Just no: POGOs are not BPOs

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    IT would have been the joke of the week except that it’s not minutely funny: in a bid to defend government’s decision to have Philippine offshore gaming operators to resume partial operations, Malacañang said that POGOs are covered by the business process outsourcing industry. There was no explanation or justification for this sudden classification as a BPO, but my guess is some bright mind latched on the “outsourcing” and “offshore” as similar concepts and therefore alike.

    I take it that the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines isn’t any bit amused by the comparison, judging from the firm but otherwise very polite statement it issued regarding the matter. IBPAP pointed out key differences between the two, which I will attempt to summarize in the following paragraphs (and perhaps capture more what they really wanted to say).

    IBPAP pointed out that BPO companies are registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority or the Board of Investments, while POGOs are registered with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. The fact that POGOs need to be registered with PAGCOR is already indicative of the nature of its business: gambling.

    Next, IBPAP diplomatically pointed out that while both BPO companies and POGOs have a similar characteristic—their services are performed for clients outside the Philippines—the work performed by BPOs is not illegal in the country of origin. Front and back end services like customer service, human resource projects, accounting, and other high-value BPO services are not considered illicit in the countries that BPOs serve, unlike gambling for POGOs.

    The third point of IBPAP (and here I feel the utmost restraint guided the drafting of this part) is that BPO companies offer a wide range of high-value skills to their clients. Only the universe knows what kinds of skills are required by POGOs when they employ their Chinese employees to serve their Chinese clientele.

    The last point, ever so diplomatically crafted: BPOs employ more than a million Filipinos; 1.3 million to be precise. It was projected to create hundreds of thousands more, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. How many jobs has this influx of POGOs generated again? Quite the opposite, of course. Not only that, but the housing requirements of POGO employees has increased rental rates in the surrounding areas, but have also been ejected by LGUs from doing business in certain jurisdictions because of the proliferation of crime and sex dens catering to POGO employees.

    The differences between BPOs and POGOs do not end there, of course. BPOs drive the Philippine economy, while the Bureau of Internal Revenue is literally at a loss when it comes to collecting taxes from POGOs. Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon pointed out an important point: the classification of POGOs as BPOs has a dangerous implication: the pronouncement can be used as a shield against paying franchise fees, as well as to claim incentives similar to those who are legitimately part of the BPO industry. Drilon further vivisected the defense that revenue from POGOs will help the Philippine government fund much-needed programs to fight COVID-19, citing data from the BIR that 60 licensed POGOs actually owe government roughly P50 billion in unpaid taxes in 2019 alone. “That’s a very deceptive assertion. It is the POGOs that owe the government billions of pesos in unpaid taxes. Bayaran muna nila yan,” Drilon said. Touché, sir. Touché.

    Then again, the government’s obvious favor for POGOs has always been on display, never hidden from view. Perhaps it is the extraordinary time we are living in that makes this favor leave more than just a bad taste in our mouths: at a time when millions of those in the Pinoy working class are struggling to meet two squares a day because of the enhanced community quarantine, POGOs are again given the royal treatment, despite the glaring fact that they contribute very little to the Philippine economy, and do not even benefit Filipinos. I’ll say it outright: we seem to have become second-class citizens in our own country.

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