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PAGCOR: Harry Roque is ‘legal head’ of raided POGO hub

PAGCOR: Harry Roque is 'legal head' of raided POGO hub
Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque (Presidential Photo / Yancy Lim) 

MANILA, Philippines — Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque is the “legal head” of a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) hub in Pampanga that authorities raided twice last month for human trafficking, torture and scams, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) on Wednesday.

PAGCOR chief Alejandro Tengco said Roque appeared before his office in July 2023 to provide legal support to a certain Cassandra Lee Ong, who sought PAGCOR’s help on the financial issues of Lucky South 99, the sprawling POGO compound in Porac, Pampanga that she is the authorized representative of.

During the Senate women and gender equality committee’s fourth hearing, Tengco also presented the organizational chart attached to the documents submitted by Lucky South 99 for their original license application, which designated Harry Roque as “legal.”

Roque said in a video statement posted Wednesday afternoon that he has never had a lawyer-client relationship with Lucky South 99, and that the POGO hub was not yet tagged as illegal when he facilitated its reapplication for license in 2023. He added that he did not give his permission to be included in the POGO hub’s organizational chart.

This revelation by Tengco follows his earlier promise to name the former Cabinet official under then-President Rodrigo Duterte who facilitated the issuance of licenses to illegal POGO hubs.

Roque extends legal help

Tengco said Roque went to his office accompanied by Ong, the authorized representative of Lucky South 99, whom the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) has tagged as a person of interest in their investigation into the Porac hub. PAGCOR Assistant Vice President Jessa Mariz Fernandez was also present at the meeting.

Ong had asked PAGCOR to allow Lucky South 99 to pay its unpaid taxes in installments, which Tengco estimated to be no less than $500,000.

Tengco said that in making her request, Ong claimed to have been duped by a certain Dennis Cunanan, who allegedly collected six months’ worth of tax payments on behalf of Ong but did not remit them to PAGCOR. Cunanan also allegedly charged them additional fees.

“Sabi ko sakanya, ano ba ang inyong pakay dito? Nakikiusap sila kung pwedeng bigyan sila ng pagkakataon mabayaran yung arrears (I asked her, ‘What is your purpose here?’ They were pleading for a chance to pay off their arrears),” the PAGCOR chief said.

Tengco said his conversations with Roque at the meeting were “very light.”

“Hindi siya namwemwersa. Nakikiusap siya. (He’s not demanding. He’s just asking),” the PAGCOR chief said. “Hindi naman nya ako prinepressure. Pero bilang abogado siguro, nagfafacilitate at sinamahan nya kliyente niya. Sinamahan niya lang. (He didn’t pressure me. But as a lawyer, he probably facilitated and accompanied his client. He just accompanied them.)”

After the meeting, Roque reached out to Fernandez at least six more times regarding the status of Lucky South 99’s reapplication for license, which was filed in September 2023, the PAGCOR assistance vice president said.

Tengco explained that there were several missing documents in Lucky South 99’s reapplication, which also sought to triple the area covered by the compound from 3,000 square meters to 9,000 square meters. Their application was eventually rejected.

In his statement, Roque said he only went with Ong as part of his attempts to “court” Whirlwind Corporation, the firm that leased its property to Lucky South 99, to invest in his two energy projects in Bataan and Cebu.

Roque previously served as a lawyer for Whirlwind Corporation.

“At noong Hulyo sabi nila may problem sa umuupa sakanila at doon ko nalaman na sila ay may pinauupuhan na POGO,” Roque said. (In July, they said there was a problem with their tenants, and that’s when I found out they are renting out to a POGO.) Roque added that when he met with PAGCOR in July, Lucky South 99 was not yet tagged as illegal. “Kaya hindi puwedeng nag-lobby ako para sa isang illegal na POGO (So that’s why it can’t be said I lobbied for an illegal POGO),” he said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate women and gender equality committee, said that Roque and former PAGCOR chief Andrea Domingo would be invited to the panel’s next hearing.

A letter dated 2021 that bore the name of Roque and the letterhead of the Office of the President was recovered during authorities’ raid of Lucky South 99 in June.

The former presidential spokesperson denied any connection to the document, which the PAOCC said was not suspicious or criminal in nature.

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