ILLEGAL. The Makati City government closes down a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator in Barangay Pio del Pilar in July 2020. The firm illegally employed Chinese and Burmese workers and had no business permit. (Courtesy of Makati LGU)

MANILA – The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) assured the Senate on Monday that it is strengthening security measures in areas occupied by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) but the Department of Finance maintained their continued stay is not worth it.

Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo, NCRPO chief, said police officials, Bureau of Immigration and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation have met with POGO officials on how to maintain peace in the industry.

"Una, nag-focus kami sa (First, we focus on) police visibility. Second, nagdagdag ako ng mga outpost sa mga (I added outposts in) POGO areas. More on crime prevention, Sir," Estomo said during the joint inquiry conducted by the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs and Ways and Means.

When asked by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian if he personally wants POGOs to continue, Estomo answered in the affirmative.

"Gusto kong ipagpatuloy kasi syempre nakakatulong sa bansa natin. Nakausap ko rin yang mga POGO [operators] na 'yan. Maraming mga Pilipino na nakikinabang na kinukuha silang empleyado din ng POGO (I want it to continue because it helps our country. I have talked to POGO operators. A lot of Filipinos are benefiting as they are being hired as POGO employees)," Estomo said.

Department of Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno disagreed, saying while POGO revenues contribute to the government coffers, these come at significant social costs to the economy.

"Studies on the POGO industry have shown that POGO operations involve illegal activities such as prostitution, employment of minors, and violation of labor laws," Diokno said in his position paper submitted to the committee, citing police reports on POGO-related crimes.

"It is time to pursue investments that will create value and high-quality jobs for our people, in line with our vision of an inclusive and sustainable economic development," Diokno added.

The Immigration department report said 17,509 foreign nationals are working for POGOs as of June 30.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment's Bureau of Local Employment said that as of September, 23,183 Filipinos in POGOS are earning between PHP30,000 and PHP59,999 per month; 270 employees are getting between PHP60,000 and PHP89,999; and 128 employees are earning at least PHP90,000.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said of 34 POGOs issued licenses to operate and 130 service providers, only 14 have Filipino employees.

Senator Grace Poe said POGOs pose “a clear and present danger” to the country's reputation as an investment destination.

"We remain on the gray list because of the way the Philippine government deals with the POGO industry," Poe said in her opening statement. (PNA)