By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Senate will be conducting an inquiry on the government’s policies in regulating Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs).
Senator Joel Villanueva on Friday bared plans to file a resolution that will call for a legislative inquiry on government rules and regulations on the said industry which employs foreign workers.
Countering claims that POGOs boost the economy, Villanueva said the growth of the industry “is actually less beneficial” to the country and particularly harms Filipino businesses and workers in urban areas.
Citing an example, the senator said office lease prices have shot up due to the increased demand from foreigners employed in POGOs.
Residential rentals have also been rising “at a dizzying pace that it is becoming more expensive for Filipinos to rent near business districts or their places of work,” Villanueva added.
He said these were reported by Filipino office employees who opted not to renew their rents in the cities of Makati, Taguig, and Pasay because rent costs spiked.
“One report we received came from an office worker who paid P25,000 for a condominium unit in Pasay. She did not renew her contract because the unit owner planned to raise rent to P60,000,” he said.
He reiterated that the sector also does not create jobs for Filipinos because it hires primarily Chinese workers. The industry requires native speakers to cater to their clients in China.
Villanueva noted how the Philippines has become a refuge for Chinese gambling companies to evade the laws in the mainland. Gambling is illegal in China.
“With the way developments in the industry are unfolding, we fear that we are becoming the sin city of China with very little benefit to Filipinos and our economy,” Villanueva said.
The senator also shared the concern of some industry insiders that POGOs might pave the way for illegal activities.
“What worries me is if we can’t even tax them properly, how can we assure the public that these POGOs are not being used for illegal activities like money laundering?” he said.
Villanueva chaired the Senate labor committee which investigated the influx of illegal foreign workers during the 17th Congress. The panel found that the surge in the number of Chinese nationals in the country was relative to the growing POGO industry.
On Thursday, an inter-agency task force signed a memorandum circular which expands the guidelines and regulations governing foreign workers, including the penalties for those without proper documents.
The Department of Finance (DOF) also recently announced that it will start collecting income taxes from the salaries of workers in the POGO sector. The DOF estimated that the industry should be paying at least P2 billion a month in income taxes.
Villanueva lauded the planned requirement of getting a tax identification number for all foreign workers and the creation of an inter-agency database of foreign workers for monitoring, two of the Senate labor committee’s recommendations.
“It took three years before the government started collecting taxes from the sector. We are already set back at least P60 billion in foregone revenue,” he lamented.