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Philippines allows partial reopening of POGOs


The government has allowed the partial reopening of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) even amid the enhanced community quarantine being implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview on Dobol B sa News TV, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo said only 30% of the total workforce will be allowed to report for work, provided that they follow precautionary measures.

"Only 30% ng kanilang mga tauhan ang puwedeng pumasok. Skeletal din," Domingo said.

"Kaya 30% lang ng manpower nila ang puwedeng mag-report, sapagkat mahigpit na mahigpit kami sa pagpapatupad noong social distancing using face masks, disinfection of their work areas every shift, and then also sila hindi puwedeng sumakay sa public transport or hindi pwedeng pumunta sa any public place," she added.

POGO firms shall provide private buses which shall transport the workers from their houses to their workplace and vice versa. Those who will be required to work must be the ones residing within the five-kilometer radius of the office.

Around 60 POGO companies are expected to reopen after around a week of validation and preparations, she added.

"Formal notice sa kanila sa Monday but with all our strict requirements including testing for COVID-19," Domingo said.

"'Yung negative lang ang puwedeng pumasok at sila ay ite-test every 14 days," she added.

Cayetano sees problem

But enforcing quarantine measures in POGO hubs could be problematic, according to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“I do not believe all POGOs are the same, but I agree with you enforcement is a problem,” Cayetano said when asked on POGO hubs being confined in cramped housing units in a CNN Philippines interview.

“They should follow the [quarantine] rules, such as social distancing. There are rules, but enforcement is a different matter. Like if you allow religious gathering, and you have a small house church with 50 people, how do you deal with that? If the police came in, bigotry naman iyon, in violation of religious freedom,” Cayetano said.

High risk

Senators Joel Villanueva and Risa Hontiveros said the government is taking high risks which may backfire as it allowed the partial opening of POGO.

"Lahat ng eksperto nagsasabi na hindi po ito essential sector," Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor, said in a virtual conference with reporters.

"Sakaling magkaroon ng outbreak ang industriya at dito nagsimula sa POGO sector, sino po bang gobyerno ang gagambalain nito? Kaninong salapi po ba ang gagastusin na naman para i-address ang problemang ito?" he added.

Hontiveros said the resumption of POGO means mobility for at least 120,000 POGO workers, most of them in Metro Manila, the center of the COVID-19 transmission.

"This move of the IATF undermines our efforts to contain the coronavirus and opens the country to the other problems that POGOs bring. It’s a risk for public health & safety!" she added in a Twitter post.

POGO as BPO

Domingo said there are around 90,000 Chinese nationals in the POGO industry and most of them are in the BPO work who answer gaming-related calls.

"'Yung POGO parang BPO 'yan. Ang kliyente nila o mga manlalaro, nasa ibang bansa. Walang face-to-face," she said.

She further said that over 31,000 Filipinos are part of this industry, which has halted operations in late March due to the enhanced community quarantine.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said POGOs are classified under the business process outsourcing industry, which the government has allowed to resume operations.

“Ang BPOs po ay ina-allow at ang POGO po talaga ay isang BPO,” Roque said during the Laging Handa briefing on Friday, adding POGOs must comply with regulations before they can operate again.

The partial resumption of operations comes with a condition that all Filipino workers in the POGO industry will be paid their full salaries for the month of April even though they do not report for work, Domingo said.

"Babayaran lahat buong April, nitong nakaraang April at kahit hindi papasok kapag mag-start na sila halimbawa by next week or even later, kailangan bayad 'yung lahat ng sweldo ng Pilipino pumasok man o hindi," she added.

She added that the government will receive a total of around P350 million from 60 POGOs every month as part of the deal.

"Isa rin sa kondisyon na 'yun na kung papayagan sila, dahil kailangan talaga natin ng revenues, magbabayad sila ng minimum guarantee fees for April kahit wala silang operations o wala silang revenues," Domingo said.

"By law, five percent pumupunta sa BIR sa franchise tax, 50 percent goes to the national treasury. Fifty percent of 50 percent na 'yan pumupunta sa universal health care so 'yun deretso talaga 'yun sa COVID," she added.

Domingo said once the full operation resumes, the government revenue from these registered POGOs may reach P500 to P550 million every month.

The PAGCOR official assured that POGOs that are not compliant with the tax laws of the country will not be allowed to resume business.

"'Yung mga hindi nagbayad ng BIR taxes at walangcertification of registration, at saka ay hindi pa fully paid as of March 2020, hindi namin sila hahayaan magbukas, kailangan bayad lahat ng taxes nila," she said.

"Lahat lang ng may valid working permit at visas lang ang aming papapasukin," she added. --with Virgil Lopez/KBK/AOL, GMA News

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