Senator Hontiveros: China should foot the Philippines’ COVID-19 bill

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Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday demanded that the Chinese government should shoulder the costs of the Philippines’ COVID-19 response, in reparation for the annual losses the country has incurred due to China’s damage of reef ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea.

“China should foot the Philippines’ COVID-19 bill. The destruction to our reefs in Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands is equivalent to at least PhP 33.1 billion in losses annually, on top of other economic and health costs. This money is past due and could go to government’s efforts in fighting the pandemic,” Hontiveros said, citing the breakdown of costs stated by the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute.

According to a report by the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, China began reclaiming land in the West Philippine Sea in December 2013. “China has been damaging our ecosystems for over 6 years now, which means our losses could already amount to over 200 billion pesos. This money could be used to fund our health and economic plans as we transition to a new normal,” the Senator said.

Hontiveros underscored that despite the pandemic, China has continued its land reclamation operations and illegal fishing activities in the West Philippine Sea, which means that the Philippines’ losses will only continue to grow.

“The government already has a huge budget deficit because of COVID-19. China’s ongoing disregard for our own resources will worsen our economic standing. The government should demand what is rightfully ours and use this to help the Filipino people battle COVID-19,” she said.

On top of the money that could be collected from the West Philippine Sea damages, Hontiveros said that the government should also demand the PhP50 billion unpaid taxes from Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO).

“Again, this is money that should be used to strengthen our health system, to increase the aid given to low- and middle-income families, and to help us recover post-COVID,” she said.

POGOs are non-essential to the economy

“POGOs are just not worth it,” Hontiveros also declared, urging the government to reassess its statement on allowing POGOs to operate once the lockdown is lifted. “There are essential and non-essential industries under the Enhanced Community Quarantine. POGOs join a third category that we might call ‘less than non-essential’,” the Senator said.

POGOs early this year were the center of numerous investigations for involvement in various crimes. “Hindi na nga buo ang binabayad nilang tax, may korapsyon at sex trafficking pang pinapalaganap,” she added.

Almost 2,000 foreign POGOs work without the required Alien Employment Permit, and around 4,000 have been discovered to use an identical Tax Identification Number (TIN), according to previous reports. Hontiveros also previously exposed the ‘pastillas’ scam within the Bureau of Immigration, allegedly offering VIP services to POGO workers entering the country.

The Senator said the government’s hands are full containing the coronavirus pandemic. “The government should not open itself to other problems that POGOs bring,” she said.

“It’s high time we send POGOs home,” Hontiveros urged./Stacy Ang

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