The operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or POGOs in some provinces in Luzon, where the Enhanced Community Quarantine will be lifted or downgraded, is being studied if those will be allowed to raise funds for the COVID-19 pandemic, an official said Monday.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the statement during a televised press briefing, saying the operations of POGOs was among the issues to be discussed by the Inter-Agency Task Force this week.
“POGOs are sources of funds to help fight COVID-19,” Roque said, but he admitted that under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the possible reopening of POGOs was nil.
“While some industries and sectors could resume partial to full operations in GCQ areas, other businesses will not be allowed to operate at all. These include those involved in leisure, amusement, gaming, fitness, recreational businesses,’’ Roque said.
Still, Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday challenged the government's plan to reopen POGO operations allegedly to boost the government’s revenue collection.
"Why give them [POGOs] the privilege to reopen when their contribution to the domestic economy is not big?" Robredo told CNN Philippines.
Filipino-owned business employing fellow Filipinos must be given the first consideration to reopen, and not the POGOs, she said.
Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. head Andrea Domingo and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, House appropriations committee chairman, had proposed the reopening of the POGOs.
The nominee of a party-list organization in the House of Representatives on Monday sought a legislative inquiry into POGO hubs “as they seem to be protected by corrupt officials.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate made the call after the arrest of 44 Chinese nationals in a raid on a POGO in Parañaque City that remained open despite President Rodrigo Duterte's order that they stop operating while the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine is in effect.
Zarate said the operation of that POGO, along with the pieces of evidence recovered from the raid, showed that this group was "part of a criminal syndicate in China or part of covert operations to subvert our laws and sovereignty."
"An investigation is in order because these incidents only show that even in this time of the pandemic, these POGOs are operating with impunity because apparently they are being protected by unscrupulous and corrupt officials," he said.
During a recent Senate inquiry, concerns were raised that POGO workers were being used to do undercover work for the People's Liberation Army of China.
Before the Senate started the hearings, two Chinese men who were arrested by the police on murder charges yielded PLA identification cards.