MANILA — The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) on Wednesday told the Senate Ways and Means committee its plan to introduce more gambling sites and opportunities, which, unlike POGOs, will cater Filipino players.
"It seems like you have a penchant for opening more casinos for the country. Would that be correct?” Sen. Chiz Escudero asked.
PAGCOR Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility Ramon Stephen Villaflor confirmed Escudero's statement.
“Yes, Mr. Chairman. E-games and also E-bingo,” Villaflor said.
P8 billion of PAGCOR’s P81 billion collection in 2019 came from POGOs.
Ten e-sabong operators eventually ordered closed by the previous administration contributed P7.5 billion monthly to government coffers.
Income in licensed casino was P28 billion, and the rest of the collection are from E-bingo and E-games.
Some senators were quick to oppose the PAGCOR’s plan.
“For example, E-sabong, hindi natin kailangang palitan ng POGO ang E-sabong dahil grassroots ang E-sabong eh. So hindi kailangang palitan. In my opinion, we can attract other business into the country,” panel chairman Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said.
“I just don’t think gambling is the way to go. If we love to go, if we love the next generation of our country, pamanahan naman natin sila ng tamang ugali. Yung kahalagahan ng pagtityaga. Yung kahalagahan ng pagsusunog ng kilay. Paga-aral. And not to defend a game of chance,” Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said.
PAGCOR, meantime, presented its four-page “roadmap” to the panel, showcasing the agency’s plan to improve the POGO industry.
Among those mentioned by its officials include their plan to increase the number of POGOs in the country, ensure a better operation inside a hub and collect up to P10 billion.
But they failed to answer questions on how much is the overall income of offshore gaming, and their target areas for possible clients, among others.
“In my entire life, ngayon lang ako nakakita ng ganito kaiksing roadmap. In fact, hindi siya road eh. Eskinita lang sya… Alam ko naman itong ginawa ninyo for compliance purposes only. But this is toilet paper to be honest. Without all those data, we don't understand this industry. We don't even understand the potential of this industry,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian is now looking at amending the PAGCOR Charter that would limit its role to regulating gambling companies.
Another agency should be in charge in gambling operations, he said.
Gatchalian is also eyeing to investigate the “third party” audit team that PAGCOR contracted to check on POGO operations.
According to him, the audit team was not performing its duty in cross-checking the submitted financial documents of POGOs.
These third-party companies were identified, but ABS-CBN News did not publish their names in this article pending their side on the matter.
During the hearing, Fredelen Tan, PAGCOR’s Senior Manager for Offshore Gaming and Licensing Department, repeatedly blamed “illegal POGOs” on the reported crimes.
But his claim was quickly thwarted by Gatchalian who reminded him that two legal POGO companies have been identified by the Philippine National Police as among those committing criminal offenses.
Meanwhile, David Leechiu, Chief Executive Officer of the Leechiu Property Consultants, Incorporation, earnestly appealed to the panel to take into consideration the impact that POGO closure would bring to the real estate sector.
“Of all the sectors in the gambling industry, we think the POGO sector is the least evil because they do not allow locals to participate… If we say no to POGO, other countries will welcome them... If not the Philippines, they will go elsewhere and they will be accepted with open arms,” Leechiu said.
The appeal, however, was immediately addressed by Sen. Grace Poe.
“Even if they go to other countries, other countries already said no to them,” Poe said.
The Department of Finance has placed the so-called “economic cost” of POGO at P8.44 billion.