Philippine President Roberto Duterte has developed such a knack for sticking his foot in his mouth, he frequently has to have an interpreter explain what he really meant to say. His latest faux pas concerns online gambling in the Philippines.
This past week, Duterte ordered the “closure of all online gambling”. Andrea Domingo, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chair, explained the true meaning of Duterte’s statement as being that the order doesn’t pertain to operators with the new Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) licenses issued by PAGCOR in early December. Domingo further noted that an executive order by the Philippine government would provide further details concerning Duterte’s unauthorized online gambling order. She also said that only gaming operators with the new POGO license would be approved to continue with online gambling operations.
Apparently Duterte had more to say concerning online gambling without first vetting his sources of information. He has been continuing his rants against the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) as being a corrupt organization that is linked with Jack Lam, owner of Fontana Casino that is located in Clark Freeport. Duterte claims that Lam’s online gambling sites being run from the Fontana Casino are illegal and wants them shut down.
But Charito Plaza, Director General of PEZA, rebutted Dutertes accusations by noting that PEZA has never registered any online gambling sites, nor do they have the authority to do so. Plaza also pointed out that Clark Freeport was not administered by PEZA but by the Clark Development Corp, which is under the authority of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.
Again, Duterte’s off the cuff allegations needed some clarification. Vitaliano Aguirre II, Justice Secretary, said that Duterte was actually referring to the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), not PEZA. It was under CEZA’s authority, prior to the new POGO regime, that most Asian-facing Philippine-based online operators had been operating.
Aguirre said that a new task force under his leadership will be targeting online gambling sites being run from the economic zones in the provinces of Aurora, Cagayan and Bataan. These websites are “online operations that violate our gambling laws, our tax laws, that do not pay the right taxes like Jack Lam.” But POGO licensees “who are complying with the limitations, of PAGCOR limitations, they have nothing to worry about.”
According to Duterte’s estimates, these online gaming sites had deprived the Philippine government of $20 billion in annual tax revenue. That figure may or may not be true. But what is true, is that a huge amount of tax fraud has been perpetrated on the government. Aguirre conferred that the new task force’s purpose will be to recover all money that online gaming sites had failed to pay in taxes. He noted that the government has still not spelled out “what specific powers the task force will get to go after this massive tax fraud.”