By Ellson Quismorio
A ranking member of the House of Representatives wants authorities to go after alleged colorum or illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) operating in the country.
Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, said he has received reports that 46 out of the 58 POGOs licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) were unregistered local or foreign corporations.
“I am certain that most if not all of the 46 POGOs have no legal personality because their names are not found in the business/company name registry in the Philippines or abroad,” said Barbers, who held the same chairmanship during the previous 17th Congress.
The Mindanaoan likened these POGOs to out-of-line passenger jeepneys and buses which haven’t been given a franchise to operate by the Land Transportation Office (LTO).
“These kolorum or ‘ghost’ POGOs operate in the Philippines but they are not registered in our country as a business entity,” he added.
Earlier, Barbers warned that these groups could undermine the government’s efforts against money laundering, as well as its anti-drug and criminality campaigns.
Citing a study made by the United Nations (UN), Barbers said that international crime syndicates have created their own online gaming firms so they may be used as a money-laundering tool
Barbers said close scrutiny of these POGOs could potentially uncover links to illegal drugs and organized crimes. “However, this requires a deep, profound and perhaps long and tedious investigation.”
He said PAGCOR should not only think of the financial gains the government may rake from these POGO firms, as they also need to consider security-related problems that these firms may create for the country in the future.
PAGCOR should not be remiss in conducting due dilligence before granting licenses to POGO applicants, Barbers reckoned.
This involves determining first whether the applicants are local or foreign-based, and if they are of good repute and not associated with any person who is not of good reputation, character, honesty and integrity.
“In short, our authorities should determine the beneficial owners and workers of these POGO firms. Are they of good repute and are not associated with persons with questionable reputation, character, honesty and integrity?” he said.
To prevent any possibility of the Philippines becoming a haven for money-laundering activities of foreign drugs syndicates and other crime groups, Congress should step in to enact and impose strict laws and regulations on local online gaming and casino operations.
“This early, I call on our financial intelligence and law enforcement units of the PDEA, the NBI and the PNP to dig deeper into the personalities behind the gambling enterprise of both the POGOs and the casinos that were granted permits or license to operate by the PAGCOR all over the country,” Barbers said.