House panel OKs bill banning all POGO operations

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
House panel OKs bill banning all POGO operations
The continued operations of POGOs in the country have the new Marcos Jr administration up in arms. Senate lawmakers have mounted probes on the sector’s economic significance and its involvement in the kidnappings of foreign nationals.

MANILA, Philippines — The House games and amusements committee has approved two measures seeking to ban all Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) operations in the country, with its proponents saying it is time to “immediately abolish” the gaming hubs after the government’s apparent failure to address POGO-related crimes in the past five years.

The House panel on Monday greenlighted House Bill 5082, which disbands and tags as illegal all POGO operations in the country, and House Resolution 1197, which calls for a government ban on POGO operations.

Authors of these measures were Rep. Bienvenido Abante (Manila, 6th District) and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro), respectively. 

POGO firms in the Phillippines have been repeatedly linked to various several crimes and offenses, including prostitution, swindling, human trafficking, torture, kidnapping and online scams. 

In November 2023, authorities found a torture den hidden inside one of two illegal POGO hubs it raided in Pasay City, which is accused of facilitating prostitution and human trafficking. A total of 731 suspected victims of human trafficking, both foreigners and Filipinos, were rescued.

This time last year, the Philippine National Police also revealed during a Senate hearing that the total number of reported POGO-related offenses has tripled from 2019 to 2022.

Defenses of POGO hubs’ supposed contribution to the country’s economy have also collapsed amid economic managers' reports that POGO revenues barely make a dent in the country's gross domestic product (GDP), hovering just around 0.2% in 2023.

With several heinous crimes being linked to POGO operations, Rodriguez said during the committee hearing that the government can no longer regulate its way out and must seek the total abolition of the POGO industry.

“The number of victims has increased exponentially. In other words, there's no more time to put regulations. We are saying here that there is no more chance for more regulation because five years (was given) to have good regulations, and they have failed,” Rodriguez added. 

The Mindanao lawmaker said that the “overwhelming majority” of its invited representatives from several government agencies, including the departments of the Interior and Local Government, Foreign Affairs as well as law enforcement agencies, are in favor of banning POGO operations.

“Everywhere in our country, newspapers and people (talk about) kidnap for ransom, VIP rooms, massage parlors — people see that. We see that. So it’s about time that we say (this) has failed in this country,” Rodriguez added.

Last year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that he needed a "good reason" to outlaw all POGO operations, saying that issues with the gaming hubs are caused by illegal operators.

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