be too accurate but I am certain that most if not all of the 46 POGOs have no legal personality because their names are not found in the business/company name registry in the Philippines or abroad,” said Barbers.
“Para silang (POGOs) jeepney o bus na kolorum operators – ‘yung mga bumibiyahe sa isang partikular na ruta pero walang prankisa mula sa LTO. These kolorum or ‘ghost’ POGOs operate in the Philippines but they are not registered in our country as a business entity,” he added.
He said based on investigative reports and a study made by the UN, like what the Italy-based mafia and drug syndicates from Macau and Cambodia did, these groups created their own online gaming firms and used them as a money laundering tool.
Barbers said close scrutiny of these POGOs could possibly result to links in illegal drugs and organized crimes. “However, this requires a deep, profound and perhaps long and tedious investigation.” He said PAGCOR should not only think of the financial gains the government may rake in from these POGO firms as they need to also consider the security, social, immigration, labor and related problems that these firms may create for the Filipinos, and the country, in the near future.
PAGCOR, Barbers said, should conduct due diligence before granting licenses to POGO applicants, like determining first if they are local or foreign based, and if they are of good repute, not associated with any person who is not of good reputation, character, honesty and integrity.
“In short, our authorities should determine the beneficial owners and workers of these POGO firms. Are they of good repute and are not associated with persons with questionable reputation, character, honesty and integrity?” he said.
And to prevent any possibility of the Philippines becoming a haven for money laundering activities of foreign drugs syndicates and other crime groups, Congress should step in to enact and impose strict laws and rules and regulations on the local online gaming and casino operations.
“This early, I call on our financial intelligence and law enforcement units of the PDEA, the NBI and the PNP to dig deeper into the personalities behind the gambling enterprise of both the POGOs and the casinos that were granted permits or license to operate by the PAGCOR all over the country,” Barbers said.