Bayanihan in the country and int’l partnerships vs COVID-19
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - April 5, 2020 - 12:00am

For me and I think as for many others, COVID-19, a virus that burst into the world killing thousands, remains a mystery. It abruptly stopped our way of living. This must be for a bigger reason that eludes us. And to think that it is only a virus invisible to the eye.

Just weeks before COVID-19 came into the scene, the state-run PAGCOR was pounded with criticism from opposition, the Church and some government institutions. But as Chairman Andrea Domingo told us over and over again we will work harder and prove to critics that we will be at the front of actions for nation-building led by President Duterte.

I was surprised at her boldness. As chairman and CEO she, as well as President and COO Fred Lim and the Board, set goals that should surpass the earnings of the gambling regulatory institution at any time in the past.

When COVID-19 came we had the funds to support the Duterte government in its efforts to fight back the virus spread throughout the country for the millions of poor and small businesses.

PAGCOR and offshore gaming companies remitted P12 billion to the Bureau of Treasury for the victims as well as to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19 to the country. This amount is P5.67 billion more than the P6.33 billion that PAGCOR was required.

Prior to PAGCOR’s take over, majority of the online gaming operations in the country were illegal, with the legal operations contributing only very minimal income for the coffers of the government. A big chunk of the rightful income and taxes for the country were being funneled by these illegal operators to the pockets of corrupt individuals who agreed to turn a blind eye to their illegal activities.

The worldwide web has dramatically opened the doors to online transactions. Because of its offer of convenience and accessibility, industries now offer and accept transactions online so as not to be left out by their competition. Online shopping, online banking, online booking, and online food deliveries are now a part of our daily lives.

POGO is no different, it is basically online gaming which allows players to play casino games, without being physically present in a casino. The peculiar feature however of POGO is, it only allows foreigners who are based abroad to play. Betting and payouts can only be made abroad using electronic transactions through financial institutions.

Authorized players of these offshore gaming offerings must be foreigners based in another country. Foreign nationals who are staying in the Philippines and Filipinos even those residing abroad are not allowed to take part in the online gaming activity. Likewise, individuals who are under 21 years old are not allowed to play.

PAGCOR is working closely with the Chinese embassy in the Philippines regarding the crackdown of Chinese nationals with criminal records – but are illegally working or doing business in the country.

Prior to PAGCOR’s issuance of POGO licenses, most online gaming operators, which were operating under the licenses issued by the Economic Zone Authorities were only remitting more or less P56 million a year to the national government; in some years, it remitted nothing.

Under PAGCOR’s regulatory requirement, all POGO licensees must remit 2% of their gross gaming revenues as regulatory fees.

Because of proper regulations in place, income from POGO operations showed steady growth through the years. From P73.72 million in 2016, revenues from POGO increased significantly to P3.12 billion in 2017; P6.11 billion in 2018 and P5.73 billion in 2019.

There is a misconception that POGOs mainly employ foreign nationals. Currently, there are 30,521 Filipinos who are employed in the POGOs.

This number does not include employees in the ancillary industries such as real estate, transportation and retail.

POGO is not an attractive venue to launder dirty money due to the absence of cash transactions, and all players and their betting history record are identified through the operator’s database. And, the bets are small.  To further emphasize, no betting occurs in the Philippines, as bets are done offshore, outside our country.

The influx of Chinese nationals seeking to work in the Philippines has been repeatedly sensationalized.

To overcome the stigma that cultural / racial differences caused by foreign workers in the country, PAGCOR is now in the process of accrediting learning institutions to offer the necessary courses to the offshore workers.

A pandemic is international by its nature. The lasting solution is going to be an international one.

As my son said the recent statement by G20 Trade Ministers that says measures taken to tackle COVID-19-19 must be proportionate and temporary are good examples of how the world must come together in this time of crisis.

There is much we can learn from each other as we go through this crisis.

One issue that we must come together on is how to get help to those in need.

In the midst of all of this I had been having an on-off argument with my son based in Singapore as an international policy expert on how assistance would be given to people when offices are closed due to the lockdown and people are unable to travel to them due to the lockdown.

Our government coffers are limited and we need to make sure that those who really need the money get it and we need to make sure that there isn’t any ‘cheating’.

Please, for the love of country let’s remember, we are trying to prevent from going out, we cannot have them queuing to get documents in one place and other. They MUST obey the quarantine and they NEED to eat.

Anyway, back to my argument with my son. According to him, more than two thirds of Filipinos do have a bank account but there are 76 million internet users in the country with most of us access the internet through a mobile device.

In his view mobile payments can be used to direct targeted payments to the people and small businesses most in need. These digital payment infrastructures offer speed and traceability.

Beneficiaries can then use their mobile phones to pay for necessary goods at sari-sari stores and supermarkets – many of whom accept payment through mobile phones. Digital transfer of social payments could provide a rapid transparent and accountable means of making those payments to those in need.

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