Rodrigo Duterte to Resuscitate Philweb?

Posted on: November 23, 2016, 05:43h. 

Last updated on: November 23, 2016, 05:43h.

Duterte to license Philweb
Philweb’s Roberto Ongpin was unjustly targeted by Duterte having been smeared by his political and business opponents, according to a veteran Philippine journalist. (Image: ABS-CBN News)

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte seems to have decided, in hindsight, that his treatment of online gambling tech giant Philweb and its chairman and owner, Roberto Ongpin, was a little harsh.

Sources in the Philippines told the country’s veteran journalist Emile Verado that Duterte now believes he has made a mistake and that Philweb could soon be granted the license to operate it was denied in August.

Duterte swept to power in late May on a mandate of populist rabble-rousing that advocated the extra-judicial killings of drug dealers and addicts. Soon after his election, he turned his attention to online gambling, and in particular Philweb, and its owner, Ongpin.   

The president appeared to have it in for Ongpin, a former Minister of Trade and Industry under the dictator President Ferdinand Marcos, and the country’s 18th richest person, according to Forbes.

Fighting a Monster

Duterte described Ongpin as a prime representative of the “oligarchs” who had “embedded [themselves] in government” so they could “influence peddle.”

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

Until recently, Philweb operated 299 online gambling cafes throughout the country, offering games like video poker and slots via roughly 8,000 terminals. In 2015, its operations contributed around $12.2 million to government coffers.

But Duterte went about systematically dismantling Philweb and instructed the Philippine operator-regulator PAGCOR to deny the company the renewal of its license.

In a last-ditch attempt to save week his business and its 6,000 employees, a desperate Ongpin resigned as chairman of Philweb and offered to donate almost all of his majority stake in the company to PAGCOR.

Smear Campaign

His offer was declined. But according to Verado, Ongpin was the victim of a smear campaign by his business opponents, after having been “persecuted” by a previous government administration, presumably for his connection to the Marcos regime.

“Ongpin was not the oligarch [Duterte] was supposedly referring to. [Duterte] soon found out that during the BS Aquino administration [Aquino was the Philippine president from 1986 to 1992], Ongpin was harassed [and] persecuted, by both Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and the Development Bank of the Philippines. He faced cases for behest loans and insider trading.

“Actually, insiders told me that it was Ongpin’s real estate competitor at Entertainment City who had accused Ongpin and got it through to [Duterte’s] ears. The President soon discovered that this was not true,” he added.

Ongpin resigned as chairman, passing the role to the second major shareholder, Gregorio Araneta III. According to Verado, Araneta expects to fully take over PhilWeb and have a license to operate from the PAGCOR before the year ends.