MANILA – Malacañang said Saturday it was not playing favorites for allowing Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) to partially resume while the country grapples with the COVID-19 crisis.
This, amid criticism on the grant, with several lawmakers citing POGOs' unpaid taxes and links to corruption, prostitution and other crimes and the danger of it triggering another wave of coronavirus outbreak. The chamber earlier recommended drafting a bill to stop the operations of Chinese-run offshore gaming in the country.
During a Laging Handa public briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque maintained that offshore gaming firms were considered part of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
“Ang POGOs naman po kasi ay isang klase ng BPO. Wala pong favoritism diyan,” he said.
(POGOs is a form of BPO. There’s no favoritism here.)
Government had earlier reasoned out the partial reopening of POGOs would generate much-needed income to fund its response to the pandemic.
“On the contrary, the equal protection clause provides those similarly situated must be treated alike,” he added.
The Philippine government has allowed BPO companies to reopen while parts of the country, including Metro Manila and other cities with business hubs, remain on lockdown.
Roque also stressed that in POGO operations, gambling do not take place in the Philippines.
“Hindi po casino ang POGO. Ang POGO ay walang sugal na nangyayari sa Pilipinas. Ang sugal ay abroad,” he said.
(POGO is not a casino. No gambling happens in the Philipines. It’s overseas.)
For POGOs to operate again with only 30 percent of their workforce, Roque said the companies must get tax clearance and test its employees for COVID-19.
They must also regularly disinfect their workplaces and provide housing and shuttle services to employees, he added.
POGOs are mostly operated by Chinese businessmen, and most of their employees also come from China.
“Ang pinakaimportante ay lahat ng kikitain sa mga POGOs na ito ay mapupunta sa gastos ng gobyerno para sa COVID-19 response natin,” Roque said.
(What’s important is that the revenues generated from POGOs will go towards the government’s COVID-19 response efforts.)
The Philippines currently has 60 POGO license holders and over 200 service providers. POGOs employ a largely Chinese workforce.
POGOs NO BPO
The IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), meanwhile, refuted claims that POGOs were similar to BPO companies.
For one, BPO companies are registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) or the Board of Investments (BOI), while POGOs are registered with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the group said.
"While BPOs and POGOs share one extraneous similarity, which is their offshoring nature, POGOs primarily do so because they are allegedly unable to practice their betting or gambling functions in their respective shores," it said.
The group also stressed that the work in BPO companies are of much higher value, saying it requires a range of technical, domain and soft skills.
"BPOs come to the Philippines to leverage off our human capital, i.e. our strong English and technical skills, customer service orientation, malasakit, and ability to adapt to foreign cultures. This, in turn, has directly benefited millions of Filipinos by providing them with better employment opportunities throughout the years," the group said.
"In the case of POGOs, majority of their staffing comes from foreign labor brought into the country to support their operations."
The group also noted that POGOs were not part of the Annual IT-BPO Headcount and Revenue report, "which in 2019 ended with 1.3 million direct employees and $26.3 billion in revenues."