“It’s pay up and time’s up for POGO.”
This was the statement of Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday as she filed a resolution urging the prohibition of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) operations in the country and the use of their P50 billion in unpaid taxes for the government’s response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The government should be thinking of ways of how to get Filipinos back to our livelihood, instead of ways of how best to resume POGO,” Hontiveros said upon filing Proposed Senate Resolution No. 368. “POGO is a non-essential industry. Hindi pwedeng business-as-usual. Unahin nating makabalik sa trabaho ang mga Pilipino, hindi ang POGO,” she added.
Hontiveros also claimed that the resumption of POGOs would put Filipinos’ health at risk. “The resumption of POGO would mean allowing the mobility of at least 120,000 POGO workers”, Hontiveros said. “This would defeat all the efforts that Filipinos are undertaking to contain COVID-19. POGOs are a health risk,” she added.
The number of POGO workers can be more than 120,000, as this count only considers the 243 POGOs that legally operate, according to Hontiveros. There are around 70,000 Chinese nationals illegally working in POGO, according to some reports.
“POGOs are also overwhelmingly located in Metro Manila, where most of the country’s COVID-19 cases are. If they continue to operate, there would be an inevitable second wave of COVID-19 transmission that our public health system would not be able to handle,” the senator warned.
The resolution came after the government announced that they are considering resuming POGO operations to supplement the funds needed to combat COVID-19.
“Mas mabuti pang singilin na lang sila ng kanilang ‘di pa nababayarang buwis,” Hontiveros said, citing the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s report that POGOs have yet to pay PhP50 billion in franchise, corporate, and other taxes. “We need to demand that POGOs pay their yet-unpaid taxes, instead of allowing their resumption,” she added.
The Senator then emphasized that the collection of POGOs’ unpaid taxes, not their reopening, would reinforce the country’s fight against the global pandemic. “PhP 50 billion could be redirected to fund our health and economic response to COVID-19. We can provide a cash assistance of PhP 5,000 each for 10 million Filipinos, if POGOs pay what they owe us,” Hontiveros explained.
POGOs early this year were at the center of numerous investigations for involvement in various crimes. “If POGO operations continue, these crimes would also likely to continue,” Hontiveros said. The Senator exposed early this year sex and human trafficking dens allegedly linked to the gaming and amusement industry.
“POGOs are a nightmare to regulate. Given the financial, social and human costs POGOs continue to bring into our country, they’re just not worth it,” she concluded./Stacy Ang