The Parañaque City government ordered some 35,000 Chinese employees of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operation to submit next week the result of their COVID-19 test to ensure they are virus-free when they return to work next month.
Mayor Edwin Olivarez also ordered POGO operators and managers to examine their returning workers for coronavirus symptoms, travel history, and possible exposure to the virus 14 days prior to reporting for work.
Olivarez signed and issued Executive Order 37 directing public and private employees to undergo mandatory testing to reduce the transmission of the virus in the city. On the other hand, employers should have their employees tested to ensure that only COVID-free people are working.
The city government is monitoring the movements of the foreign nationals who are employed in POGO firms amid COVID-19 pandemic scare not only in Metro Manila but the entire country.
As of June, last year, there are 56 PAGCOR-licensed POGOs. It is estimated that at least 30 firms are operating in the Philippines illegally.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Parañaque is hosting 19 POGO offices with 18,000 to 22,000 workers. Besides, there about 10,000 to 13,000 Chinese nationals are into restaurant and convenient store business using Filipino dummies while others are reportedly involved in prostitution.
There are 138,000 foreigners employed by POGOs as of May 2019, with 83,760 of them holders of special work permits allowing them to stay in the country for at most six months.
Since the POGO firms are operating in the city, the city government directed to examine them for COVID-19. In a period of seven days they must have a testing for employees, Olivarez explained.
“If these employees failed to comply with this requirement, for sure they cannot continue to work while the POGO operations will not be allowed,” he said.
The city chief executive pointed out that employers must find a government accredited testing facility on their own and “they will also shoulder the cost of each test.”
Olivarez explained that employees who fail to submit COVID test result face a corresponding charges. The Order, he said, is in the exercise of police power of the local government unit for the general welfare of people.
Last April, authorities arrested 44 Chinese nationals and nine Filipinos involved in illegal online gambling activities.
The 53 suspects were nabbed at the Mayuga Compound, Barangay Tambo, Parañaque City, local operatives said.
Meanwhile, the Accredited Service Providers of PAGCOR (ASPAP) said that no government money went to COVID-19 testing of POGO personnel, in the face of insinuations that government funds POGO mass testing.
“Pursuant to the protocols governing the resumption of POGO operations, returning POGO workers are subjected to COVID-19 tests and the costs are borne by the service providers. No single penny comes from government to pay such procedure,” said Lawyer Margarita Gutierrez, ASPAP spokesperson.
Prior to resumption of limited POGO operations, protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) with the Department of Health (DOH), National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF), and PAGCOR include mass testing of POGO employees, mostly Filipinos, before returning to work.
As this developed, calls mount for the mass testing of returning private sector employees as the modified enhanced community quarantine takes effect.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacanang is constrained to leave such initiative in the hands of the private sector.
Roque explained that the Duterte administration needs to ramp up its testing capability by establishing more test laboratories and acquiring test kits that are now in short supply in the world market add to that the fast-eroding government funds to respond to the pandemic.
“The private sector is not required to give COVID testing for their employees. There are initiatives from the private sector whose members will conduct testing for their returning employees but mostly using rapid test kits,” Roque said in one of his press briefings.
“We are in the process of increasing our testing capacity and that’s why we are aiming to reach about 30,000. But in terms of mass testing like what is being done in Wuhan for all their 11 million residents, we don’t have that kind of program and we’re leaving such initiative to the private sector,” he added.
With this handicap, ASPAP stepped up its mass testing initiatives and started to offer testing to non-POGO personnel free of charge.
“Part of our shared responsibility in the fight against the invisible enemy is to help the authorities contain the spread of the virus through mass testing. ASPAP is providing free COVID19 tests to non-POGO staff,” Gutierrez said.
“We are in this together. Partnership between the public and private sector is most crucial at this time and ASPAP is not stepping back on this challenge. Whether it is free mass testing or revenue generation to boost the COVID19 response programs, our members will be there united with the nation towards economic recovery,” she stressed.