The $81 million laundering scam that has placed the country directly under the radar of global money laundering watchdogs raises very disturbing questions about our President’s supposed moral leadership. Why is the Aquino government so lenient on the casinos? Why is this supposed paragon of Daang Matuwid so cavalier on the supervision – and regulation of money flows – of these public-private gambling complexes? Why are casinos exempt from his 24/7 moralizing?
Why are casinos as ubiquitous as President Aquino’s public lectures on integrity and a moral life?
You really have to wonder why. And ask another question. What is the hold of casinos over our President, who, according to his many public statements, is the country’s leading torch-bearer of moral values and iron-clad anti-corruption initiatives? Considering the fact that casinos have been the public face of money laundering and other brutal by-products: shuttered businesses and shattered lives.
Mr. Aquino’s epic fail when it comes to regulating casinos and his government’s timid, uninspired responses to a money laundering scheme right on his shores and under his watch, may be rooted on the following reasons.
The money factor
The GOCCs, or government owned and controlled corporations, remitted a total of P36.86 billion to the national government last year. On top with a total remittance of P10.137 billion was the Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corporation, or PAGCOR, the overseer of private casinos and operator of the government owned ones.
The PAGCOR has been consistently on the “ Billionaire’s Club” or the eight or so GOCCs that remit at least a billion a year to the national treasury. And Mr. Aquino has been extremely proud of that, the money flow from the GOCCs under his watch.
The friendship factor
Mr. Aquino’s brand of cronyism is called KKK, or his Kaklase, Kaibigan, Kabarilan. Cristino Naguiat Jr., the PAGCOR head, straddles the two camps, the Kaklase and Kaibigan. In 2010, before Mr. Aquino even firmed up his choices for the top frontline jobs in his cabinet, he had chosen Mr. Naguiat as PAGCOR president. That was a very rare instance of naming a PAGCOR chief ahead of the really important positions that had to be filled up.
The close friendship with Naguiat Jr., – and the PAGCOR’s jumbo remittances to the treasury – is one plausible explanation for the non-scrutiny of the affairs of the casinos.
The tourism factor
Tourism is now part of the elite sectors ( seven or so sectors ) that are considered big contributors to growth now and even bigger contributors tomorrow. Casinos have been attracting the foreign high-rollers who gamble-till-broke and spend much in the process. That’s tourism by any other name, even to the Daang Matuwid president. Casinos have a special place in the overall tourism promotions scheme. Gambling is more fun here.
The Exhibit A of Mr. Aquino’s tolerance of casinos and their egregious excesses was best demonstrated when he signed RA 10365 in Feb. of 2013. That law, on paper, strengthened the original anti-laundering law of 2001.
Given Mr. Aquino’s detailed examination of draft laws sent to him by Congress for signing, critics now wonder why he did not notice the gaping hole in RA 10365. The casinos were deemed exempt from the scrutiny of the AMLA people under that “strengthened” law despite the clear evidence that they are the most lethal tools for laundering dirty money . And Mr. Aquino, with all his 24/7 moralizing, never raised a pipsqueak about the deficiency of the law and the special favor granted by the law to casinos.
Remember, this is a President who initiated the impeachment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court over bank accounts and undeclared property. And who apparently green-lighted the release of the Special Audit Report done by the COA on congressional funds. The COA report unraveled the Napoles scam and the subsequent hailing of three senators.
If he were really that concerned about the integrity of private and public institutions, he would have ordered Congress to plug that gaping hole and forcefully seek the inclusion of casinos under the AMLA’s scrutiny and monitoring work. Congress would have followed, meekly, given its obeisance to the president.
This is all very clear now. That Daang Matuwid is a proud host to casinos that abet the laundering of dirty money, shatters lives and shutters businesses are two things that are , from very benchmark irreconcilable. Plus, we can’t square off the endless moralizing of Mr. Aquino and his tolerance of casinos.
But if we fall back on our original assessment – that he is just a verbal scammer and a hypocritical moralizer – we can then fully understand his selective integrity and why this supposed honest leader can approve of the casinos and their horrific malfeasance.