Philippines tracking offshore gaming operators amid China security concerns

One estimate says over 250 offshore gaming firms illegally operate in the country.
Jason Gutierrez
Philippines tracking offshore gaming operators amid China security concerns Philippine authorities arrest Chinese workers at an unlicensed online gambling firm in Quezon City, Dec. 19, 2019.
Bureau of Immigration/Reuters

The Philippines is monitoring offshore gaming operations, the national security adviser said Thursday, amid concerns that Beijing could use these to stir up trouble in the country.

Previously, government officials, including Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and at least two senators, said Beijing could be using illegal gambling operations to weaken governments with which it had ongoing conflicts.

“Currently, we do not view [Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs] per se as a national security threat at the level that would necessitate the direct involvement of the armed forces,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said in a statement. “At the moment, it is a national concern that law enforcement and regulatory agencies can address.”

He said his agency would continue to work with legislators and other government officials to “provide a balanced and informed perspective” about POGOs.

POGOs are online gaming firms that cater to foreign customers, especially nationals from China, where gambling is illegal. 

Over 250 POGOs are suspected to be operating without a license, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), a government-owned entity. By comparison, 46 operate legitimately in the country, contributing more than 5 billion pesos (U.S. $85.32 million) gross revenues last year.

Año noted that legitimate POGO operators are licensed by the government, but illegal operators have been involved in scams and other crimes that “should not be tolerated.”

Police crackdown

Police said they recently stepped up operations against illegal POGOs, shutting down several firms for having alleged links to crimes including human trafficking, online fraud, and prostitution. 

In a raid last week, police found Chinese military uniforms and other paraphernalia in Lucky South 99, a cluster of buildings that catered to POGO operations in Porac town north of Manila. Authorities said the Chinese military uniforms are being checked for their authenticity.

Some illegal POGOs are operating near military sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission said on Thursday. EDCA is a pact signed by Manila and Washington in April 2014 that aims to bolster their alliance and defense cooperation.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not consider POGOs a national security risk.

“For now, that is not yet considered a threat to national security. In terms of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we remain committed to maintaining a balanced approach in safeguarding our economic interests while securing the well-being and security of our citizens,” AFP spokeswoman Col. Francel Padilla said on the ABS-CBN program “Dateline Philippines” on Wednesday. 


Also on Wednesday, Teodoro said China could be behind these POGOs to weaken a perceived “enemy.”

“Why is this a national security concern? Because they weaken our political, economic, social and peace and order fabric,” he told reporters.

“The most effective way of weakening your enemy is to cause trouble in its country,” said Teodoro, who last week said criminal syndicates posing as POGOs are national security concerns.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment. But in 2022 it said that it was willing to assist Manila in its POGO crackdown because gambling is illegal in China whether done online or overseas.

On Thursday, Sen. Win Gatchalian, an administration ally, called for an “immediate ban” on all POGOs in the country.

“In addition to the proliferation of heinous crimes associated with POGOs, the industry has raised serious national security concerns that must be addressed promptly and with strong political will,” he told reporters. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada echoed Gatchalian’s concern.

“Aside from security concerns raised on POGO operations near our military bases, reports on some 250 others operating without licenses should prompt our concerned authorities to conduct a crackdown on these illegal entities,” he said.

In addition, Chinese workers and others caught in POGO raids should be subject to “mass deportation,” Estrada said.

POGOs began proliferating when former President Rodrigo Duterte, whose six-year term ended in 2022, allowed them to operate in droves. Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has blamed Duterte's pro-China stance for emboldening Beijing to be more assertive in the South China Sea. 

The Philippines and China are locked in a years-long dispute over the resource-rich waterway. Other countries including Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia have overlapping claims to the waters. Taiwan is also a claimant.

Jojo Riñoza and Gerard Carreon contributed to this report.


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