Former PhilWeb Corp. Chairman Roberto Ongpin, who’s been singled out by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a campaign to end the influence of big businesses on the government, said he will sell his stake to protect the electronic gambling company and its workers.
Duterte on Aug. 3 named Ongpin as among the businessmen he says have undue influence on the government and whom the newly installed head of state wants to “destroy” as he seeks to end online gambling in the country. The tough comments caused PhilWeb shares to plunge by a record and forced Ongpin to resign from the company.
“I was hit by a lightning,” Ongpin said in a phone interview Wednesday, referring to Duterte’s rebuke. “I will auction my shares to the highest bidder.” The 79-year-old said he owns 53.7 percent of Manila-based PhilWeb, a supplier of electronic gambling software he founded in 2000.
The Philippine Stock Exchange on Wednesday approved PhilWeb’s request for a voluntary trading suspension until Aug. 23. The gaming company’s shares have fallen 70 percent since Aug. 3 through Tuesday, wiping out about 14 billion pesos ($300 million) in market value. The stock exchange’s main index rose 2 percent during the period.
Ongpin served as trade minister under Ferdinand Marcos until the late Philippine dictator was ousted in 1986, after which the Harvard-trained businessman rebuilt his clout to become among the country’s most prominent, and its 20th-richest person as ranked by Forbes. Naming Ongpin in his Aug. 3 speech, Duterte said he wants to end the tycoon’s influence.
“Destroy the oligarchs that are embedded in government now,” said Duterte, who was elected president in May and took office June 30. “These are the guys who just sit in their jets and in their mansions everywhere, and their money trickle like a taxi meter.”
Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation or Pagcor, the state-owned gambling company that also functions as a regulator, said on Tuesday it won’t renew PhilWeb’s contract supplying software to Internet gambling cafes in the country. The government-licensed e-Games cafes, run by independent operators, open around the clock offering casino games such as baccarat, blackjack, slot machines and video poker and others.
“Clearly I am the target. They had nothing to do with this,” Ongpin said, referring to workers at the cafes. About 5,000 people work in these e-Games cafes, he said.
Manila is aspiring to become the next Asian gambling hub as high-stakes gamblers increasingly abandon Macau amid the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption, with four new casino resorts sited along Manila Bay. Enrique Razon, chairman of Philippine casino operator Bloomberry Resorts Corp. that owns one of the resorts, said in June that Duterte’s election and move to calm tensions with China was good for business.