Senators mull moves to ban POGOs amid kidnapping cases

Senators mull moves to ban POGOs amid kidnapping cases
In POGOs, bets are made by players abroad through service providers based here in the Philippines.
Tory Ho / AFP / File

MANILA, Philippines — Senators continue to indicate support for possible moves towards banning Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) amid the latest spate of kidnappings linked to the sector.

At Tuesday morning's hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance, the Bureau of Immigration said it was observing an uptick in POGO workers with expired visas transferring to other firms. Typically, the POGO companies sponsor their employees for visas before sending them over to the Philippines. 

"Now they come in under the tourist visas issued by the consulate," Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco said. 

Tansingco said that the BI is processing a number of deportation documents for those arrested. "Basically there are no more Chinese nationals [officially] coming in for purposes of the POGO operations," he said, pointing out that the government had long done away with the visa upon arrival scheme. 

Earlier, some 43 foreign workers rescued by anti-kidnapping officers were found without any ID or documents. The Philippine National Police said this effectively rendered them illegal aliens. Senators eventually found that the kidnappings were linked to POGOs and mostly involved POGO employees being pirated by other firms. 

The Senate session Monday evening also saw Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri expressing serious doubts over the POGOs, which have been pinpointed as a source of crime numerous times even as pandemic restrictions limited their operations in past years. 

"We must weigh the social costs of POGO vis-a-vis the meager income they give to the national coffers of only P3 billion a year. Plus, they do not employ Filipinos, so there is no added benefit to our local labor force,” he said.

At a separate hearing on the National Expenditure Program, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that the impact of discontinuing POGOs would not be major after revenues in 2021 reached only P3.9 billion, just a little over half the P7.2 billion that the industry generated at its peak earlier on.

"Let’s discontinue the POGO because of the social cost of the POGO. In fact si China has discontinued si POGO. Even Cambodia has…It also has a reputational risk, because people will ask, why are they going to the Philippines?” Diokno said.

“Discontinue na sa China, discontinue ng Cambodia. Why are they going to the Philippines? Maybe because we are loose, we’re not strict on our rules, so meron tayong reputational risk,” he added.

At the hearing of the Senate panel on public order and dangerous drugs earlier, Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order chair Ka Kuen Chua called for tighter regulations on POGOs, including immigration laws and other rules in the issuance of work permits to foreign nationals projected to work in casinos and POGOs.

"We need to differentiate between kidnapping, illegal detention, and human trafficking. Kasi kung minsan there is a thin line of definition among the three. Kidnappings and rumors of kidnapping create an atmosphere of fear and anxiety that has far-reacing effects. It does not only instill anxiety and fear within the community, but it also erodes the confidence of the people within the community," he said. 

As it currently stands, Sens. Ramon Bong Revilla, Grace Poe, Zubiri, JV Ejercito, and Ronald dela Rosa have either called for tighter regulations on POGOs or a total ban altogether. — Franco Luna 

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