Ambassador: President Duterte has final say on igaming ban

30 August 2019

The Philippines’ ambassador to China has refuted the suggestion that the Chinese government’s calls for the country to ban online gambling will force President Rodrigo Duterte to acquiesce.

In a press briefing shown by broadcaster the People's Television Network yesterday (29 August), Ambassador Jose Santiago ‘Chito’ Sta. Romana stressed that such a decision was down to the President and could not be dictated by China.

When asked what Duterte was likely to say if Chinese President Xi Jinping asked him to implement a ban on igaming, Romana said: “He will say it’s legal in the Philippines.

“It’s not rejecting [the request] it’s explaining the difference. They can’t dictate to us. Those are sovereign decisions, so that is where we stand,” he explained. “I think for me the key is for the President to be ready to explain [this].”

However, he added that if a ban was to be implemented, it would likely be introduced slowly, due to its potential economic impact on the Philippines.

“If we are to do it we want a soft landing, we don’t want a drastic impact that will affect our economy,” Romana said.

The Ambassador’s comments follow last week’s call from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang for the Philippines to ban igaming, days after the country suspended the awarding of licences to offshore gaming operators (POGOs).

“We note the Philippine government's announcement and appreciate it,” Geng said of the suspension of licensing activities.

“We hope the Philippines will go further and ban all online gambling,” he continued. “We hope it will further strengthen law enforcement with China and jointly tackle criminal activities including online gambling and cyber fraud.”

The moratorium on new licences followed pressure from China, which believes POGOs are targeting players in China under their licences from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

This, China claims has led to an increase in crime and social problems the country. Chinese nationals were being lured to work illegally for online and land-based operators in the Philippines, where they were subjected to physical abuse or even murdered, it added.

Cambodia has also put a halt to the award of igaming licences as a result of Chinese pressure.

On the question of criminal activity, Romana said the Philippines would work alongside China to put a stop to lawbreaking. This, he said, may force some POGOs to downsize their business as their addressable market size declines as a result of China’s gambling crackdown.

Earlier this week the chair of the Philippines’ Central Bank and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) revealed that he had ordered an investigation into the impact of an igaming ban on the country’s finances.