Drilon backs Lorenzana’s bid to transfer POGOs away from military camps

Robie de Guzman   •   August 19, 2019   •   475

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday expressed support for the proposal of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to transfer the Philippine Online Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs away from military camps and other vital installations.

In a statement, Drilon said he shares the concerns raised by Lorenzana over the growing presence of Chinese-dominated online gaming hubs and the risks that its proximity to military camps pose.

“I support Sec. Lorenzana’s recommendation on POGO location. The security aspect is something that we cannot just brush aside. I cannot understand why we cannot have POGO locations farther away from military camps,” Drilon said in a TV interview on Monday.

Drilon also described the Chinese embassy’s statement that overseas Filipino workers in China may also be suspected of spying as “absurd and beyond the realm of possibility.”

“Sec. Lorenzana is a competent official and his job is to advise us on matter of security. He has nothing but good intentions. We should defer to him,” he added.

Drilon further stated the possibility that POGO workers could be used for information gathering is not a remote possibility.

“We don’t know. Maybe not right now, but it gives them the opportunity when there’s a need for it. It’s convenient when there is a need for it. Why should we leave that chance unchecked?” he said.

The lawmaker also said there is no way Filipino workers in China could be engaged in spying activities for the Philippines as they are there to earn a living.

Drilon also pointed out how Filipinos were deprived of opportunities to earn a living in the POGO industry, which employs thousands of Chinese workers.

When asked if he would support a total ban of POGO, Drilon replied with: “I would like to think there is certainly great merit into looking at the possibility of closing down POGOs. I am against gambling.”

READ: Malacañang: No risk in POGO hubs near military camps

Malacañang earlier said it sees nothing wrong with the location of POGO hubs near military installations and the creation of self-contained communities of foreign workers as long as it doesn’t violate the law.

However, the Palace said it would defer to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon to assess any security issue being posed by the foreign operated online gaming operations.

Drilon: Anti-drug campaign is failing due to ‘recycling’ of illegal drugs

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 17, 2019

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed disappointment after Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Chief Dir. Gen. Aaron Aquino admitted that ‘recycling’ of illegal drugs is still rampant.

According to Drilon, the said admission is a “sign” that the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs is not working.

“Given that admission, I am not very optimistic about the success of the anti-drug campaign, in general,” he said.

Drilon also expressed dismay that the very people who enforce the law are the ones violating it.

“This is worrisome. This is a decades-old case of bantay-salakay, wherein the people who are given the task of enforcing the law insofar as drug trafficking is concerned are the ones who lead the anomalous practices,” Drilon said.

In order to prevent the “horrible” practices, according to Drilon, he will request the Office of the Court Administrator to strictly enforce the law on the burning of drugs confiscated.

The senator will also propose to reopen the PDEA unit in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, after its old unit was closed.—AAC

DILG, LGUs urged to revoke business permits of POGOs evading tax fees

Robie de Guzman   •   September 16, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva on Monday called on the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local government units (LGU) to support the Finance department’s move to shut down Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) that are not complying with the country’s tax laws.

In a statement, Villanueva said the DILG should help in this measure by ordering LGUs to revoke business permits of POGOs that are evading their tax liabilities.

The DOF over the weekend ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to close down and file charges against POGOS including their service providers that fail or refuse to settle the tax liabilities of their foreign workers.

READ: PH gov’t to close down tax-evading POGOs

The order was issued following reports of slow collection of withholding income taxes from select POGOs with tax liabilities amounting to P21.62 billion despite the issuance of 130 letter-notices to these firms.

“We do not owe anything to these errant POGOs who have the gall to refuse the correct payment of taxes of their workers. We expect nothing less than the immediate shut down of these firms,” Villanueva said.

“It is high time that our government acts with dispatch to make these firms comply with our country’s laws. We call on the interior department to support the Department of Finance by asking all local government units to revoke business permits of POGOs who do not comply with our tax laws,” he added.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) earlier assured support for the Finance department’s move to close down errant POGOs.

“We follow the law. BIR has the legal authority to close down establishments who evade taxes. Pagcor supports this move. We are issuing a letter to all POGO operators and service providers to this effect,” Pagcor Chairman Andrea Domingo said in a statement.

Villanueva also urged the DILG to assist the BIR in implementing the order by asking the police to shutter tax-evading online gaming operators the way it closed down operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) last month.

It can be recalled that police closed down PCSO outlets in July after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the immediate suspension of all its gaming operations over the supposed corruption in the agency.

The president later lifted the suspension on lotto and small-town lottery operations but with certain conditions.

Villanueva also pointed out that POGOs only provide “minimal benefits” to the country compared to its effects to Filipino locals and businesses, including the increase of rental rates for residential or office spaces near POGO hubs.

“Hindi biro ang pagsulpot ng sektor na ito at ang mga kaakibat na problemang dala dala nito tulad ng paglikha ng tinatawag na real estate bubble at pagtaas ng krimen sangkot ang mga dayuhan,” Villanueva said.

“Sa ating pananaw, hindi po sapat ang kanilang binabayaran na buwis para payagan itong mamayagpag,” he added.

He also raised concern over the spiking number of crimes involving foreign nationals, citing a recent raid in Pasig City where 277 Chinese nationals were apprehended.

READ: BI arrests close to 300 Chinese nationals in Pasig City

“Dumadayo na rin po sa ating bayan ang mga kriminal na tumatakas sa kanilang pananagutan sa batas ng China, tulad na lamang ng nakaraang raid sa isang opisina sa Pasig noong nakalipas na lingo,” he said.

“Maging ang gobyerno ng China po ay hinihiling na ipagbawal na ang pagpapatakbo ng mga POGO mula sa ating pamahalaan. Maliit lang po ang benepisyo natin sa sektor na ito, at mas malaki pa ang dulot na abala sa atin nito,” he added.

Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor, said a public inquiry into POGOs will be conducted where they will discuss all the facts and effects it has brought to the country.

DOJ has legal basis to seek re-arrest of inmates wrongly released – Drilon

Robie de Guzman   •   September 3, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said the Department of Justice (DOJ) has legal and valid basis to seek the re-arrest of 1,914 inmates serving a life sentence but were “wrongfully released” by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

Drilon made the statement amid a Senate inquiry into the aborted release of convicted rapist-murderer, former mayor Antonio Sanchez and the alleged questionable application of the Republic Act 10592 or the law that increased the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) given to inmates.

“The law should be interpreted to give justice to the victims. An interpretation that unqualifiedly and unjustly favors the oppressor, rather than the victims, may cause people’s trust in our justice system to erode,” the senator said in a statement.

Drilon said the re-arrest of released convicts can be done as it was clear that the rules and procedures in applying the GCTA law was not followed.

“On that basis and in accordance with the case of People vs. Tan, they can be re-arrested. Let them question it in the Supreme Court,” he said.

“Ultimately, it is the Supreme Court that will decide on this,” he added.

Drilon was the Justice secretary when Sanchez was convicted in the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez in 1995.

Malacañang on Tuesday ordered the DOJ to study the possibility of re-arresting convicts who were ineligible of availing the GCTA law but were nevertheless released, such as those convicted of heinous crimes.

The Palace also pointed to the case that was earlier cited by Drilon, People vs. Tan, where the Supreme Court ordered the re-arrest of a person who was erroneously released by a jail warden based on a GCTA, as a good legal basis for the re-arrest.

The Court in that case stated that “the prisoner’s re-arrest would not place him twice in jeopardy because his re-incarceration is merely a continuation of the penalty that he had not completely served due to the erroneous act of the warden; it is not a new or subsequent conviction. Neither would his re-arrest deprive him of liberty and without due process of law, because he was not yet entitled to liberty at the time he was released.”

Drilon noted that the release of these prisoners was erroneous due to the wrong computation of good conduct as none of their bad conducts were reflected in their carpetas, and some of the release orders were signed by officials who are not authorized under the law to do so.

Under the 2015 Department Order No. 953 issued by then acting justice secretary and now Supreme Court Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, the release of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua or high-risk inmates, including Sanchez, shall only be implemented with the prior approval of the justice secretary.

He stressed that the said department order is in keeping with the provision of the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013 which clearly mandates the DOJ to retain authority over the power to review, reverse, revise, or modify the decisions of the BuCor in the exercise of its regulatory or quasi-judicial functions.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said he did not approve the release of the prisoners nor did it go through his office.

The DOJ may also seek a warrant of arrest from the court, Drilon said.

“They can order the re-arrest of these prisoners, they can go to the courts that convicted these heinous crimes prisoners and seek a warrant of arrest,” Drilon said.

“But what is important is we use the law to give justice to the victims, not to side with the criminals. We can show it to the public by excluding those sentenced to heinous crimes from the benefits of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law and by re-arresting these prisoners who were wrongly released,” he said.

Drilon also expressed sadness over corrupt officials exploiting the grant of good conduct time allowance to inmates, which has been part of the country’s reformative justice system.

During the continuation of the Senate inquiry on Tuesday, it was revealed that the carpeta of Sanchez listed no violation despite being caught smuggling drugs in 2006 and 2010, not wearing the prison uniform, among other violations.

“Either there was corruption or there was negligence because it is obvious that there was a lot of violations,” Drilon said.

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