MANILA – A senator suggested on Friday to give legal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) more time to stop operations after his colleague called for their immediate closure following numerous reports of POGO-related crimes.
Senator Sonny Angara said he respects the findings of the Committee on Ways and Means, which Senator Sherwin Gatchalian chairs, but pointed out that giving POGOs, especially the legitimate ones, three months to stop their operations may not be enough.
"We respect the work and findings of the committees who have diligently done their work investigating this matter and there is evidence that their presence has had some negative effects, especially in the peace and order domain. However, I don't believe three months is adequate time and notice to wrap up operations, especially for those who have made substantial investments," Angara said in a statement.
"A longer period would be more reasonable/justified given it was also the government which invited them to invest in the first place," he added.
Angara said that while he agrees for the immediate closure of illegal POGOs, the legitimate operators who pay their taxes and employee benefits, and have made substantial investments, should be given a longer period to phase out.
After a series of public hearings, Gatchalian urged for "the adoption of a resolution urging the executive department to immediately ban all POGO operations in the country with the end in view of upholding the safety of the Filipino people, and to sustain the path to growth and development consistent with the administration's economic reforms."
"Kung susumahin ang lahat ng mga ebidensya at datos na isiniwalat na kaugnay sa operasyon ng POGO, lumalabas na puro perwisyo lamang at walang pakinabang sa bansa ang mga POGO. Panahon na para buwagin ito (Considering all the evidences and data revealed in the operation of POGO, it turns out that POGOs are just giving inconvenience and useless to the country. It is time to abolish it)" Gatchalian said in his committee report.
Gatchalian also asked Congress to pass legislation that would separate the functions of regulation from operation in Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation's (PAGCOR) charter, saying a new entity should be created to perform solely regulatory functions, authorization, and licensing of games of chance and other forms of gambling.
He said PAGCOR will solely be a gambling operator.
The Department of Labor and Employment was also urged by the lawmaker to look for alternative employment placements for Filipino nationals employed by POGOs, taking into account their skills and capabilities with the possibility of being absorbed by other industries such as Information technology-business process outsourcing and manufacturing through proper coordination.
The report further urged the Bureau of Internal Revenue to collect the tax liabilities of PAGCOR's third-party auditor, POGO licensees, and their service providers which can be used to finance priority development projects of the government.
Gatchalian directed the Bureau of Immigration to cancel and revoke the working visas issued to foreign nationals employed in the POGO industry and implement their deportation.
Gatchalian fears more kidnapping cases, usually of bettors who incur debts, if POGO operations would continue.
Worse, he said some operators reportedly have protectors.
“Kung lumakas lakas ang loob nito at tingin nila hawak na nila ang mga awtoridad, pwedeng mag-kidnap 'yan ng local. At saan tayo tatakbo kung hawak na nila ang mga awtoridad? ‘Yan ang nakakatakot (They may be encouraged to do criminal acts because they can control some of our authorities and may kidnap locals. To whom shall we turn to? That’s really scary),” he said. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)