POGO green light confuses lawmaker

A HOUSE leader wants the government to clarify the real status of the Philippine Offshore and Gaming Corporation (POGO) business.

Chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusement and Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said he got confused when POGOs were given the green light to partially operate even during enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Barbers questioned the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management Of Emerging Infectious Disease’s to allow the operations of Chinese POGOs under ECQ and under General Community Quarantine.

He pointed out that while the IATF, under Resolution No. 30, extended the ECQ at the National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon (Region 3; Calabarzon (Region 4a) ang six other provinces and cities, it allowed the operations of POGOs and their more than 300,000 Chinese workers which are mostly based in Metro Manila.

The IATF, on the recommendation of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (POGO) approved POGOs' consideration as BPOs (business process outsourcing) and their workers exempted under ECQ or GCQ.

“The problem here is that under Category 4 of the IATF’s Resolution No. 30 signed by President Duterte last April 30, the sectors that are not allowed to operate, whether under ECQ or GCQ guidelines, include gambling and betting activities,” Barbers said.

“The IATF Reso No. 30 clearly stated it disallows gambling and betting activities. The IATF now considers POGOs as BPOs. The question is, would they now allow other BPOs to engage in gambling and betting activities so that their workers would be exempt from ECQ or GCQ?” he added.

The Spokesperson of the Palace said POGO can be considered as BPO.

The solon from Surigao del Norte said it would be bad for the IATF to be perceived as favoring POGOs and their workers to the detriment of daily-wage earner Filipino workers who abide by the ECQ or GCQ rules.

“Ibig ba sabihin nito pag tsokaran ang involved sa gambling and betting activities, ok lang at exempted. Pero pag hindi, tapos ka,” he said.

Barbers likewise stressed that IATF’s move is also tantamount to allowing more than 300,000 Chinese POGO workers to return to work and possibly become COVID-19 transmitters.

“Nakakalito, at medyo parang biased in favor of POGOs ang kanilang policy na payagan ang higit sa 300,000 na Chinese workers na makabalik sa kanilang trabaho samantalang milyun-milyung mahirap na Filipino workers ang nahinto sa trabaho at pilit na sumusunod sa patakaran ng IATF,” the solon said.

Barbers said there are several social and security issues in POGO operations, aside from their non-payment of more than P50 billion in fees and taxes; no BIR tax identification numbers (TIN) and smuggling of more than US$150 million purportedly for money laundering, drug trafficking and other suspicious activities or transactions.

House leaders led by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Minority leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. have both expresses reservations on the opening of POGOs during or after ECQ or GCQ.