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Marcos allies in House split over POGO ban

Administration lawmakers are split over the proposed ban on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

House human rights panel chairperson and Manila lawmaker Benny Abante has called on the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to prohibit the operation of POGOs while House ways and means panel chairperson and Albay lawmaker Joey Salceda wants the gaming regulator to instead weed out delinquent POGOs.

“We should ban this. These are Chinese, and I don’t believe they are ordinary Chinese citizens. It hardly makes sense that they can just come here and awash with money,” Abante said.

“The question is, who gives them such huge amounts of money? They are now entering politics, they (POGO hubs) are involved in drugs, even torture of individuals. We should not turn a blind eye to these and the government should really do something about it,” Abante added. 

Salceda, however, said that  Pagcor’s data submission to his office would show that its revenue collections from Offshore Gaming Licensees reached P5.1 billion covering 87 licensees in 2023, higher than the 2022 figures of P2.99 billion covering 158 licensees.

Salceda said that the 2023 figures are only exceeded by 2019 collections, the first full year of legalized POGOs when Pagcor collected some P7.96 billion of revenues from 298 licensees.

“As far as a supposed ‘phase-out’ is concerned, that’s the kind of phase-out I fully support: You phase out the bad and mediocre licensees,” Salceda said.

“You don’t phase the whole industry out. You enforce the law,” Salceda said.

Salceda also said that while Chinese workers in the POGO industry peaked at 200,000, only 8,500 are direct Chinese hires.

He also said that the POGO industry employs around 25,000 Filipinos.

“PAGCOR has been enforcing rules on POGOs better, and they are turning the sector into an industry that creates more jobs for Filipinos and no longer relies exclusively on Chinese demand or labor,” Salceda said.

A bill banning POGOs has been approved at the committee level in the House of Representatives in February but it has yet to gain ground. 

Another bill banning POGOs was also filed on Tuesday following the discovery of a huge POGO hub in Porac, Pampanga.  This came after the operations against a complex running POGO in Bamban, Tarlac.—LDF, GMA Integrated News