Favored and protected
The past two weeks of the enhanced community quarantine over the entire Luzon have brought numerous reports of deliveries of basic goods such as vegetables and foodstuff barred from entering Metro Manila at checkpoints, ordinary citizens apprehended and/or fined for violating restrictions on movement and social interactions, and police and local officials imposing harsh, often conflicting guidelines on the observance of the quarantine in their specific localities.
And then there is this report that stands in stark contrast to all that: Last week, a group of 22 POGO (Philippine offshore gaming operator) workers was stopped at a checkpoint in Sta. Ana, Cagayan. The Pogo workers, who were in two vans and two delivery trucks, had breezed through all the checkpoints from Manila to Cagayan — thanks to two unusual escorts: Police Senior Master Sergeants Harold Corpuz and Clifford Ventura of Camp Crame’s Police Security and Protection Group (PSPG).
What were the two policemen doing escorting Chinese workers on a merry ride across Luzon when such movements are strictly prohibited by the current lockdown — and when the cops are supposed to be with their fellow uniformed personnel helping keep the peace and maintaining order during a public health crisis?
To its credit, the Cagayan Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 overruled the decision of Sta. Ana Mayor Nelson Robinion to let the group in, and instead ordered the Pogo workers back to Manila. Only the manager of the Cagayan Economic Zone-based casino was allowed to pass, but only after being ordered to undergo a 14-day home quarantine.
No word yet on how the two police escorts were dealt with.
Note that it was the mayor himself who would have allowed the quarantine violators in, while the police escorts, instead of enforcing protocol, gave them official cover.
Meanwhile, last week, police beat up and threatened to shoot curfew violators near the Quiapo mosque, despite one of them showing a quarantine pass. Several barangay officials were similarly shown on cellphone videos harassing even those doing laundry in their own yard.
For knowingly breaking his self-quarantine despite having COVID-19 symptoms and later testing positive for the disease, thus recklessly and irresponsibly exposing health workers to the virus, Sen. Koko Pimentel was let off easy by a Justice department suddenly rediscovering the need to “temper the rigor of the law with human compassion.” A week before Pimentel’s caper, a 69-year-old homeless woman was arrested in Manila for violating the home quarantine guidelines.
And in Valenzuela, public outrage over the special treatment accorded Pimentel did not prevent checkpoint enforcers from fining two health workers P5,000, or half their month’s salary, for not observing social distancing when they rode tandem on a motorbike on their way home, with no other transportation available.
Why the favored treatment for Pogo workers at a time when just about every local and multinational business has had to close down? Unlike producers of health supplies and food items, or banks, hospitals, and supermarkets, these online casinos are hardly crucial to maintaining public health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to former Budget secretary and now Central Bank governor Ben Diokno, they do not even contribute that much to the country’s economy, while tax authorities have said that Pogos owe the government an estimated P50 billion in withholding income and franchise taxes in 2019.
Ah, but the sector remains blessed and protected because of one man: President Duterte, who has rejected all the reports even by his own agencies of the social iniquities Pogos have brought to the country, and has pronounced them “clean” and free of corruption.
Instead of shutting Pogos down amid the spread of criminal activities such as money-laundering, prostitution, and kidnapping — Anti-Money Laundering Council executive director Mel Georgie Racela told a Senate hearing that at least P14 billion of the P54 billion in transactions by Pogos from 2017 to 2019 was linked to “suspicious activities” —the President urged Congress last month to pass a law to further entrench Pogo operations in the country, subject to regulations, “because we need the funds.”
No wonder that, with the President himself cheerleading for the Pogos, the sector struts around seemingly feeling inviolable; in the time of the quarantine, not only is it exempted from the rules thrown at lowly folk, it even enjoys police protection. Unless the PNP is able to provide an adequate explanation for the presence of the two police escorts in that Pogo convoy in Cagayan, and sanctions them severely for their moonlighting while also getting to the bottom of who authorized such assignment, it may have to live with a new designation: PNP — or “Pulis Ng Pogo.”
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