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Reopening POGOs amid COVID-19 poses high risks, says Villanueva

Allowing Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to resume business amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation could be dangerous, Senator Joel Villanueva said Tuesday.

"My concern with POGO is, it is not only a high risk sector—it has a huge potential of spreading the disease because there are several workers working in an enclosed area and are residing in high rise condominiums," Villanueva, Senate labor committee chair, said in a message to reporters.

"Most of them also don’t pay taxes. So what’s the rationale for allowing them to operate?" he added.

Earlier in the day, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) chairman Andrea Domingo said she has written President Rodrigo Duterte recommending the resumption of POGOs “provided that all health protocols such as social distancing, wearing of masks, frequent and proper hand washing are observed.”

This was after ACT-CIS Representative Eric Go Yap, chair of the House committee on Appropriations, called for the lifting of the suspension of POGO operations to “give our tax collection a much-needed boost.”

Last month, the operations of POGOs and its service providers were suspended after the issuance of guidelines banning online gambling amid the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon.

Villanueva said the Department of Finance should carefully weigh the proposal on the resumptions of POGO operations.

"The DOF should have a clear framework on what sector to allow to operate, not just because of income contribution to the government but also the likelihood that the industries will be spreading the disease," he said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the resumption is okay for him "if it's work from home."

Asked if it will not be work from home, Recto said POGO is not an essential industry.

"It's non essential. I would rather allow construction workers and farmers to go back to work," he said.

According to PAGCOR, the POGO industry has remitted more than P20 billion to the country since it began in 2019.—AOL, GMA News