PRESIDENT Duterte has decided neither to suspend nor stop the operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) for now because of revenues earned by the government from the industry.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panleo, concurrent presidential spokesman, yesterday said the President made the decision after going through a report submitted by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Operations (Pagcor) on the POGO industry.
“He (The President) will not suspend it nor will he stop it,” Panelo said in a radio interview, adding that revenues earned from the industry is being used by the government for various projects and programs, including efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Lawmakers and various sectors have been calling for the suspension of POGO operations, which are mostly run by Chinese, following a series of controversies and allegations of illegal activities like tax evasion, money laundering, corruption, illegal recruitment and sex trafficking.
Panelo last week said the President may or may not suspend the offshore gaming operations, similar to what he did when he suspended the lottery operations last year, depending on the gravity of corruption and illegal activities involved.
Denying that the Duterte was being soft on the POGOs because of his closeness with China, Panelo has said that the President cannot be rushed into making a decision about the POGOs and would need proof to support allegations against its continued operations.
“Ang sabi niya kahapon (Saturday) maganda ang report ni Pagcor, Pagcor head. Maganda raw ang report sa kanya, okay. So kailangan talaga natin ang pondo galing doon (He said on Saturday that the report of the PAGCOR head was good, okay. So we really need the revenues generated from them),” Panelo said during Sunday’s radio interview.
He said that while Duterte acknowledged the concerns against the POGO industry, he believes that the best way to address the issues is through the establishment and implementation of needed laws and regulations.
Panelo said that for now, government will take advantage of the funding generated from POGO operations which the government can use for its various initiatives and undertaking in connection, including the funding of the salaries of public school teachers and nurses and even for efforts against COVID-19.
“Marami tayong projects na kailangan ng pondo. For instance for salary of nurses, teachers, marami. Ngayon meron naman tayong porblema sa coronavirus, pwede rin pagkunan natin doon (We have a lot of projects that need funds. For instance for salary of nurses, teachers, a lot. Now, we have a problem with the coronavirus, we can also use the funds for that),” he said.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday chided Pagcor officials for their failure to keep a full list of POGOs which has made the offshore online gambling industry “beyond regulation.”
Drilon, in an interview over dzBB, said Pagcor only has in its list 60 licensed corporations but the actual number has already more than 200.
“Mayroon silang anak. Mayroon silang 200 service providers, sub-licensees. Maliban doon, mayroon ding mga apo dahil sa mga hindi licensed na outlets. It has become uncontrollable. Hindi nila alam kung ilan ang POGO licenses at operators, workers, etc.
Kaya ang daming figures, may ilang libong manggagawa kung saan-saan (These POGOs have branched out, they have 200 service providers, sub-licensees. Aside from that, they have sub-branches because there are unlicensed outlets. It has become uncontrollable.
Pagcor does not know the exact number of POGO licenses and operators, workers etc. The figures have ballooned as there are thousands of POGO workers nationwide),” he said.
“There is a list but we do not know who are the people behind them since what listed are only ‘corporations’ and ‘limited.’ I don’t see any name of a specific person,” he added.
Drilon said POGOs do not even pay appropriate taxes since what Pagcor collects from POGOs are registration fees, not corporate income taxes. Also, he said POGO employees are not paying withholding taxes, as well.
He said the P8 billion collected from POGOs only amount to 0.029 percent of the country’s economy.
Drilon insisted that shutting down POGOs are not only due to their non-payment of appropriate taxes but is also a matter of peace and order problem.
Citing a report from the PNP, Drilon said there were 73 casino-related kidnappings which victimized 80 individuals since 2017, seven homicide incidents, and the proliferation of prostitution dens all because of POGOs.
“I have a simple solution to these problems: cancel the licenses. There is no need to pass a law [to get rid of POGOs] because there is no law authorizing POGOs. POGOs existed because of the license given by Pagcor,” Drilon said.
Issues raised against the POGO industry and attendant controversies have not deterred Chinese workers from entering the country.
According to the Bureau of Local Employment (BLE), the number of applicants for Alien Employment Permits (AEPs) related to POGOs remains high despite the latest spate of controversy involving the industry.
“From January to mid-February, some 15,000 AEPs are POGO-related workers,” said BLE Director Dominique Tutay in an interview.
Majority of the 15,000, she added, are renewal of AEPs, and that nearly all of them are Chinese nationals.
She noted that the number is already 75 percent of the total number of AEPs they have issued for the period.
Tutay said the Department of Labor and Employment cannot do anything with regards to stopping foreign POGO workers from applying for AEPs.
“Unless the policy environment in the country will say that it is illegal, then we can still accommodate POGO workers,” she said. – With Raymond Africa and Gerard Naval