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CEZA chief denies receiving P300-B kickback from online gaming

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TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines- The administrator of Cagayan Economic Zone Authority denied the accusations of President Rodrigo Duterte that he received P300 billion kickback annually from the illegally operated online gaming in the country.

In a phone interview with The Northern Forum, CEZA chief Jose Mari Ponce said he is open for proper investigations to clear his name.

“What we are saying that regardless of amount…I think it is proper to have an investigation, because as I have said, CEZA is open, open our book for scrutiny, they can examine the whole process,” Ponce told Forum.

Duterte had earlier said that a Andrea Domingo, the chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), reported that the government about P300 billion could have been collected from online gaming if regulated and taxed.

“[Domingo’s] estimate was 300 billion [pesos]. The government isn’t earning that, it’s all going to that [CEZA] head,” Duterte said.

But Ponce said the accusation is “ridiculous” as it is “impossible” for them to be earning P300 billion, which he said is more than what the PAGCOR is generating from its operations.

He said Duterte might have only been fed with “unconfirmed” information “based on a white paper” reported to him.

“And I think that can be clarified in a proper investigation, and maybe in the agency who’s this responsible in auditing all of our books. And the master license of this First Cagayan, who actually the one that collects and pay us half of the hosting fee that we have, can also present their books because they are a listed company and sila ay in-audit rin ng SGV. I also informed my locators that they should also open their books and tell them if there is corruption being done by CEZA,” Ponce said.

Ponce also said that considering his position in CEZA, there is no money from online gaming operators going directly to him.

“There is no way in my capacity [to accept bribe] because the process of the evaluation does not pass through CEZA, it is done by our master licensor, which is First Cagayan,” Ponce said.

He said the payment of the operators goes directly to First Cagayan.

“So ang lahat, nirerekomenda lang sa amin yan, tapos ang payment goes directly to First Cagayan, and dun directly ino-audit yan, 50% niyan pumupunta sa amin, na ino-audit ng COA lahat,” he said.

CEZA involvement

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre also said they would investigate the involvement of CEZA to the illegal gaming operations of Lam in Clark Freeport.

Aguirre have said that some of the illegal aliens working for Lam had permits issued by CEZA.

Ponce explained those were the workers who have taken an absence without official leave.

He also explained that they could not issue permits for aliens to work at Clark, simply, because they are not allowed to by the Clark Freeport.

“Kaya nga ako, tinatanong ko ang immigration, kung sino man ‘yung nahuli ‘nyong may CEZA working VISA, illegal ‘yan. So ibigay mo sa amin yan para madeport din namin yan, ma cancel namin yan at tatanggalin namin yung lisensya ng mga company na nagpahintulot na sila ay pumunta diyan sa Clark, kasi di kami allowed na mag-operate sa Clark e,” he said. –Northernforum.net


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