Duterte won’t ban billion-peso offshore gambling industry

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte won’t ban offshore gaming companies in the Philippines despite the ills that critics say they bring, because they are a major source of tax revenue, his spokesman said on Sunday.

“We still need the funds,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo told Radyo Inquirer in Filipino. “He will not suspend or stop it.”

Some lawmakers have sought a halt in the operations of the billion-peso industry that is mostly Chinese-run and caters to its own nationals after these were linked to crimes including kidnapping, tax evasion, money laundering and sex trafficking.

So-called online gaming operators employ more than 400,000 workers, many of them from mainland China, amid the Chinese government’s crackdown on gambling.

Mr. Panelo said the government should enforce laws against Chinese criminals instead of banning the industry as a whole.

Senators last week rebuked financial regulators for failing to promptly investigate the entry of P19.7 billion ($389.6 million) — suspected to have been laundered by Chinese criminal syndicates — into the Philippine financial system last year.

Various travelers carried the foreign currencies — $336 million, HK$215 million and 2.7 million yen — and entered the Philippines through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Senator Richard J. Gordon said during a Senate hearing, citing Anti-Money Laundering Council records.

Aside from the almost P20 billion that entered the country in the first quarter of last year, about $633 million (P32 billion) also suspiciously came in from September last year to March this year, Mr. Gordon said, citing Bureau of Customs data.

Mr. Gordon earlier said offshore gambling companies here were probably being used as fronts for Chinese spies.

The Immigration bureau earlier said it had revamped workers at Terminals 1 to 3 of the international airport in Manila after the “recent resurgence of unauthorized activities and irregularities” there.

The agency relieved 19 officials and employees allegedly involved in a bribery scheme that allowed the illegal entry of Chinese nationals who end up working in offshore gaming companies here. — Gillian M. Cortez