MANILA - Two senators on Thursday urged the Senate to investigate allegations that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) has been lobbying for the resumption of Chinese-run online gambling hubs despite warnings that it could further spread the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country.
PAGCOR earlier released a newspaper advertisement and gave radio and television interviews insisting that Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) must be allowed to resume despite the enhanced community quarantine that has shuttered non-essential businesses, as these are allegedly considered Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies.
Under the Philippines' community quarantine guidelines, BPOs are allowed to operate during the lockdown as the industry is considered among essential businesses in the country.
"PAGCOR’s actuations in lobbying for an exception in favor of the POGO industry threaten to unduly put the health and well-being of the Filipino people at risk by undermining the ECQ (Enhanced Security Quarantine)," the minority senators said in Senate Resolution No. 396.
"Allowing the partial resumption of POGO operations could reverse the efforts put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 as there is no assurance that POGOs will follow the Department of Health’s guidelines on physical distancing, wearing of masks, and frequent handwashing and sanitation," the resolution read, citing several labor and tax violations previously committed by online gambling firms.
Hontiveros and Pangilinan noted that the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) had "rejected" PAGCOR's assertions that POGOs are BPOs.
"POGOs are 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." the senators said, citing IBPAP's statement.
While PAGCOR claims that POGOs can be a source of government funds for coronavirus-related efforts, the senators said that the industry owes the government some P50 billion in unpaid taxes.
“[But these] taxes need to be collected regardless of the industry’s status of operations during the community quarantine,” they said.
Other senators earlier criticized PAGCOR for pushing for the resumption of POGO firms, saying the agency is incapable of ensuring that online gambling firms would abide by the national government's quarantine rules.
Previous Senate investigations found that POGOs have been involved in corruption, bribery and sex trafficking scandals that victimized hundreds of women in the Philippines.
The Senate earlier suspended the conduct of congressional investigations as the chamber adopts a hybrid system where senators and staff are given the option to participate in proceedings via teleconferences to limit their possible exposure to COVID-19.
Senators have agreed not to hold congressional investigations while COVID-19 is not yet under control in the country as resource persons would have to physically come to the Senate to take their oaths in person.
Hontiveros and Pangilinan have yet to reply to queries on how they plan to hold their proposed investigation against PAGCOR.