Senator Grace Poe is supporting calls for a possible ban on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) due to rising crimes related to the industry.
She also said the social costs of POGOs are “too high,” noting that there have been many POGO-related abductions and decreasing tax collections from the industry
A recent report said more than 70 foreigners allegedly detained at POGO site in Cainta have been rescued. Authorities are also set to deport 40,000 Chinese workers in online gaming crackdown.
“These are questions that we really have to consider before we make a categorical decision on whether we should ban them or not,” she said, quoted by an ABS-CBN News report. “But my leanings now, unless otherwise they could improve during our hearing with the [Senate] Ways and Means [Committee] next week, is the social costs are a bit too high.”
She said the country should consider “creative ways” to generate income.
“We cannot support something just because we earn from it. We should also ask, ‘What are we exchanging for this?” the lawmaker said. Poe also dismissed concerns the total ban would only drive these online gambling operators underground.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said earlier this month that revenues from POGOs peaked in 2020 at P7.2 billion but fell sharply last year to P3.9 billion.
David Leechiu, chief executive of Manila-based Leechiu Property Consultants, in the ABS-CBNNews report, said the Philippine economy could lose an estimated P200 billion in rental revenue and salaries if POGOs were expelled.
A Senate panel will set a hearing next week on the economic impact of banning POGOs.
Deputy Speaker Raymond Democrito Mendoza of partylist group Trade Union Congress of the Philippines meanwhile on Wednesday appealed to the government to apply fair and equal treatment to POGO workers. Maricel V. Cruz
Mendoza made the appeal as the Department of Justice (D)OJ announced plans to deport at least 2,000 POGO workers by October as part of crackdown on foreign workers who are still in the country illegally following the termination of their POGO firms’ licenses.
According to Mendoza, since the Philippine government demands fair and equal treatment for OFWs in their host countries, it should extend the same to foreign workers.
“TUCP calls on the government to pay equal attention to the plight of these foreign workers,” said Mendoza, “because we ourselves have also deployed millions of overseas Filipino workers and seafarers abroad.”
“Government must ensure the proper treatment of these foreign POGO workers in the same manner that we demand the proper treatment of our OFWs abroad,” stressed the labor leader, adding that do unto POGO workers what you would want foreign governments to do unto overseas Filipino workers.
This developed as Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chair of the House ways and means committee, urged government should tighten its rules covering recruiters for POGOs and stop them from poaching workers already hired by competitors.
Salceda, the House resident economist, said in a news forum that the recent controversy involving POGOs was not about kidnapping. He said it was about 200 workers already working for a POGO in Angeles City brought to Pasig City.
Salceda said the unsavory reputation of POGOs are due to the following three interlocking problems of illegal POGOs that are not sanctioned by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), illegal working aliens, and unscrupulous recruiters.
The solution, he said, is to tighten the enforcement of rules involving POGOs by keeping them in specific areas so that any POGO operation outside these POGO-specific areas is automatically considered illegal.
Expressing similar sentiments was Nagkaisa Chairperson Sonny Matula, who emphasized that like many Filipino OFWs abused abroad, foreign POGO workers should not be considered criminals, but victims of shady labor and business practices.
Data from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, on the other hand, show that there are a total of 120,976 POGO workers in the country as of 2020. Of the 120,976 foreign POGO workers, 69,613 are Chinese, 3,000 are Vietnamese, 2,400 are Indonesians, 1,700 are Taiwanese, 1,200 are Malaysians, with the remaining number from 44 other countries.
During the pandemic, POGOs brought in P32 billion a year to the Philippines.
Salceda said POGO revenues, including the 25 percent income tax from POGO workers regardless of nationality, are expected to be higher this year.
However, he said, because the Philippines has one of the most restrictive and brutal POGO laws, they are moving to other countries like Cambodia.