THE Duterte government must have been so in need of cash to spend for the unexpected shock of having to fight a war against the coronavirus that is ravaging the whole world that President Duterte had to scrape the bottom of the pot.
And by this, we mean putting in harness the controversial although legal cash cow called Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO), which along with other businesses had been sidelined by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). One-third of POGO operators have been allowed to reopen, and they will need one week to prepare.
Senators Risa Hontiveros, Franklin Drilon, Joel Villanueva, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Ted Failon, and Chinese President Xi Jinping may cry out in chorus against the POGO but this won’t dissuade Duterte from tapping this source in the fight against the virus, a war that has taken first priority in national affairs.
At this time of an expensive battle against the pandemic, it is reassuring to hear Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) Chairman Andrea Domingo announce that her agency has contributed P26.5 billion in the government’s response to the pandemic. The state gaming regulator is also one of the biggest contributors to the National Treasury and other mandated beneficiaries, one of which is the funding for the Universal Health Care Law.
In money terms, Pagcor can be cited for increasing its revenues exponentially, both from regular casino operations and from the offshore internet gaming.
Domingo said from P73.72 million in 2016, revenues from POGO significantly increased to P5.73 billion in 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, POGOs already contributed P1.80 billion in regulatory fees alone. Further, from 2016 to March 2020, Pagcor has already collected a total of P20.83 billion from POGOs in regulatory and other related fees.
In allowing the reopening of POGO, the government even assured that operators will abide by strict health and safety protocols such as social distancing for their employees, and they will update and pay all previous tax liabilities. In fact, they will need a certification from the Bureau of Internal Revenue before they can reopen.
The rise in crime and other social ills the critics have blamed on POGOs is worth an investigation by the Senate, however, as Drilon had pointed out. The results of this probe should guide the Executive branch in eliminating any temporary character in its policy on offshore gaming.