The plot thickens in the open secret of huge amounts of money being spirited into the country, supposedly to be used for “casino” and “investment.” Sen. Richard Gordon, who tipped the Inquirer last week on the more than $160 million (about P8 billion) brought in by a handful of Chinese nationals from Dec. 17, 2019, to Feb. 12, has further disclosed that over $447 million entered the Philippines through both Chinese and Filipino couriers during the period September-February.
The operations—including a case in which one Filipino courier flew in and out of the country multiple times and brought in as much as $34.7 million—apparently occurred under the gaze of customs and airport personnel made benign by pelf. There seems no end to illegal moneymaking ventures under this administration that claims nausea over a mere whiff of corruption.
As chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, Gordon is presiding over an inquiry into this state of affairs with which, two days after the senator’s initial disclosure of money laundering last Feb. 27, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III rather languidly said he was “familiar,” and on which Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno would not comment. Contrast the curious detachment last week of the leading lights of President Duterte’s economic team with their decidedly perky stance this week, with Dominguez mouthing things like the Bureau of Customs and the Anti-Money Laundering Council chaired by Diokno embarking on a “vigorous” investigation and monitoring of the huge cash inflows, as endorsed by the President.
It’s about time. As early as September, Gordon would have everyone know, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero notified the BSP, Department of Finance, and Bureau of Internal Revenue of attempts by certain persons to bring huge amounts of cash in US currency into the country. Why have Dominguez and company taken so long to suspect big-time chicanery, even if only in press releases?
As it happens, Dominguez and company have given Gordon full opportunity to chew them out. “This is mercantile imperialism. They are buying our people. … I am chagrined that this is happening to our country. This is totally unacceptable,” the senator said early this week in a privilege speech, adding that authorities had actually been tolerating money laundering operations.
Indeed. And Guerrero could not just be talking through his hat when he pointed out that big money entering the country through Chinese and Filipino couriers could be used for terrorism and organized crime. With the state-sanctioned gambling conducted by Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos), Chinese nationals in the tens of thousands have literally been flooding in, primarily to work in the gambling centers or to take advantage of the vice in which they are legally banned from indulging in their own country. As a sorry consequence of this business enterprise that the Philippine government has wholeheartedly embraced for the supposedly stupendous tax revenues it has brought and will bring, crime in various forms involving Chinese nationals are being committed on local soil. And we’re talking of kidnapping for ransom, torture, murder, prostitution, etc. and not only of such petty (but brazen) offenses as refusing to fall in line, violating traffic rules, spitting at a traffic enforcer, or dousing an MRT employee with soda.
According to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, “Chinese syndicates have been emboldened in making our country a haven for money laundering.”
Gordon amps up the volume, saying China is “riding on Pogos” to beef up its intelligence network in the Philippines so that it would “be ready whatever happens.” Earlier he warned that enough money was being brought in to finance a fifth column in the Philippines—a scenario now flirting with the realm of the possible in the wake of the murder of a Chinese online gaming worker by other Chinese men bearing IDs as members of the People’s Liberation Army.
Is the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. feeling the heat? Long a champion of Pogos—to the extent of warning against taxing them too much lest they decamp for other, more welcoming, shores—it said it was cooperating with authorities here and in China in sending back Chinese nationals on illegal status; it has also announced through various venues the revenues made from Pogos by the Duterte administration vis-à-vis the dismal numbers under the previous dispensation.
To be sure, money talks. In the welter of issues churned up by the Philippines’ current image as a gambling mecca, the scads of cash rolling into the system stand out. But what to do if, as happened in yesterday’s Senate hearing, officers of the administration’s economic team cannot or will not speak coherently even on the matter of record-keeping?