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The other China virus: GANID-16

/ 04:07 AM March 10, 2020

On Tuesday last week, the President’s official spokesperson speculated that President Duterte would temporarily shut down Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) after Senate hearings unearthed startling evidence of operators engaged in corruption, money laundering, and sex trafficking.

Secretary Salvador Panelo offered an argument from analogy. “The President, if you remember, suspended operations of lotteries when he received certain complaints of anomalies. If the complaints are really serious, the President will do something about them.” This was yet another of his glittering generalizations—explanations which do not in fact explain.

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Two days later, in response to the perceived slowness in presidential action, Panelo explained-without-actually-explaining: “When the President decides on something, he has goods to back up his decision. If he has not received a comprehensive report on these illegal practices, you cannot hurry him up.” He did not say why the President acted swiftly on allegedly anomalous lotteries, but needed “goods” to back up his decision on Pogos.

Then finally, after another two days, Panelo announced the complete opposite of his Tuesday speculation: He said the President will “not suspend it nor will he stop it,” adding: “What he told me yesterday was that he was satisfied with Pagcor’s report.”

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In other words, for about a week, while the Pogo anomalies festered in the headlines, he was not able to confer with the President on the matter. And when Mr. Duterte finally deigned to make up his mind, the decision was the opposite of Panelo’s guess.

(Note to fellow journalists: We really should reconsider the practice of pretending that a spokesperson like Panelo, who has demonstrated that he does not have ready and immediate access to the officeholder he is supposed to speak for, actually represents the President or even Malacañang—with all the offices that are physically and symbolically part of that traditional seat of power. If he is merely speculating about the President’s views, as he often does, his statements should be labeled as exactly that: speculation, by someone who has not consulted his principal. For an analysis of Panelo’s “three negative practices,” which explain his role in the politics of intimidation and the rhetoric of obfuscation that mark the Duterte administration, please read my “Should the media cover Panelo?” which ran last August.)

But back to the President’s decision not to shut down Pogos. Despite astonishing revelations that these Chinese companies have evaded paying taxes (at least P27 billion uncollected, according to the Bureau of Internal Revenue), attempted to launder at least P22.7 billion in only five months from September 2019 to February 2020 (according to the Bureau of Customs), bribed immigration officers to provide VIP services for Chinese Pogo workers (at least P10,000 per head, according to a Bureau of Immigration whistle-blower), and turned the Pogo industry into a vast market for sex-trafficking rings (with more than 140 women rescued from forced prostitution, according to the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation), President Duterte still thinks the upside is clear.

Panelo, having received his instructions, dutifully used the argument from revenue. “What he told me yesterday (Saturday) was that he was satisfied with Pagcor’s report. So, okay, we really need funds from them. For instance the salary of the nurses, teachers, and so many others. Now we have this problem with the coronavirus. Funds can be pulled from Pogo revenues,” Panelo told Radyo Inquirer in Filipino.

But in fact the main revenue the government earns from Pogos comes from licensing fees. They avoid paying taxes. According to the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the net inflow from Pogos is only P7 billion; according to Pagcor, only about P8 billion of their total revenue comes from Pogos.

For all the crimes committed in their name, for all the social ills they cause, for all the unease they generate in Philippine society, Panelo now says we need Pogos for the money they bring in. Absolute nonsense. In the first place, it takes a special kind of arrogance to speak of funding from Pogos when the Duterte administration has sharply increased the amount of so-called intel funds; the President himself now has access to over P4 billion in funds which he does not have to account for. Secondly, this administration has dramatically reduced calamity funds available to the government, to only about a third of the 2016 allocation.

The math doesn’t add up, if you’re computing for the public interest. But the math for private interest? The Senate hearings tell us billions of pesos from Chinese Pogos are corrupting the Philippine government. That’s the other virus from China: greed running unchecked since 2016. Let’s call it GANID-16.

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On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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TAGS: john Nery, money laundering, Newsstand, POGOs, Rodrigo Duterte
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