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Get at the Pogos

So Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has deigned to say that he was “familiar” with the matter of Chinese nationals bringing the equivalent of at least P8.19 billion in cash into the country between December and February, and that he had instructed the Bureau of Customs to relay the information to the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

It’s not clear if the BOC complied. “No comment” was all the AMLC chair, Benjamin Diokno, said when reached earlier by the Inquirer, thus allowing speculation that it was news to him or that, having indeed been made privy to the “definite” money-laundering operation tipped on Thursday by Sen. Richard Gordon, he, Diokno, also governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, had done exactly nothing.

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The public will hopefully know soon enough, Gordon having announced that he would look into the matter in his capacity as chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee. He had described the “pastillas” bribery scheme exposed the other week by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, involving big-shot Chinese visitors extended VIP treatment by immigration personnel in exchange for a tidy fee, as the mere “tip of the iceberg.” The huge amounts of cash brought in by Chinese nationals are apparently the real deal: “With that kind of money, you can pay a lot of people, give them arms and take over our country. You’ll have a fifth column right here,” he said.

Legislative inquiries serve to apprise the public on matters of alarming import, and other things besides. They also serve as grandstanding platforms for lawmakers, or as lynch venues for officials fallen from grace (such as, in the Senate, former Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde) or marked for destruction (such as, in the House, Sen. Leila de Lima). Either way, in hearings that sometimes rage for days before going pfft, the men and women elected to craft laws are shown up for what they are — sharp or stupid, skilled or opportunistic, champions of the people or of themselves and their ilk.

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Gordon’s planned inquiry will hopefully shine a light on the opaque doings of Pogos (or Philippine offshore gaming operators) that have enjoyed shocking leeway, resulting in the rise of a distinct subculture thriving self-contained and self-sufficient in food, lodging, entertainment—even sexual services. The spike in crime involving Chinese nationals has not stirred Philippine authorities into action beyond the arrest of a few, as though the offenses comprised merely spitting on the floor or on a traffic cop’s face, and not kidnapping for ransom, torture, murder.

But beyond the findings of the blue ribbon committee is the desired result: a change, preferably dramatic, in the status quo.

For all the exertions of the body formally known as the committee on accountability of public officers and investigations: on the scandalous grant of good conduct time allowance (GCTA) to convicts of heinous crime, Nicanor Faeldon was merely removed as top guy of the Bureau of Corrections and even toyed with running for governor of Occidental Mindoro in 2019 (his predecessor at BuCor, Bato dela Rosa, is now a senator); on the advertising deal among the Tulfo brothers’ Bitag Media, the Department of Tourism under their sister Wanda Teo, and the state-run PTV network, the Tulfos have not returned P60 million in questionable earnings; on the “ninja cops” under Albayalde’s command as police chief of Pampanga, the man is scot-free and allegedly in the United States. Etc.

Gordon shows a tinge of frustration at these unhappy results of his committee’s work during a recent conversation with Inquirer editors and reporters, but is hardly daunted. “Did I say that?” he snaps when told that his tone suggests a dead end. He hints at the difficulty of gathering signatures from his colleagues for the committee reports, but deftly derails a budding question on politicians and quid pro quo. (Yet in 2019, with the reported interest of new senators in his committee, he groused that it ain’t easy: “Akala nila siguro madali. … Ako nga nahihirapan eh. Gusto kung tapusin [ang resolution], kaso … nahihirapan akong ipasok dahil ang daming nag-iinterpellate; mapolitika dyan.”)

At any rate, Gordon says the media should do more in directing attention to certain issues, such as the growing number of people killed by gunmen on motorcycles with no license plates. He describes the largely unsolved killings as part of the modus operandi involving the easy release of hired killers from prison and their easy return once their task is done. He bewails the recent murder of Fredric Santos, a potential whistle-blower on the GCTA scandal, especially lamenting how the BuCor’s legal division chief was done in as he headed to collect his daughter from school, in broad daylight, on a crowded street.

Gordon is in effect saying that his committee cannot do everything. His committee is primus inter pares in the Senate. Let’s see him get at the Pogos.

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TAGS: Chinese workers, Commentary, money laundering, pastillas scheme, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Rosario A. Garcellano
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