What I saw inside a POGO hub
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 15, 2019 - 12:00am

There’s a mini grocery selling imported Chinese goods — from cigarettes, crackers and softdrinks, to sanitary napkins and what-have-you. There are living quarters with several dorm-type rooms and their bunk beds. There are smoking areas and wide open spaces; lots of greenery, too. There are nipa huts and an al fresco dining and drinking area that can accommodate hundreds.

And then there are the offices. The office spaces are similar to call centers—nothing out of the ordinary. If not for the Chinese employees, one might confuse the offices as just a regular BPO or call center office.

This is what I saw during a recent visit to a POGO hub, a few minutes away from Manila. The hub is already operating, but is only partially open. The rest of the sprawling estate is still under construction. POGO stands for Philippine offshore gaming operator.

Basically, the so-called POGO hub refers to a piece of real estate with buildings and structures dedicated to offshore gaming companies and their service providers. 

Inside the BPO buildings are telemarketers, call center agents, IT, accounting and other back office support. The offices aren’t cramped, although they are not sparingly designed either -- typical of most BPO setups. They have airconditioning too and proper lighting.

Live, work, play

In a nutshell, a POGO hub is just like any other IT/technology hub or industrial park that caters to a particular industry. While POGO hubs follow the “live, work, play” concept, all foreign and Filipino employees working there have complete freedom of movement, says the operator.

I didn’t stay long enough to see what the mostly Chinese employees do at the end of a typical office work day, whether they actually go out of the hub, or just stay inside and have some tea, banter over drinks, or just go back to their bunk beds. But I saw some employees buying food and other items in the Chinese grocery in between office hours.

The operator says that all workers can take free company shuttles or any public transportation to any place they wish to go to like malls and cinemas during their day off. 

Furthermore, the operator says that contrary to misconceptions, a POGO hub is not some kind of prison for foreign or Filipino workers. A hub’s greatest advantage, in fact, is the presence of government representative offices to ensure full compliance with Philippine immigration, labor and tax regulations. I didn’t see the Filipino officials during my visit, but I’m told that they would be there.

Disclaimer

Of course my knowledge of a POGO hub is only as good as my access, but from what I saw during my visit, I can attest that these hubs are just like the usual mixed-use communities.

In fact, some economic zones I’ve visited in the provinces seemed more restricting to workers.

I actually like the idea of having POGO hubs, if only to contain the creeping Chinese influx in the country.

I say this with no intention to discriminate against Chinese nationals. In fact, let me share with you that I have some Chinese friends from the mainland — different from my Filipino-Chinese friends — and we would chat over lunch or dinner once in a while and I can say that they have been kind to me and I enjoy their company.

But I also know that the cultural differences are prevalent. Some find them impossibly loud, obnoxious, untidy and so on. I have heard complaints from condo residents about their noisy and rowdy Chinese neighbors.

Policymakers should, therefore, appreciate PAGCOR’s desire to better regulate POGOs. They thought of POGO hubs because of complaints of cultural clashes. 

The hubs are designed to put them in one area without restricting their freedom of movement. 

In fact, POGO hubs may be the best solution yet to the growing POGO-related problems in the country.

China

The Chinese Embassy recently issued a strongly worded statement on POGO. It said that POGO hubs should not violate the rights of Chinese nationals in the country, as well as Chinese laws on gaming. 

For now, I am not sure what to make of China’s crackdown on POGO. It can mean a test on how much they can flex their muscles on the Philippine government. 

But our government should really ensure that these POGO, indeed, do not violate any of our laws. 

The operators should also make sure that the Chinese nationals they employ act within the bounds of our laws. For now, there are reports of abuse and violations of the law. These shouldn’t be tolerated.

As for the rest of them, we Filipinos should treat them with respect, as with other foreigners in the Philippines, and as we would like to be treated, too, in other countries. 

I’ve said it before, they are like our OFWs in other countries.

But like our OFWs in their respective host countries, POGO workers should also follow the laws in our country.

CHINESE EMPLOYEES
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