Senate panel eyes POGO industry suspension over P50B tax deficiency

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2020 12:30 AM | Updated as of Feb 12 2020 02:42 AM

MANILA - Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs) in the Philippines should be suspended after a Senate inquiry found that the industry committed several irregularities, including failure to pay at least P50 billion in taxes, a senator said Tuesday.

The government only collected P5 billion of the P50 billion tax revenue expected to be generated from POGOs, Senate Committee on Labor and Employment chair Joel Villanueva told reporters after his panel's inquiry.

"Klarong-klaro po na dapat pansamantalang itigil muna ito kung talagang naniniwala tayo na kapakanan talaga ng mas nakararami ang ating protektahan," he said.

Most POGO foreign workers come to the country using tourist visas, but are still able to secure employment in POGO hubs and receive salaries without paying taxes, Villanueva said.

"The fact that they don’t have the tax identification numbers (TIN) means they are not paying taxes. It means they are illegal," he said.

The lack of regulation in the industry makes POGOS a "threat for money laundering," Villanueva said.

Police officials also testified during the Senate inquiry that the rise of the POGO industry in the Philippines has led to a "spike in criminal activities."

A separate Senate investigation found that special prostitution dens, hiring Chinese women and Filipino teens, have been set up specifically to cater to POGO workers.

"Ito po ay sumasalamin lamang sa hindi maayos na pamamahala at patakaran ng ating mga ahensya para masiguro na maayos na mareregulate ang industriyang ito mula pa lamang sa pagpasok ng mga foreign workers," Villanueva said.

The proposed suspension of POGO operations will only account for 0.04 percent of the economy, he said, citing data from the Department of Finance.

The Senate panel is expected to file measures that will require POGO employees to process all labor permits in China before being allowed to work in the Philippines.

"We need to scrutinize yung binibigyan natin ng alien employment permits... Paano natin nasisiguro na hindi ito kaya gampanan ng mga kababayan natin bago ito i-offer sa mga bisita, sa mga foreigners?" he said.

- with a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News