SEN. Richard Gordon yesterday exposed a supposed P20 million bribery offer from a Filipino family to escape attending a Senate blue ribbon committee investigation on multi-million dollar money laundering activities linked to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs).
Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on accountability of public officers and investigations, claimed two of his friends were used as emissaries by the Rodriguez family, who has been identified as among those who brought in millions of dollars and other foreign currencies in cash into the country, for the bribery attempt.
The emissaries, according to Gordon, offered P5 million and P20 million in two separate phone calls made Monday night in an attempt to stop him from insisting on the presence of members of the Rodriguez family in the next hearing scheduled on Thursday, March 12.
The first friend supposedly said the Rodriguez family was willing to “donate” P5 million to the Philippine Red Cross, where Gordon is the chairman. The offer was rejected.
Another offer was made, this time through a different friend, upping the offer to P20 million, which Gordon said he turned down again.
Gordon said no amount of money can make him back off from the investigation.
“Sabi ko hindi ko ginagawa ‘yan. Sabi ko pumunta na lang sila sa opisina ko at kakausapin ko. Natatakot daw sila kaya ayaw humarap. Eh bakit naman sila matatakot? Eh siyempre nag- iimbestiga ako. Ino-offer-an na nga ako so ibig sabihin meron nga (I told my friend that I don’t do that [accept bribes]. I told my friends to tell the Rodriguez family to just come to my office so we can talk. They [Rodriguezes] said they are afraid to face me. Why are they afraid? I am just investigating. They are making an offer so that means there is something [worth looking into]),” he said.
Seven members of the Rodriguez family were identified as among those who have been bringing in large amounts of dollars in cold cash since September last year to February this year. No one among the Rodriguez family attended last week’s Senate hearing.
Members of the Rodriguez family identified in the Senate hearing were John Joshua Rodriguez who had 40 transaction worth $32.6 million; Natasha Rodriguez with 15 transaction valued at $11.2 million; Elizabeth Rodriguez with 45 transactions worth $34.6 million, and Janet Rodriguez had 28 transactions valued at $20 million; Mary Rose Rodriguez one transaction worth $700,000; Michael Julian Rodriguez and Michael Julian Rodriguez Calderon with 10 transactions worth $7.6 million.
Gordon had said one of the Rodriguezes was earlier arrested by the BOC while carrying $700,000 but was later released.
He also said two Rodriguezes who were identified as part of the group attempted to sneak in HK$13 million and $700,000 last week but were apprehended. He did not give their first names.
The seven Rodriguezes (Mary Rose, Janet, John Joshua, Michael Julian, Simon John, Natasha, and Elizabeth) were given subpoenas to attend the last week’s hearing but the subpoenas were brought to the wrong address. The Rodriguez family got the summons while the hearing was already ongoing.
Gordon warned he will cite the Rodriguezes in contempt if they fail to attend the hearing on Thursday.
Last week’s Senate blue ribbon committee hearing placed the total amount of foreign currencies which entered the country from September to March at $633 million or roughly P32 billion.
MORE LAUNDERING ACTIVITIES
Gordon said a Singaporean which entered the country on Tuesday morning via terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was briefly stopped by agents of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for carrying $500,000 in cash. The Singaporean was subsequently allowed to enter the country after he declared that the money will be used for business.
Gordon said he has yet to find out if the Singaporean has any connection with the Rodriguez family, who he claimed was being used as mules.
“May malakas silang kinakapitan. Ano indication? Paano ka maglalabas ng ganyan kalaking pera and hndi ka natatakot na ma-holdup sa airport? Maleta dala mo, milyon-milyon araw-araw, hindi ka matatakot? Ibig sabihin may backup. May malakas na tao ang nasa likod niyan (These people have high people as backers. What are the indications? How can someone bring out that huge amount of money without being scared of falling prey to robbers? That means they have backups, they have someone from high positions behind their operations),” he said.
He reiterated that the money was being used for POGOs to buy properties in the country.
NO POGO LINKS?
Also on Tuesday, Gordon took exception from President Duterte’s statement that he was not convinced that the money-laundering activities were linked to POGOs.
He said the President might have been fed with misleading information.
“Mr. President hindi ba dinemda ni Guevarra si Garin? Hindi ba Mr. President nakulong ang dalawang commissioners? Hindi ba pinaghahanap natin mga involved sa illegal drugs? Hindi ba natanggal ang chief PNP? We cannot change this country if we have favorites. We cannot change this if the favorites are not punished. (Mr. President, isn’t it that [Justice Secretary Menardo] Guevarra filed charges against [former health secretary Janet] Garin [over the dengvaxia issue]? Isn’t it that two commissioners [of the BI] were jailed [because of accepting bribes from POGOs]? Isn’t it that we are running after those involved in illegal drugs? Isn’t it that PNP chief [Oscar Albayalde] was booted out [due to the ninja cops issue]?” he added.
Gordon said Duterte should discuss the issue with senators for him to know the real story behind the money-laundering issues being linked to POGOs.
“Tawagan naman ninyo ang Senado, Mr. President, paminsan-minsan para malaman ninyo ang side namin (Mr. President, please have a dialogue with the Senate so you can know our side),” Gordon said.
LEGALIZE POGOs – DUTERTE
President Duterte on Monday night said he wants the offshore gaming industry legalized through the enactment of the necessary law.
“Kung wala namang iba at there is no legal impediment, I want it legalized. If they can pass a law about POGO, fine, go ahead. Supervise it by law. Hindi kami (If there is nothing else and there is no legal impediment, I want it legalized. If they can pass a law on POGO, fine, go ahead. Supervise it by law, not by us),” the President said in a late-night press conference in Malacañang.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent spokesman Salvador Panelo had said that Duterte had decided against stopping or suspending POGO operations despite the controversies and allegations of illegal activities hounding it.
Among the basis of the President’s decision was a report by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) that defined current POGO operations as “okay.”
There had been calls for the suspension of the POGOs, mostly run by Chinese, following a series of controversies and allegations of illegal activities like tax evasion, money laundering, corruption, illegal recruitment and sex trafficking.
The President fended off money laundering accusations against the POGOs and said it is natural for the companies to engage in transactions involving large sums of money since it is in the gambling business.
“We are not justifying it. We are just saying that it is allowed because we need the funds,” he said adding that POGOs generate at least P2 billion a month.
Duterte acknowledged the claim of some senators that laundering may be involved in the POGOs, but insisted that government has a record of the “deposits.”
He said that given the nature of the POGO, it is normal to have the money deposited in banks and later withdrawn, especially for those operators who want payments to emanate from the Philippines.
“Ang tanging ano ko lang diyan is the money. Sayang eh, makatulong sa bayan. Kagaya ngayon itong mga ganito. So P2 billion, answered kaagad. So we have the money (My only concern there is the money. It can help the country. Like now, the P2 billion, answered immediately. So we have the money),” he added, referring to the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread.
The President assured that every centavo that will come from POGOs will be supervised and accounted for by Pagcor. – With Jocelyn Montemayor