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Gatchalian prods government on outlawing POGOs

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Gatchalian prods government on outlawing POGOs
This file photo shows Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian during a Senate hearing.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, File

MANILA, Philippines — The government must not waste time in outlawing Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), which do not make any significant economic contributions but only exert what may be a growing criminal influence on the country’s law enforcement agencies, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said yesterday.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate ways and means committee, last week released a draft report of the inquiry led by his panel and the economic affairs committee of Sen. Grace Poe, on the effects of POGOs on the economy. The report recommended the shutdown of the gambling-oriented outfits in three months.

He said he would furnish a copy of the report to President Marcos, who he expects to support his recommendations.

The committee on public order and dangerous drugs, chaired by Sen. Ronaldo dela Rosa, held a separate probe on the spate of kidnappings last year attributed to POGOs, which largely employ Chinese nationals, that the Philippine National Police said has been resolved due to increased patrols.

“That’s (no more POGO-related incidents) not true. As recent as last month, we got a letter from the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) that the Chinese embassy sought their help that one of their nationals was kidnapped and detained in a POGO compound that turned out to be licensed by Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.), so crimes still happen,” Gatchalian told dzBB in Filipino.

He said the NBI report prompted him to release the draft even before other senators have signed it. He said he was able to obtain enough signatures from committee members to be able to formally present the report in plenary.

He added that it is important the public, particularly communities where POGOs operate, is made aware that such incidents continue to happen.

These include reports of corruption at the Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Internal Revenue, and POGO executives traveling with police escorts, which “are signs that this business can corrupt our government employees,” Gatchalian said.

“Because this business is controversial, they need to corrupt our government officials to be allowed to enter and operate, and that may spread to other law enforcement agencies and that is scary because who do we run to if they already have our law enforcement agencies in their grip?” he said.

Unlike the business process outsourcing or semi-conductor industries that make actual investments, POGOs are linked to human trafficking, kidnapping and other crimes, he said.

“Imagine, POGO operators engage in kidnapping and human trafficking, so they’re no longer businessmen, they are foreign criminals in our country. Ordinary businessmen do not engage in those activities, if you have a labor problem, you file a complaint. They do not, they engage in kidnapping,” he said.

He said regulating POGOs has proven to be a failure as shown by the country’s experience in the last five years where PAGCOR was not able to collect the correct fees and taxes from the sector as the state gaming agency apparently tapped the services of a scam third-party auditor.

Gatchalian stressed that the criminality spawned by such outfits gives an image of lawlessness in the country that turns off tourists and drives away investors.

He said the estimated losses to tourism was at P20 billion annually, and foreign investments at P25 billion.

The Philippines is the only country in the world that welcomes POGOs, he added as he recalled a conversation with a diplomat from Thailand who told him POGOs only cause trouble.

“If this (POGO) is really a good business, then many countries should be chasing them,” he said.

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