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Philippines does not need money from POGOs – senator

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Philippines does not need money from POGOs â senator
Gatchalian said that while he has no final position on whether or not to outlaw POGOs, pending his receipt from government agencies of economic and revenue data on their operations, what is clear to him is the harm such businesses inflict on the country.
AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The country does not need the trickling revenues from Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), which are not only unstable foreign investments but also act as magnets for criminality, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said yesterday.

Gatchalian said that while he has no final position on whether or not to outlaw POGOs, pending his receipt from government agencies of economic and revenue data on their operations, what is clear to him is the harm such businesses inflict on the country.

“First, we must look at the future of POGOs because this is not a stable business — it is illegal in China. So, to circumvent (Chinese laws), they put up POGOs in other countries like Cambodia and Vietnam,” Gatchalian told dzBB radio.

“My point is we’re allowing illegal businesses here, not stable ones. We want stable investments with a future, (ones) that create jobs,” said the senator.

“As a country, we want to live in a safe, orderly, and peaceful (nation) and have economic growth, but if POGOs only attract gangsters and criminal syndicates, then that can never happen,” he added.

He said proponents in government claimed a few years ago that POGOs could bring anywhere from P40 billion to P50 billion to the national coffers annually. But as it turns out, the government managed to collect less than P4 billion, he said.

Allowing legal POGOs to operate in the country would not solve the problem of kidnappings and killings, among others, because they would also pave the way for the entry of illegal POGOs.

The government is also spending a lot to apprehend, house, and deport illegal POGO workers; and that cancels out whatever revenues that are raised.

“If you can kidnap your fellow (Chinese), then our locals could be kidnapped for ransom… POGOs seem to be linked to organized criminal syndicates,” the senator said.

‘Intelligence sharing’

Gatchalian urged law enforcement authorities to coordinate with their counterparts in Beijing for a possible intelligence-sharing arrangement to prevent the entry of their nationals with criminal records.

“China must coordinate and help us… not only for POGOs but also tourism,” he said.

The Senate ways and means committee, chaired by Gatchalian, was supposed to start last week an inquiry into the revenue collections and economic impact of POGOs, but the hearing was postponed as the data he was requesting from government agencies has not yet been transmitted to the panel.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Marcos administration must focus on ridding the country of POGOs instead of just deporting their overstaying or illegal foreign workers because doing so would still not solve the criminality and corruption they cause.

“The POGO workers are not the enemy. The enemy here are the criminal syndicates in tandem with the system and policies that allow their modus to flourish,” Hontiveros said partly in Filipino.

“While criminal elements make money, the workers — Filipinos or foreigners — continue to be abused,” she said.

As a signatory to multiple international conventions, it is the Philippines’ responsibility to provide protection to POGO workers who are victims of trafficking, the senator said.

She said among the findings of a Senate inquiry in the preceding 18th Congress was that the majority of POGO workers in the country are victims of criminal syndicates, either as labor traffickers or sex traffickers.

The recently passed Expanded Anti-Trafficking Act of 2022 included, as part of the guarantee of protection and services to trafficked foreign nationals, practical needs such as the provision of interpreters and coordination with their embassy in the Philippines, Hontiveros stressed.

The crackdown

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had told the Senate finance committee, chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has started tracing and deporting an estimated 40,000 Chinese nationals who have no valid work permits or were found to be working in unlicensed or illegal POGOs

However, Remulla said the DOJ is encountering difficulties from China, which has imposed penalties on deported workers.

He also made a distinction between the so-called legal POGOs and the illegal ones, the latter being the target of the new government crackdown.

Still, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said all POGOs must be outlawed since the reputational damage, criminality, corruption, and other social costs inflicted on Filipinos far outweighs whatever projected revenues the government may raise from their operations.

Pimentel said there should be no more distinction between the legal and illegal POGOs especially since law enforcement agencies, like the Philippine National Police (PNP), find it difficult to distinguish between the two when they conduct inspections on the ground.

“The PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.) has a list (of legal POGOs) but it is not freely disseminated to law enforcement agencies,” Pimentel said. “So what happens to the crackdown when there is always this possibility that the entity or building you’re going to raid might be a legal POGO… there is a chilling effect.”

He said there is an urgent need to come up with a policy that is easy to implement on the ground.

He added that allowing legal POGOs only provides cover to the illegal ones.

Social costs

Sen. Grace Poe has filed a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry into the social costs brought by the POGOs.

“There is an urgent need to evaluate the continued existence of POGOs in the country considering the deleterious to public safety and order in contrast with the supposed economic gains from their operations in the country,” Poe said.

Sen. Nancy Binay expressed support to ban POGOs even as she doubted their supposed economic benefits.

She cited the statement of Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who believes the country can move forward without POGOs as it has already seen a decline in revenue generation.

Likewise, Teresita Ang See who is the founding chairperson of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) said it is time to reassess and balance national interest and security with the supposed benefits from POGOs.

“The problem is, we do have legal POGOs. I talked to some of them. They, too, are suffering because of the bad image being given to them. But, for every legal POGO, I think there are six to seven illegal POGOs,” Ang See said at a press conference over the weekend.

Citing the rise in POGO-related crimes, the Chinese-Filipino civic leader said it is “a national problem that needs a national solution.”

“That’s why, it is time for us to reassess, balance the national interest; balance our national security from the alleged benefits that we will be getting from these POGOs. Yes, they have employment but I think 80 to 85 percent of the employees are Chinese workers. So, we symphatize with these Chinese workers because they, too, are being victims of extortion,” she said.

For his part, MRPO chairman Ka Kuen Chua said: “If we will weigh the social ills versus the income [generated by POGO,] perhaps we should choose our national security. And, if this continues, it erodes the name of our country.” – Ralph Edwin Villanueva

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