THE SENATE Blue Ribbon Committee will go ahead with its investigation into alleged money laundering linked to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) even as President Rodrigo R. Duterte defended the industry.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, who heads the panel, also disclosed being offered bribe, worth up to P20 million, allegedly to keep him from summoning certain individuals who have been implicated.
“We’re convinced without a doubt that there is money laundering,” Mr. Gordon said in a briefing Tuesday.
“We cannot assume good faith when the velocity of the money coming in is so fast and the enormity, bulto-bulto ng pera ang pumapasok (the cash is entering the country in bulk).”
Mr. Duterte said Monday that POGO finances are all accounted for by the industry’s regulator the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).
“I think he is being misled, Mr. President, I think you are being misled by your people,” he said, noting he has new evidence of money laundering activity which he will present at Wednesday’s hearing.
Mr. Gordon said on Monday, $500,000 worth of cash was brought in by a Singapore national.
This is on top of the $633 million (P32 billion) in suspicious cash imports since September 2019 flagged by the committee. The committee has also identified a Filipino family allegedly involved in money laundering.
Mr. Gordon alleged that the family, subpoenaed to attend the next hearing, had reached out him through a middleman to offered him a bribe.
He said the family was appealing not to be invited in the hearing. He was initially offered P5 million as a donation to the Philippine Red Cross, which he chairs; and later offered P20 million to be placed at his own disposal.
“Una donate, maganda para sayo sabi nila. 20 million. Una muna donation P5-M (At first there was an attempt to donate P5 million, then it became P20 million)” he said. He also warned that if the family fails to attend the hearing its members will be arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation.
During his late night briefing at the Palace on Monday, Mr. Duterte said he is not aware of any irregular financial dealings at POGOs, saying he has a record of the industry’s deposits.
“Yung speculation diyan sa mga senador na ginagamit ng laundering, well… We have a listing of the…itong mga deposito nila (Speculation by senators that money is being laundered, well,…we have a listing of… all their deposits,” Mr. Duterte said.
He added: “There is a report of money laundering. Pero doon sa bangko mismo wala… (But the banks have not reported anything suspicious) You are engaged in business. You deposit money, you withdraw money. Tumatakbo ‘yan eh. May manalo kasi, may matalo (That is the normal course of business which should be reflected in bank records as POGOs pay out to winners and take money from losers).”
The President’s Spokesman, Salvador S. Panelo, has said that Mr. Duterte does not plan to shut down the industry as revenue generated by POGOs benefits the government’s projects.
Mr. Duterte said that POGOs generate P2 billion a month, adding “Sayang eh, makatulong sa bayan (It would be a waste because it will help the country).”
Representative Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda of Albay’s Second District said the industry’s benefits to the economy outweigh the liabilities, as taxes collected from these firms amounted to P22.4 billion in 2018 and 2019 combined. The industry’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated at P94.87 billion. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez