Why POGOs have to stay

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    SEVERAL senators have warned that the government is at the losing end in its continued policy of playing host to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO). Among these senators are Imee Marcos, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, Franklin Drilon, and Francis Pangilinan.

    Senator Marcos, chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee, likes to point out that the Philippine government received only P7 billion in taxes from these gambling operators whose primary clients are based abroad, particularly China, while the government is losing about P54 billion in other taxes, including franchise fees that are collectible by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

    Senator Gatchalian notes that the operation of POGOs and the influx of Chinese citizens in the country have opened the doors for more social problems and put additional pressure on the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies. This is because there are concomitant criminal activities that are akin to the gambling business – such as prostitution, usury, physical violence, and kidnappings. This position was supported by Senator Pangilinan, while Senator Villanueva noted that the job creation in the POGO industry benefits the foreigners more than Filipino workers. The lawmakers had asked Malacanang to suspend or stop the operations of POGO because their small contributions to the national economy and their huge contribution to the erosion of Philippine culture and peace and order.

    It is interesting to note that even Chinese President Xi Jinping had requested both President Duterte and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop the operations of POGO in their countries. Hun Sen acceded at once, but Duterte hemmed and hewed, so who says the Philippine President is in the pocket of the Chinese Communist Party chairman? President Xi is against POGOs because this damages the Chinese economy and the productive capacity of its people, with billions of RMB and dollars going out of the country to foreign destinations.

    The other day, President Duterte emphatically said the POGO will stay. This policy the President took after reading a status report from Pagcor, said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo. So it seems Senator Marcos had the wrong numbers about government revenues from the POGO enterprises. According to Rep. Joey Salceda of Albay, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, the total tax collections from POGO stood at P22.44 billion in both 2018 and 2019. This is inclusive of value added tax (VAT) from rent and VAT from workers compensation.

    Salceda said that the contribution to Gross National Product (GDP) of POGOs is P94.87 billion. No wonder the President is keeping these operations despite the advice of several senators and congressmen, and the request of his dear friend, Xi Jingping.

    Malacanang has an answer, though, to the complaint that POGO operations are leading to crimes of various shades that keep the police busier than before. Panelo said heads will roll if the police and other law enforcement agencies will be remiss in their duty to run after those involved in illegal activities linked to offshore gaming operations. He added Duterte expects these concerned agencies to do their job well and prosecute those who violate the country’s law.

    “There are agencies whose function is to enforce the law in their own territories so they need to effectively enforce the law like the customs, the immigration, the PNP, the NBI, all them should perform in relation to operations of POGOs, and for that all operations of any entity,” Panelo said at a Palace press briefing yesterday. So there – we are no longer entertaining questions, as if the Palace was saying.