Senate panel starts probe on POGOs

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 03 2022 11:07 PM | Updated as of Oct 04 2022 12:46 AM

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MANILA (UPDATE)—Officials of various government offices have differing views on whether it's already time to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country, amid all the problems they bring to the country.

During Monday's Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing on the "social cost" of POGO, Philippine National Police officials claimed that there is now "zero crime" when it comes to POGO-related incidents.

This supposedly started last September 15, or the day that the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee investigated the reported kidnapping and killing of foreign POGO workers.

The reason they said, is because roving policemen are now more visible, coupled by their intensified operations to guard the people, as well as POGO companies based in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.

This prompted panel chairman, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian to ask officials if the country should ban POGOs.

"Kung kayo ang tatanungin, senator kayo, ano irerekomenda nyo, ituloy pa rin ang POGO o ihinto na ang POGO.. madalas kong marinig enforcement problem po ito eh," Gatchalian said.
"Personally, magiging plastic tayo kung ayaw natin revenue... gusto kong ipagpatuloy kasi siyempre makakatulong sa bansa natin, kasi maraming trabaho," Police Brigadier General Jonnel Estomo of the NRCPO said.

"The BI maintains that immigration laws must be strictly followed so as domestic laws ... those who violate Immigration law should be penalized, sanctioned and blacklisted," Immigration Deputy Commissioner Fortunato Manahan, Jr meantime told the committee.

Finance Assistant Secretary Valerie Joy Brion, however, gave a different view, citing the negative image POGOs give to the Philippines as a potential investment site.

“In a study conducted by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the AMLC reported that POGO and its service providers are highly-vulnerable to money laundering … highly susceptible to abuse," Brion pointed out.

”POGO's modest contribution to the economy does not outweigh the social costs if its continued operations especially that there is not alarming increase in undesirable criminal activities in the POGO sector... we incur greater reputational risk by allowing them to operate in the Philippines,” she added.

"Where is the decision that the social cost outweighs… how did you arrive in that conclusion … ano ba dapat na it outweighs social cost?" Sen. Francis Escudero, in turn, asked.

"These social cost affect investors and FDI (foreign direct investors). It is also giving us the difficulty to get out (from the grey area in the Financial Action Task Force)... We don’t have the figures now.. we don’t have the figures on social cost," Brion said.

From September 2016 to August 2022, POGO's licensing fee collection already brought almost P30.9B to government coffers, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

POGOs have reportedly contributed P4.83 billion to the Bureau of Internal Revenue's collection.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) on the other hand reported that POGO companies and workers' office and housing rentals, service vehicles, insurance and salaries, brought an additional P79.08B income to the government.

Sen. Grace Poe, however, insisted, all of these only represent 0.13 percent of the government's total income, and what must be supported is the Business Process Outsourcing or the BPO sector.

POGOs also gave birth to other forms of crimes, she said.

“Meron na silang call center ngayon. ‘yung call center o BPO ng mga POGO, ganito na ang ginagawa: ‘Pag ikaw ay tumaya, mga foreigner tumataya, ibibigay mo ang information mo, ang e-wallet mo. ‘Yung information na ‘yan, kinukuha ng mga POGO operator at ginagamit para i-scam ka. Kasi alam na nila ang information mo, alam na nila ang credit card no. mo, so nanganganak talaga ito," Poe said.

For Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, the job opportunities in the POGO industry still favor Chinese workers.

A case in point is a POGO company which only have 11 Filipino workers out of its Chinese-dominated 1,459 workers.

While a Chinese worker can receive up to a P100,000 salary per month, a Filipino only gets a maximum of P50,000.