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Robredo on proposed POGO reopening: Open businesses with Filipino employees, owners first

Businesses and other establishments which employ Filipinos should be opened first before the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) go back to business, Vice President Leni Robredo said Monday.

Robredo was responding to the proposal made by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation chairperson Andrea Domingo and House Appropriations panel chief Eric Yap to reopen POGOs to supposedly boost the country's tax collection amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That [pitch] is unfortunate. Bago pa nangyari itong sitwasyon, nagkaroon na ng several discussions on this. May katiwalian, malaki ang social cost. In the Senate hearing, it was revealed that it only contributes .04 percent to domestic economy. Bakit natin sila uunahin na buksan kesa sa mga negosyo na ang empleyado ay mga Pilipino?” Robredo told CNN-Philippines in an interview.

Robredo was referring to the fact that net inflow from POGO is only at P7 billion based on Anti-Money Laundering Council records or only 0.04% of the domestic economy.

Likewise, Bureau of Internal Revenue data have also shown that only 10 out of the 60 POGO businesses pay taxes.

“Bakit natin sila bibigyan ng privilege na magbukas, at ang rason pa ay para makapagbigay ng pera na gagastusin para sa ekonomiya eh hindi naman ganun kalaki ang contribution nila sa domestic economy,” Robredo argued.

‘Operations remain suspended’

Sought for comment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said operations of POGOs remain suspended even in areas that will be under general community quarantine starting May 1.

“Ang POGOs under GCQ sa guidelines ay mananatiling sarado,” Roque said in a televised briefing on Monday.

However, Roque conceded that the government needs additional funds for COVID-19 response.

“Gayunpaman, kung ang desisyon po ay pabuksan ‘yan ang tanging basehan lang po ay simple: kinakailangan natin ng pondo para magastos sa pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan. ‘Yun lang po ‘yan, simple mathematics,” he said.

“Patuloy pa rin pong nangangailangan ang ating mga kababayan. Hindi naman po pupuwede na mag-magic ang Presidente at lalabas ay pera para gastusin, siyempre po dapat magkaroon ng pagkunan.”

The government has already spent P352.7 billion out of the P397 billion available funds to address the health crisis.

While the government has yet to allow POGOs to operate, at least 44 Chinese already defied such ban and were arrested in a Parañaque City raid two days ago.

During the same raid, authorities confiscated five firearms and P1.3 million cash.

Robredo said the brazen defiance calls for strict implementation of the law, including deportation.

“Nakakagulat na may ganitong activity, that people are so daring in defying the laws. Mabuti at hinuli sila, because this is message that there are no sacred cows here,” Robredo said.

“Kung may grounds for deportation, kailangan i-deport. Kailangan gawin natin iyon,” she added. — Llanesca T. Panti and Virgil Lopez/RSJ, GMA News