PAGCOR Rejects Ownership of Philweb, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Seeks to Destroy Ongpin

Posted on: August 20, 2016, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: August 19, 2016, 01:33h.

Filipino billionaire Roberto Ongpin’s last-ditch attempt to save his gaming company Philweb from the wrath of the country’s President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-online gambling crusade may have hit a dead end. But Ongpin is trying every tactic in his arsenal to save the company from total collapse.

Ongpin said on Friday that he would put his entire stake in PhilWeb towards drug rehab clinics in the country if it would get PAGCOR to renew PhilWeb’s gaming license. It’s unclear if these clinics already exist, or would be a new public and private joint effort. As of this writing, there has been no word on whether Ongpin’s latest offer might be accepted by Duterte or PAGCOR.

Rodrigo Duterte Roberto Ongpin PhilWeb PAGCOR
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) has so far been unbending in working with PhilWeb President Roberto Ongpin (right), who says he now just wants to save his employees’ jobs at any cost. (Image:

Earlier this week, Ongpin offered to donate almost all of his majority stake in the company to state operator-regulator PAGCOR, in an attempt to save the business and its 6,000 employees. But PAGCOR said yesterday that it would reject the offer, saying its hands were tied by Duterte’s harsh and immoveable stance against online gambling.

Until recently, Philweb operated 299 “E-game boutiques” throughout the country, which offered variations of online gambling, such as video poker and slots, via roughly 8,000 terminals. Last year, Philweb’s operations contributed around $12.2 million to government coffers.

But earlier this month, the company was forced to announce that it would wind down its operations, due to PACGOR’s refusal to renew its license under orders from the new president.

Duterte Death Squads

Rodrigo Duterte swept to power in June with the promise of being tough on crime, and that meant zero tolerance of online gambling. To Duterte, being tough on crime also means supporting vigilante death squads that carry out the extra-judicial killings of criminals and habitual drug users on his behalf.

As mayor of Davao City, he declared criminals to be “legitimate targets of assassination,” and once offered a reward to anyone who could “bring him the head” of a local gang leader. It’s an attitude that prompted TIME Magazine to give him the nickname “The Punisher,” after Marvel Comics’ violent crime-fighting antihero.

But on his rise to power, Duterte also declared war on the “oligarchs,” whom he believed were “embedded in government” where they practice “influence peddling.” And Ongpin was a name Duterte specifically singled out in that regard.

“I am fighting a monster,” he declared. “I am just two months [into the presidency], but believe me, I will destroy their clutches in our country.”

Ongpin’s Last Stand

Earlier this week, a desperate Ongpin wrote to PAGCOR offering to transfer ownership of the company, on the condition that its gambling license could be renewed.

“I am of course assuming that if PAGCOR would own 49 per cent of PhilWeb, it would renew the license to itself and, thus, save the jobs and livelihoods of about 6,000 employees and their families,” wrote Ongpin.

“In closing, I wish to state that, despite my deep personal financial pain, I bear no rancor against PAGCOR nor the President,” the billionaire added.

“In my frequent travels overseas for my business activities, I am inevitably asked about my opinion of the new government and, without exception, I always say that I am optimistic about the performance of the new government in the Philippines, not only in economic terms but also with regard to the elimination of the pernicious drug menace and corruption in government.

“Without reservation, I pledge to continue to do so,” he added.

Perhaps a little bit hard sell, and no word yet on whether PAGCOR or Duterte are buying it, literally or figuratively.