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Win Gatchalian recommends total ban on POGOs

Senate ways and means committee chairman Sherwin Gatchalian is calling on the Marcos administration to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) completely.

Gatchalian on Wednesday presented a chairman’s report which concluded that the risks of allowing the continuous operations of POGOs outweigh their benefits to the country.

“Mr. President, the POGO experiment has failed to provide the promised economic benefits to the Filipino people. Instead, POGOs have created new avenues for crime and corruption, damaging our country's reputation among diplomatic allies, foreign investors, potential tourists, and even our own countrymen,” Gatchalian 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,” he added.

The lawmaker said he will submit a proposed Senate resolution which will urge the Executive Department to immediately ban all POGO operations in the country.

The resolution will contain the following recommendations which he based on the Senate inquiry into POGO operations in the country: providing Department of Labor and Employment assistance to affected Filipino POGO workers in finding alternative employment; the collection by Bureau of Internal Revenue of the outstanding tax liabilities of POGO licensees, service providers, and the third-party auditor; and the cancellation of working visas and Alien Employment Permits issued to foreign POGO workers to facilitate their deportation back to their respective home countries.

Among the findings that Gatchalian included in his report was the “inherently unstable” business model of POGO due to the outsized foreign regulatory and political risks involved.

“Using the currency and employment data as proxies, we can safely assume that Chinese nationals are the most prolific POGO consumers. This is problematic because gambling is illegal in China…In essence, Chinese nationals are using offshore gaming operations based in the Philippines as a loophole to circumvent Chinese criminal law,” the senator said.

Apart from this, the legislator cited the industry’s “troubling social risks” as Philippine National Police data shows that there were at least 102 POGO-related crimes reported between the period of January 1, 2017 and January 23, 2023, victimizing around 316 people. Of which, 214 were Chinese, while 28 were Filipinos.

The POGO industry also appears to be a potent source of financial crime, Gatchalian said, citing reports of the Anti-Money Laundering Council indicating that service providers are highly vulnerable to money laundering.

Based on the data provided by the BIR, Gatchalian said POGO operators are also committing tax evasion.

Around P34.2 billion worth of gross gaming revenues were underreported by POGOs from January to August 2022 alone, resulting in unpaid taxes amounting to P1.7 billion due to under-declaration, he added.

The Senate ways and means committee and the Senate public order and dangerous drugs panel had conducted a separate series of inquiries on the costs and benefits of POGOs in the country. — BM, GMA Integrated News