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Villanueva: Kidnapping incidents cancel out benefits from POGOs

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Villanueva: Kidnapping incidents cancel out benefits from POGOs
In a statement, Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor and employment, expressed support for the move to impose taxes on this particular sector of the gaming industry, which has seen unhampered growth in the past years.
The STAR / Mong Pintolo, File

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Joel Villanueva said on Monday that any benefit that comes with the presence of Philippine offshore gaming operators or POGOs in the country are outweighed by the safety risks evidenced by the rise in kidnapping incidents involving Chinese nationals. 

The senator previously said that the links between the kidnappings and Chinese POGO firms were a direct result of the government’s generous policy on the entry of foreign workers in the country.

"[P]ronouncements of police officials regarding the rising incidence of kidnappings of Chinese nationals [..] support our theory that the negative effects of the industry outweigh any benefit that the country may get from the proliferation of POGOs and POGO service providers, which employ mostly Chinese nationals," he said in a statement published on the Senate's website.

In response to the public clamor, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo called the kidnapping incident on Paseo de Roxas in Makati an isolated one.

RELATED: Fact check: Makati abduction an 'isolated incident'?

The incident went viral in December after a video made rounds on social media showing a girl being forcibly pulled into a gray van. She can be audibly heard shrieking for help throughout the video. 

However, data from the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) shows that similar incidents of kidnapping have been steadily on the rise in the past years.

From January to November of this year, the group recorded 36 casino-related kidnappings, while 69 Filipinos and foreigners were kidnapped the year before. 

Meanwhile, POGOs continue to proliferate in the country's biggest cities as even local interests such as real estate and housing benefit from their presence. 

Similar incidents are circulating on social media as well, which the police say they have yet to confirm. 

According to a report by property consulting firm Colliers International Philippines, the predominantly Chinese-owned offices are listed to occupy some one million square meters of office space in Metro Manila alone today. 

RELATED: POGOs now occupy over a million square meters of office space in Metro Manila

But the Bureau of Immigration and Department of Labor and Employment have long acknowledged that some of these POGOs operate without the necessary immigration and labor documents and without paying taxes.

"[I]gnorance of the law excuses no one. I don't know of any country where kidnapping is legal," Villanueva said. 

"It is the responsibility of these Chinese nationals operating in the country to familiarize themselves and abide by our laws, particularly labor laws."

Duterte issued these offices a warning in a television interview in November. In his trademark gutter language, the president said, “You better settle it. I am giving you at least three days grace period o barilin ko kayo ng debomba. Seriously now, wag ninyo lokohin ang Pilipino kasi ang Pilipino hindi loko-loko. Pag niloko mo ako sapakin kita." 

(I shoot you with explosives. Don’t make a fool out of Filipinos, because we are not fools. You do that and I’ll beat you up.)

But House solons have observed that the chief executive's words have had no effect on POGOs, as none of them have heeded his warning for them to pay taxes. 

Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) said that POGOs “are not afraid of our tough-talking president.”

READ: POGOs ignore Duterte warning on taxes

Villanueva in his statement called on DOLE to continue its labor inspections on the offices of POGOs. 

"We intend to include the information from the police on the rising incidences of Chinese kidnappings at the labor committee hearing we will hold in January," he said in closing. 

"We hope to establish the breadth and scale of the negative effects of POGO operations in the country."

BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT

PHILIPPINE OFFSHORE GAMING OPERATORS

PNP ANTI-KIDNAPPING GROUP

SEN. JOEL VILLANUEVA

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