Palace denies turning blind eye on POGO woes

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 18 2020 04:21 PM | Updated as of Feb 18 2020 06:05 PM

 

Palace insists ‘no sacred cows’ in Duterte gov’t

MANILA (UPDATE) - Malacañang denied Tuesday that it was ignoring reported anomalies hounding Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) in light of allegations that local immigration personnel receive bribes from Chinese nationals who enter the country to illegally work in the industry.

Government will act on any complaint in relation to alleged irregularities within the POGO industry, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said as he urged victims to come forward.

“…[T]he record of this administration speaks for itself. It never turns a blind eye on anything that concerns governance,” Panelo, also President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel, told reporters in Malacañang.

“Any violation, any transgression, any anomaly, the Palace frowns on it and will act on it if there are complaints formally filed before its office,” he added.

A series of legislative inquiries have revealed anomalies hounding the POGO industry, ranging from sex trafficking to corruption. The inquiries came as more Chinese nationals continued to seek employment in POGOs, as the Chinese government cracks down on gambling, which it regards as illegal. 

The Senate earlier heard the testimony of a 16-year-old Filipina who said she was tricked into prostitution that caters to Chinese expatriates and POGO workers. Later, a Taiwanese woman also surfaced in the Senate to seek help after she was allegedly trafficked into working for a POGO firm.

The latest issue is the so-called “pastillas” scheme, where Chinese nationals who enter the Philippines as tourists and later work in POGO hubs pay immigration personnel and Chinese and Filipino travel agencies P10,000 in grease money rolled in bond paper. 

 “If those will be proven, then there’s something wrong with the operation of the POGO then the government has to do something about it. Until such time, the presumption is they’re performing regular tasks in accordance with the law,” Panelo said.

 'NO SACRED COWS'

Following the revelation on the “pastillas scheme,” the Bureau of Immigration immediately relieved 5 of its officials to give way to an investigation. Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente also created a fact-finding committee to look into the bribery claims.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said he has asked the National Bureau of Investigation to lead a parallel inquiry into the bribery claims.

“I told Comm. Morente that I’ll get the NBI involved in the investigation,” Guevarra told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

Asked if he plans to discuss the issue with the President, Guevarra said he would have to wait for the full report of the NBI.

Panelo said Morente, by rule of thumb, “has to know if there is an anomaly in his territory and respond to it.”

“It does not have to take the President to do the job for him,” the Duterte spokesman said.

Asked if the President still trusts Morente to lead the immigration bureau despite the bribery reports, Panelo responded: “Until he (Duterte) says otherwise, the assumption is he has confidence in him (Morente).”

“There is no sacred cow in this government. [As the President says] ‘if it’s against the interest of the people and general welfare, I’ll stop it.’ This is the kind of President we have,” he added.