Solon wants PH declared as ‘no POGO zone’

Alan Peter Cayetano

THE leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was urged to prioritize the passage of a proposed law seeking to declare the whole country a "no-POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations) zone." House Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido "Benny" Abante Jr. said his House Bill Number 6701 or the Anti-POGO Act of 2020 prohibits the operations of an industry that called a "social menace and a source of unimaginable corruption."

Under the measure, it disallows the "conduct of online games of chance or sporting events via the internet using a network and software or program, exclusively to offshore authorized players, within Philippine territory."

Abante said the prohibition covers the following acts: (1) facilitation of any offshore gaming thru any means or device within Philippine territory; (2) acceptance of any form of betting for purposes of offshore gaming operations; (3) acting as a service provider for offshore gaming operations in the Philippines; (4) creation of a POGO hub in the Philippines; (5) establishment of a gaming laboratory in the Philippines or providing services as a gaming laboratory; (6) possession of gaming paraphernalia; and (7) aiding in, protecting or abetting, the conduct of any act or activity prohibited or declared illegal under the measure.

HB No. No. 6700 defines POGOs as "any person/entities in the Philippines who will either conduct offshore gaming operations themselves or engage the services of service providers."

A POGO hub, on the other hand, is defined as "a complex which houses any of the operations in the Philippines, as well as other logistical, administrative and support services for offshore gaming operations." The bill, if passed, would revoke all existing licenses given by the government to POGOs currently operating in the country.

According to Abante, a longtime anti-gambling advocate, the measure also creates an Inter-Agency Task Force-POGOs (IATF-POGOs) that will be tasked to administer and implement the provisions of the Anti-POGO Act.

The task force will be chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Justice, with the Secretary of Department of Interior and Local Government as Vice Chairperson.

Members of the task force include the heads of the Department of Finance, Department of Information, Communication & Technology, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), Securities and Exchange Commission, and Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Those found violating the measure could be fined between 100,000 to 300,000 pesos and be imprisoned between four to six years for the first offense; fined 200,000 to 500,000 pesos and be imprisoned between six to eight years for the second offense; and fined five to ten million pesos and be imprisoned between seven to ten years for the third offense.

The measure points out that the POGO industry "has made a mockery of our anti-money laundering, immigration and tax laws" and "has been a source of untold criminal offenses and heinous crimes related to the conduct of such operations."

"Most of all, it has displaced hard-working Filipino people in favor of foreign workers. It has dissipated the energy and resources of our people and that there is a need to effectively combat this social menace because of its increasing danger to the State and its citizens."