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Harry Roque denies lobbying for raided POGO hub after Pagcor names him in Senate probe

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Jul 10, 2024 6:16 pm

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) has confirmed ex-Cabinet official Harry Roque's involvement in the Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) hub that had been recently raided.

During the latest Senate hearing regarding the issue on July 10, Pagcor Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alejandro Tengco revealed that Roque was the one who assisted Lucky South 99 in reapplying for a new license.

The POGO company in Pampanga is currently under investigation by authorities for reportedly perpetrating crimes such as torture, scams, and human trafficking activities. 

According to Tengco, the former presidential spokesperson came to his office sometime in July last year to liaise for Lucky South 99, which was facing financial issues at the time. He was accompanied by Lucky South 99's representative Katherine Cassandra Ong.

When asked for the cause of their visit, Ong asked if they could be allowed to pay in installments the taxes they owed to Pagcor totaling $500,000 (P29 million), reasoning that she had entrusted the payments to Dennis Cunanan but found that he was not sending them to the government agency.

Following this, Lucky South 99 applied for a new license under Pagcor’s new guidelines in September 2023, but this was eventually rejected. Pagcor Assistant Vice President for Offshore Gaming License Department Jessa Mariz Fernandez explained that they found reasons not to grant them one. 

During this time, Roque tried to follow up on the status of the application with Fernandez's office six times. Three of his calls were answered while two were not. 

Tengco stressed, however, that Roque did not exert any pressure on them.

"Hindi naman po siya nagpe-pressure. Siya lang po ay nakiki-usap na kung maaari lang ay matulungan si Cassandra Ong," he said.

While Roque previously denied his connection to Lucky South 99, Tengco said that he was named as the head of Lucky South 99's legal department on the firm's organizational chart that was submitted for their license reapplication.

Roque addresses issue

In a statement made on his Facebook page hours after the Senate hearing, Roque stressed that Tengco made no mention that he had lobbied for an illegal POGO hub.

"Ang sinabi po niya, ako po ay nakipagpulong sa kanya noong July para po humingi ng rescheduling of payment doon sa mga dapat bayaran ng Lucky South 99 sa Pagcor," Roque said.

"Pero malinaw po na nung panahon ng pagmemeeting namin noong July 2023, hindi po illegal ang Lucky South kaya hindi po pwede na ako ay nag-lobby sa isang illegal na POGO," he added.

He also addressed the organizational chart that named him as the legal counsel of the hub.

"Ma'am [Hontiveros], para naman po maging ebidensya 'yang organizational chart na 'yan sa aking pagiging legal counsel sa Lucky South, dapat niyo naman po ipakita na ako ay may kinalaman doon sa pagsumite ng organizational chart na 'yan o 'di naman kaya ako ay pumayag na ilagay ang pangalan ko diyan," Roque said.

He stressed, "Hindi ko po alam kung bakit nandyan ang pangalan ko, dahil wala po akong kahit anong kinalaman sa pagsusumite ng mga dokumentong 'yan, dahil sa simula po ay hindi ako ang abogado ng Lucky South pagdating sa kanya mga lisensya, at never ako naging abogado ng Lucky South."

His involvement in the POGO issue came after the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission found documents bearing his signature in their raid of the Pampanga hub.

The commission has since cleared his name, saying the documents found in the Lucky South 99 compound were "innocent" and "not of suspicious or criminal nature."