Senator Richard J. Gordon has stood up against money laundering issues arising from the prevalence of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the country.
Gordon pointed out that inordinate and suspiciously large amount of foreign currency, $470-million brought in by 47 individuals from September 2019 to February 2020 alone, without being flagged is an apparent scheme of money laundering being tolerated by authorities.
Republic Act No. 10365, or the Anti-Money Laundering Council Act, as amended, requires covered institutions or persons to report to AML Council within five days all covered transactions and AMLC prescribed period for suspicious transactions. POGOs are required to report suspicious transactions to the AMLC to prevent the growing online casino industry, catering mainly to Chinese players, from becoming a conduit for money laundering.
“It appears that the relevant authorities chose to turn a blind eye to the nefarious activities that come with the prevalence of POGO in our country in exchange for a few billions in tax revenue, or perhaps because of pastillas or any other form it may take. We have a report that one individual was able to bring in huge amounts 45 times. That is what I call done with impunity,” the senator said.
Gordon warned that money laundering is a threat to national security because it can be used to fund organized crimes, destabilize governments and erode the integrity of the nation’s financial institutions.
“This is very alarming. Hindi natin alam saan talaga galing ang pera at saan dadalhin, ni hindi natin namomonitor kung nasaan ang mga taong ito. The fund could allow syndicates to thrive and perpetuate criminality, exposes the country to and provides fuel for terrorism drug dealers, terrorists, illegal arms dealers, human traffickers, smugglers, corrupt officials and others to operate and expand their criminal enterprises. In extreme cases, it can be used to fund armies or coup’d’etat that can lead to a take-over of government,” he said.
“It is also a threat to our economy because it can cause artificial inflation, often times dirty money is used to purchase real properties which will cause the value or price of these properties to increase by creating the illusion of a demand when there is none. It causes a decrease in productive employment by causing businesses to fail, hence workers lose their jobs,” Gordon added.
For her part, Senator Risa Hontiveros demanded government agencies concerned to trace all criminal elements and blacklisted fugitives who entered through the POGO industry and have them deported.
“Deport these criminals. Filipinos’ safety comes first,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, previously alleged that tour operators have been offering manufactured Philippine birth certificates and passports to Chinese nationals. These tour operators are part of the Bureau of Immigration’s [BI] ‘pastillas’ scam, the Senator noted.
“Napag-alaman natin na parte din ng ‘pastillas’ scam ang VIP treatment of blacklisted fugitives. These criminals pay more than the P10,000 ‘service fee’ and are allowed entry into the Philippines,” she shared.
“Klarong klaro na napakarami nang kriminal na nakapasok sa bansa ngayon, no thanks to our corrupt BI officials. They welcomed these criminals with open arms and set up and enabled this ‘pastillas’ system to persist.”
Additionally, Hontiveros cited reports on the money laundering links to the POGO industry. The Bureau of Customs stated that $447 million (P22.68 billion) entered the country from September 2019 to February 2020, half of which was attributed to Chinese nationals.
“POGO is a big mess,” she said. “Ilang beses ko na sinabi ito, pero kailangan ulitin: POGO brings in crimes. Hulihin na ang mga blacklisted, ang mga sangkot sa money laundering, at anumang krimen. They need to be deported immediately!” she concluded. /Stacy Ang