MANILA - The Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman's report, penned by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and carrying the recommendation to immediately ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country is "non-negotiable," the lawmaker said Tuesday.
Gatchalian cited the number of crimes that POGOs allegedly cause in the country, which he said only drives out potential investors.
“Ako kasi, non-negotiable sa akin ang crime eh. Non-negotiable sa akin ang criminal activities eh. One day of criminal activity is a criminal activity. Hindi ko pwedeng i-negotiate ang buhay ng kababayan natin dahil kung may ma-kidnap dyan kung mayroong mapatay, responsibility natin 'yun,” he said.
The report needs at least 10 signatures to have it adopted in the plenary.
Gatchalian said in a previous interview that he already has seven signatures. But on Tuesday, he opted to keep mum about the updated number.
Gatchalian said it is time for POGO to leave the Philippines, which he said is the only country in the world hosting offshore gaming operations.
“Ito proven na in the past ng mga pulis na nung pagpasok ng POGO, dala-dala rin nila ang organized syndicates… Nakita rin nila na itong organized criminal syndicates, kasama rin doon sa mga POGO operators na pumasok dito sa atin,” the senator said.
“Natatakot ako eh, na kumalat itong mga crime na ginagawa nila sa ating mga locals dito. Nakita natin 'yung mga kidnapping before, kapwa-Chinese or kapwa POGO 'yung pagki-kidnap. Pero may tendency itong kumalat sa atin… Ang punto ko lang naman, hindi siya nakakatulong sa ating bansa.. Ayaw ko kasing may malala pang magyari saka tayo aakto,” Gatchalian said.
The senator said the government will not lose a significant investment from the POGO industry.
Gatchalian said the financial statements of more than 150 operating POGOs’ financial statements and balance sheets, as well as their services providers and what they have uncovered, show that they do not have CAPEX or capital expenditures, and structures that serve as their offices are only under a lease contract.
“Ang ibig sabihin eh lahat nangungupahan. So, pag nangungupahan ka, ibig sabihin wala kang pinapatayo eh. Pumupunta ka lang dito, mangungupahan ka. Ganun ang nakita namin. Kaya wala kaming nakitang investment, capital expenditures, or capital plant equipment na dinala yung POGOs,” Gatchalian pointed out in a press briefing.
“Ang country natin will not lose any investments dahil wala kaming nakitang investments na dinala dito. Lahat ay lease ang ginagawa,” he added.
Gatchalian said exempting licensed POGOs from the ban will not be prudent since even licensed POGO corporations also allegedly violated laws in the country.
There are also POGOs that undervalue their income for tax purposes, the senator said.
REPLACING REVENUES FROM POGO
Gatchalian added that that existing economic laws in the country — specifically the Public Services Act, Retail Liberation Act and Foreign Investment Act — would significantly help in attracting other potential Investors.
But maintaining POGOs in the country will remain a turn-off to potential investors, the senator said.
“Kung mabasa ng isang tao na pinutulan ng daliri 'yung isang victim, tinali ng duct tape 'yung ulo, tinapon sa Tanza, Cavite, paano tayo mang-aakit ng turista? 'Yun ang headline, makikita nila. Lalo na 'yung mga Westerners, marami doon matatakot, ang gulo-gulo naman dito. 'Yun ang sinasabi ng Department of Finance... na 'yung reputational damage, hindi tayo makakaakit ng turista, lalo na investors," Gatchalian further explained.
With his recommendation to ban POGO operations in the Philippines, Gatchalian said government agencies concerned must look for other opportunities for some 16,000 to 20,000 offshore gaming workers who might lose their job.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must prioritize job-hunting for POGO workers during the transition period, the senator said.
Gatchalian also appealed to local government units to pass a resolution that will ban POGOs in their area, similar to what was done by the Pasig LGU.
BILL BANNING POGO EYED
Aside from recommending the banning of offshore gaming operations in his committee report, Gatchalian is also contemplating to file a bill that would repeal Republic Act 11590 or the law taxing POGOs.
“Because 'yung batas na 'yan impliedly legitimized POGO in our country… I will file, I will file,” Gatchalian told journalists.