Hontiveros seeks Senate nod to ban POGOs in Philippines

Katrin Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 28 2020 01:41 PM

The Phil-Asian Gaming Expo features offshore games targeting bettors outside the Philippines. Games can be played on desktop or mobile devices. Photos taken at the SMX Convention Center. July 12, 2019. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday filed a resolution seeking to "disallow the resumption" of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) in the country, citing the industry's failure to pay P50 billion in taxes and various social ills it caused in the country.

POGO is a "high risk sector" that should be considered as a "non-essential industry," Hontiveros said in Senate Resolution No. 368.

"Even the Chinese government are cracking down on cross-border gambling and money laundering, and that the Philippines' continued tolerance and acceptance of POGOs shows a lack of concern and political will in eliminating this menace," the resolution reads.

The resolution was filed a week after Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation's (PAGCOR) chief Andrea Domingo wrote to Malacañang to allow online gambling companies to resume operations during the coronavirus crisis, saying gaming revenue can boost the government's campaign against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Hontiveros belied claims that POGOs have been a source of funds for the Philippines, noting that a Senate hearing earlier found that the industry has "yet to pay the Philippine government P50 billion from their franchise, corporate and other taxes."

"It was brought to light that many of the POGO workers in the country do not have tax identification numbers (TIN)," the senator said noting that the Labor department confirmed that 4,000 Chinese POGO workers have been using the same TIN.

"The POGO employees with fraudulent TINs mean that they are not paying the proper taxes as prescribed by Philippine laws, which are reminiscent of the actions by tax evaders," she said.

Separate Senate investigations also found that POGOs were allegedly involved in bribery, money laundering, trafficking and prostitution schemes in the country, Hontiveros said.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council earlier said that the "financial impact of POGOs to the Philippine economy only accounts to 0.04 percent" as the industry only accounted for P7 billion "in net inflow," which is only about an eighth of the P54 billion in online gambling transactions in the country, she said.

The proliferation of prostitution dens in Metro Manila are also linked to the "rising number of POGO workers," she said.

Other senators have earlier moved for the permanent closure of POGOs, but President Rodrigo Duterte insisted that the online gambling operators were "clean."

“I will assure you under my oath of office as President of the republic, as elected by you, yang POGO na 'yan, insofar kami dito, malinis 'yan (that’s clean),” the President said in a speech in March during the 2020 General Assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines in Pasay City.

“Laro lang 'yan para sa kanila but it employs something like 20,000 sa Maynila. Walang pera diyan, diretso sa PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) yan,” he said.

The Senate has yet to tackle Hontiveros' resolution as the chamber is still on a 2-month break and will only resume sessions next week.