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Senate panel recommends expulsion of POGOs from Philippines

The Senate committee on ways and means has recommended the immediate expulsion of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) from the country in a bid to help maintain peace and order and sustain economic growth.

In Committee Report No. 136, the panel called for the adoption of a Senate resolution urging the Executive department to cease the operations of POGOs.

Ten lawmakers signed the report namely: Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Ronald “Bato" dela Rosa, JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, Risa Hontiveros, Pia Cayetano, Raffy Tulfo, Loren Legarda, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, and Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

According to the office of Gatchalian, chairman of the committee, ten signatures already constitute the majority as the panel only has 18 members.

Gatchalian said the move was aimed at safeguarding the well-being of the Filipino people and maintaining a trajectory of growth and development in line with the administration’s economic reforms.

“Isa itong mahalagang hakbang para mapigilan ang paglaganap ng krimeng nagmumula sa ilang kumpanya ng POGO. Inaasahan natin na maabot ang ating layunin na mapanatili ang kaayusan sa bansa, na siyang magdudulot ng paglago ng ating ekonomiya,” he said in a press statement.

(This is an important step to prevent the spread of crime coming from some POGO companies. We hope to achieve our goal of maintaining order in the country, which will lead to the growth of our economy.)

The committee report also urged the Congress to pass legislation that would separate the functions of regulation from operation in the charter of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

A new entity was suggested to be created to perform solely regulatory functions, authorization and licensing of games of chance, and other forms of gambling, while the PAGCOR will continue to be a gambling operator.

Poe said the transition would be a “step in the right direction,” citing that its previous role as an operator caused conflict on its effectiveness as a regulator.

“We have seen how the illegal POGOs and other unauthorized gambling operations have brought social ills to the country. While the illegal operations rake in money for some firms and individuals, the government is haplessly deprived of earnings,” the senator said.

“If Pagcor can effectively regulate the gaming industry and weed out unscrupulous activities, then it could even generate better revenues to help fund more government projects,” she added.

The report also directed the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to look for alternative employment placements for Filipinos employed by POGOs like in the IT-BPOs and manufacturing industries.

Moreover, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) was tasked to cancel and revoke the working visas issued to foreign nationals employed in the POGO industry and implement their deportation following immigration rules and regulations.

The DOLE was likewise directed to cancel or revoke the Alien Employment Permits (AEPs) issued to foreign nationals employed in the POGO industry and to ensure that their AEPs could not be revived or used for any other purpose based on DOLE rules and regulations on the matter.

Meanwhile, Senator Bong Go expressed support on the committee report provided that should the closures push through, the security and livelihood of affected Filipinos would be protected.

“Suportado ako dito kung sakaling naghahasik na ng lagim dito at di na po nakakabuti sa peace and order ng ating bayan. Unahin natin ang peace and order, kapakanan at security ng bawat Pilipino... Aralin natin nang mabuti, ayaw naman natin na mawalan ng trabaho mga kababayan nating Pilipino,” Go said.

(I support the committee report if the POGOs really cause fear and no longer good for the peace and order of the country. Let us prioritize peace and order, welfare and security of every Filipino...Let us study this thoroughly because we also don't want our constitutents to lose their jobs.)

“Pilipino lang po ang para sa akin. Importante sa akin ang kapakanan ng Pilipino, importante sa akin security ng Pilipino at trabaho ng bawat Pilipino,” he added.

(What is important is the welfare of the Filipinos, their security and livelihood.)

Gatchalian has been pushing for the closure of POGOs in the country, stressing that any revenue derived from the industry is not worth the massive social costs associated with POGO-related crimes.

Even President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had said earlier that the POGOs might no longer be worth allowing if their conducts bring social cost to the country considering the crimes linked to them.

Marcos, however, pointed out that only illegal POGOs are the problem in the country as they were the ones usually involved in the abductions and killings.

The Chinese government has also been pursuing a crackdown on POGO-related criminal activities against Chinese citizens in the Philippines.

Citing data from the Philippine National Police (PNP), Gatchalian said there were 4,355 victims of POGO-related crimes from January 2017 to June 30 of this year, involving a total of 903 perpetrators.

Crimes committed included human trafficking, forcible abduction, homicide, illegal detention, kidnapping-for-ransom, theft, robbery-extortion, serious physical injuries, swindling, and grave coercion, among others.

Last year, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the country should do away with the POGOs, citing what he described as social and reputational risks.

The DOF also said that the economic benefits from the POGOs have been declining. Then Finance undersecretary Cielo Magno said that from the P7.18 billion in taxes that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collected from POGOs in 2020, this went down to P3.91 billion in 2021, and has only reached P3.90 billion from January to July 2022. 

Hontiveros expressed hope the proposed measure will be approved by both chambers of Congress, reiterating the ill-effects of POGOs to the country.

"Halos tatlong taon ko nang pinanawagan na palayasin na ang mga POGO sa bansa. Kaya, buong-buo ang ating suporta kay Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian sa kanilang committee report na tuluyan nang ipagbawal ang mga POGO. I have always believed that a total ban on POGO is right and just. Sana makalusot na ito sa Kongreso sa lalong madaling panahon," she said in a statement.

(I've been pushing for the expulsion of POGOs for almost three years. That is why I fully support Senator Gatchalian in their committee report pushing for the total ban on POGOs. I hope this will be passed by Congress the soonest possible time.)—Giselle Ombay, Jiselle Anne Casucian/AOL, GMA Integrated News