Philippine Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Ways and Means, recommended the country’s government to officially shut down Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), which are responsible for the increasing number of cases of kidnapping and other crimes in the country.
Furthermore, according to local media reports, Gatchalian also advocated shutting down POGOs in 3 months.
In this regard, earlier in March, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), said: “We terminated the contract with a third-party auditor responsible for auditing POGOs.
“The service provider was found to be in default of its obligations and has committed unlawful acts.”
Report on the consequences of POGOs on the country’s economy:
Last week, Mr. Gatchalian publicly released a report on the consequences of POGOs on the country’s economy, which was based on an investigation conducted by his panel and the Senate’s economic affairs committee.
In this regard, he reportedly said: “The data and evidence on hand all point to the same conclusion: enough is enough. It is time to ban offshore gaming operations in the Philippines, once and for all.
“First of all, the economic managers are saying that (POGOs) are not good for the country’s image. And we will not have peace of mind while they’re still here.”
The report claimed that ” POGOs did not make any significant economic contributions to the country’s economy, but were exerting what could be perceived as growing criminal influence on some the nation’s law enforcement agencies.”
However, the report also advocates for relief to affected Filipinos who were employed by POGOs, calls for the collection of the outstanding tax debts from POGOs licensees, service suppliers and the third-party auditor, and calls for the revocation of work visas for POGOs foreign workers.
On that note, he added: “The fear of Filipinos getting kidnapped will linger while they are still operating… We should not clutch at the knife’s edge because there are other businesses that will not affect our country’s peace and order.”
Poor report support:
The Senator made the report public only after he had acquired enough signatures from committee members to permit him to officially introduce the report to the full Senate. However, by Friday he had only gained 7 signatures.
On that note, the senator said: “I would furnish a copy of the report to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who I expect to support my recommendations, because it wouldn’t make sense for the President to support the continued presence of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) when his economic team wanted them shut down.
“I expected more of my colleagues to back the report since I sent them all the documentary evidence showing that POGOs had brought the country more harm than good.”
He emphasized that “the Department of Finance (DOF) and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) had both expressed their opposition to POGOs, which thrived during the administration of Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos’ predecessor.”
Furthermore, in September 2022, Juan Miguel Zubiri, said: “I would support the move by other senators to ban Pogos, following reports of serious crimes, including killings and abductions, that had victimized POGO workers from China.”
However, the other members of the Senate (18 of them) recommended that POGOs be offered more time to halt operations.
On that note, Senator Sonny Angara told the official Philippine News Agency that “giving POGOs, especially the legitimate ones, three months to stop their operations may not be enough.”
In a written statement he said: “I don’t believe three months is adequate time and notice to wrap up operations, especially for those who have made substantial investments.
“A longer period would be more reasonable/justified given it was also the government which invited them to invest in the first place.”
The only country in the world that hosts POGOs:
In this regard, the Senator said: “Based on estimates of the DOF and Neda, the country would be losing more than P8 billion a year in tourism revenues and investment opportunities.
“We are the only country in the world hosting POGOs… If this is a really good business, then all countries should be fighting to entice them.”
History of POGOs in the Philippines:
POGOs first started in the country in 2016, which was the first year of Duterte’s presidency, who allowed them to operate in the country because he wanted closer relations with China.
POGOs have cashed in on the country’s liberal gaming laws to officially target customers in China, where gambling is forbidden.
However, the increase in POGOs operations in the country has prompted reports of blackmail, kidnapping, prostitution among other crimes, including the victimization of the Chinese workers in the industry.
But that’s not all; as multiple Filipinos also protested the POGOs that raised property rates together with incidents of racism.
Small income from POGOs:
Most critics pointed out that “Chinese President XI Jinping himself had requested the Philippines in 2019 to ban online gambling establishments catering to Chinese nationals.”
In this regard, Zubiri said: “He had doubts about whether the small revenues from POGOs were worth it.”
On a related note, in terms of POGOs taxes to the country, from P7.18 billion in 2020, taxes generated by the POGO industry and collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue fell down 46% to P3.91 billion in 2021.
The much higher predicted revenue this year is P32 billion, but just P3 billion has been generated to date, according to Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
The Chinese-Filipino group Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO), whose members or relatives have been kidnapped, has officially endorsed the ban on POGOs, amid a spate of reported crimes involving their workers, mostly Chinese nationals.
POGOs as a victims:
Teresita Ang See, MRPO’s founding chairperson and chief convener, said: “Some legal POGO companies have told me that they are also suffering because of the bad image given to them.”
Furthermore, she emphasized that “for every legal POGO company, there were six to seven illegal sub-licensees, through which Chinese nationals were subjected to human trafficking.”
On that note, September 2022 data from the Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) displayed that 32 POGOs and 127 service suppliers are licensed to operate in the country.
PAGCOR said: “Online gaming began in 2003, but it started to regulate gaming hubs only in 2016.”