Pogos and transnational crime
Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) are a new industry of cross-border gambling providers that conduct their business through online portals based in the Philippines. They cater mainly to citizens of the Chinese mainland, where gambling is a crime. Pogos thus require Mandarin-speaking workers, which explains the influx of Chinese migrants into the country. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) bars Pogos from catering to Filipino citizens, whether residing domestically or abroad.
Gambling in China by Chinese citizens is a crime wherever it is committed. Unlike Philippine criminal law, Chinese criminal law adheres to the principle of extraterritoriality of crimes. Article 7 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China provides that crimes under Chinese law committed by Chinese citizens outside of its territory or territorial waters are punishable. Thus, a Chinese citizen who gambles in the Philippines through Pogos commits a crime in China.
Pogos, which are sanctioned by Pagcor, in effect abets the commission of crimes by Chinese citizens based in China—and Pagcor indirectly abets the commission of such crimes under Chinese law.
A transnational crime is one that has actual or potential effects across national borders. Pogo gambling fits the definition of transnational crime, because such act is a crime under Chinese law if committed by a Chinese citizen in the Philippines or elsewhere. While admittedly illegal gambling is not a serious legal infraction, it might have an adverse effect on the system of cooperation or mutual obligation between the Philippines and China in combating transnational crimes.
The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, also called the Palermo Convention, is a 2000 UN-sponsored multilateral treaty of which the Philippines and China are both signatories. Drug trafficking from China to the Philippines is a serious concern for the latter. It is an organized crime that comes within the purview of the Palermo Convention. Thus, the Philippines needs the cooperation of China to interdict illegal drugs trafficked out of the latter and into the former.
Under the doctrine of aut dedere aut judicare (either extradite or prosecute) in international law, member states of the UN have the responsibility either to extradite or prosecute perpetrators of serious offenses. Illegal gambling may not fall within the sphere of this state responsibility in public international law. The Philippines, however, has the moral duty to China, under the principle of comity of nations in international law, to prevent the proliferation of crimes in China that are facilitated through Pogos in the Philippines.
The relationship between the Philippines and China is shaky because the two countries have contrasting views about public international law. China would not recognize the arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines, a David against China’s Goliath, can only rely on international law to assert its rights as a state. Thus, the Philippines must strive to maintain the high moral ground it has attained in international law courtesy of the favorable arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea. However, the country’s embrace of Pogos may only end up diminishing its high moral standing over China, while Beijing may just decide to shirk its responsibility to interdict serious crimes such as drug trafficking, which is afflicting the Philippines in far worse ways.
To paraphrase a Supreme Court justice, “Is it worth it, Pagcor?”
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Frank E. Lobrigo is a retired regional trial court judge and president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Sorsogon Chapter.
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