Defense chief fears POGOs may shift operations to spying

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wants POGOs in hubs situated far from military camps as he fears they can easily shift operations to spying. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 16) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana fears that Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO), which largely employ Chinese nationals, may shift their operations to spying.

“It’s very easy for these people to, siguro, shift their activities to spying, kung mayroon man mageespiya [if anyone is spying.] So mabilis lang [it’s just fast,]” Lorenzana told reporters Friday.

He said this in reaction to warnings from some lawmakers that POGOs are sprouting near military headquarters, raising concerns about the country’s security.

POGO operations are situated near the Senate, and the headquarters of the Armed Forces, the Navy and the Philippine National Police, according to maps shared by PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation has proposed to create “self-contained” POGO hubs to minimize Chinese workers’ interactions with Filipinos, but this proposal has been criticized by China as it may infringe on the rights of their citizens.

Lorenzana backed this proposal, saying POGOs and their workers would be better controlled in these hubs.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon had earlier expressed concern about the influx of Chinese workers in the country, saying that this could pose a threat to national security.

China has said that its citizens are being illegally recruited in the country to serve in gambling operations that are also targeted for Chinese nationals. Gambling is prohibited in China.

Vice President Leni Robredo questioned why the Philippine government is still allowing the operation of POGOs, even if their gambling operations are illegal in China.

Bakit hina-harbor natin iyong iligal sa kanila? ‘Di ba dapat kung very close iyong friendship natin, bago natin hayaan na dagsain tayo dito, pinag-usapan na ng representatives ng dalawang bansa? Bakit kung kailan sobrang dami na nila saka pag-uusapan pa lang?” Robredo told reporters Friday.

[Translation: Why are we harboring what is illegal for them? If our friendship is very close, before we let ourselves be swarmed here, shouldn’t representatives from both countries talk first? Why would they talk about it only now when there’s so many of them already here?]

She said the entry of POGO workers into the country should be temporarily stopped while the legality of their work is still being clarified.

More than three million Chinese nationals have entered the country since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016 and warmed up to Beijing. However, government data shows that thousands may have been working in the country illegally or without proper documentation, especially in the POGO industry.

POGOs are seen to dominate office spaces in the country by year-end, according to Leechiu Property Consultants. The influx of POGOs in Metro Manila have also sent condominium rates skyrocketing by as much as 80 percent in Bay City in Pasay in the last three years.

Nograles has warned that the housing market may crash if POGO operations in Metro Manila are completely halted, which can adversely affect the country’s economy.

POGOs run casinos and similar betting games through the Internet. However, these companies are currently in hot water for reportedly hiring foreigners, mostly Chinese, for their operations without paying correct taxes.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue said it has collected ₱186 million in withholding taxes from POGOs since June, and is set to get ₱170 million more this month.

CNN Philippines’ David Santos and Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.