The Department of Justice on Monday said that it has taken immediate action on the reports that sexually transmitted diseases have been spreading among foreign workers of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).
“The DOJ has received various reports concerning the spread of STD (among POGO workers),” Justice Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Jose Dominic Clavano IV said.
Clavano did not provide further details on the extent of the spread of STDs among POGO workers, except to say that they received a report of 15 to 20 cases in one POGO company.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been instructed “to determine the full extent of this,” he said.
Clavano also said the Bureau of Immigration is set to cancel the visas of 48,782 Chinese and other foreign nationals who worked for POGOs whose licenses have been canceled by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).
In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco said the agency has already started the verification of the 48,782 Chinese nationals.
He said this would be completed in a month.
“Upon receipt of the information from PAGCOR, we immediately started cross-checking their employees to determine which ones are still in the country,” the BI chief said.
Tansingco also said it would be better to cancel their visas instead of deporting them.
If their visas are cancelled, they are given 59 days to voluntarily leave the country, he said.
“If they fail to leave, it is then that we initiate deportation proceedings,” he added.
The BI is finalizing arrangements for deporting 331 Chinese nationals and 41 other nationals rounded up in separate operations of the NBI and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Pasig and Angeles in September.
He added that 43 of the total workers have been physically turned over to the BI, while the rest remain in the physical custody of the arresting agency.
The PNP said Monday a total of 3,198 POGO workers have applied for police clearance as authorities crack down on illegal activities linked to the industry.
PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin said during a press briefing at Camp Crame in Quezon City that the PNP and local government units are working on a documentation mechanism for POGO workers to keep track of their activities and to ensure compliance with PNP clearance and LGU administrative requirements.
Earlier, the POGOs agreed to comply with the clearances from both the PNP and the NBI as part of the requirements for working in the country.
This was an offshoot of the meeting they initiated with POGOs amid the rising cases of criminal activities in the country involving their workers.
In a Senate hearing Monday, Chinese business groups said illegal and unregistered POGOs should be shut down.
The Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) and the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCCI) said business entities, whether Chinese or Filipino should abide by the law.
“Illegal POGOs must be closed, and their alien employees deported,” the FFCCIII said in a statement read before the Senate hearing.
“All POGOs and their employees, whether Filipinos or foreign citizens, must follow the laws of the Philippines. (They) should obtain the necessary permits, [and] pay correct taxes and fees,” the group continued.
Both business groups, however, noted the undeniable benefits POGOs contributed to the local economy such as taxes collected from their operations and their contribution to the growth of the real estate and property sector.
Despite the economic benefits, the groups underscored the increase in the crime rate associated with POGO operations such increases in abductions, cases of prostitution and forced labor.
Leechiu Property Consultants, Inc. (LPC) CEO David Leechiu said POGOs drove property and real estate prices due to the sheer demand for residences for their employees and for office space.
“Their demand outpriced the local demand and put a premium on condominiums and office spaces,” he said.
According to government data, revenue collected from licensed POGO companies reached P4.83 billion, as of August 2022.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) said revenues from POGOs from January to July 2023 amounted to P1.9 billion and cumulative revenues from 2016 to August 2022 were about P30.8 billion.
The Senate committee in ways and means opened a probe to determine if the benefits of allowing POGOs to continue to operate in the Philippines outweigh the social costs.
At Monday’s hearing:
• The Department of Finance acknowledged it had no data to support its position that the social costs outweigh the benefits of POGOs.
• The PNP said since the last Senate hearing on POGOs on Sept. 15, there were no POGO-related crimes reported.
• In his presentation, BIR Director Sixto Dy said for the first semester of 2022, the total taxes collected from POGOs amounted to P3.9 billion, which is almost equivalent to the collections for 2021 at P3.9 billion. Currently, he said the total collection for 2022 is P4.83 billion. He also said data provided by the Bureau of Local Employment showed a gradual increase in the number of Filipino workers as against foreign nationals employed in the POGO industry.