By Ben Rosario and Charissa Luci-Atienza
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda backed Monday Malacañang’s decision to allow the continued operation of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), saying the rising industry contributes to the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Salvado Panelo said President Duterte is convinced that government earnings from POGO could be used in carrying out anti-COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) measures.
Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said there is a clear logic to Malacañang’s stand since POGOs have been making huge contributions to government.
He said the country has benefitted from POGO operations, citing that estimated tax collection from POGOs for years 2018 and 2019 stood at P22.44 billion.
“The total estimated tax collection is P22.4 billion inclusive of VAT (value added tax) from rent, VAT from workers consumption. Second, the contribution to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is P94.87 billion,” he told reporters.
Salceda said that if disadvantages from POGO operations were to be compared to the advantages, the online gaming industry is still a huge gain for the Philippines.
“Malulugi ba tayo dahil po sa mga ginagamit natin na police expenditures for the police work? (Are we going to lose just because of the police expenditures for the police work?) I don’t think so. In fact, we are ahead with POGO. The issue there really is if China will not punish us because China wants it closed,” Salceda said.
Of the P22.44 billion estimated tax collection, P14.28 billion was recorded in 2019, which is 69.7 percent increase from 2018’s P8.42 billion.
Salceda said he supported the President’s decision “based on the data” and on POGOs’ contributions to the GDP.
“Definitely, it can be said [that benefits outweigh the cost],” Salceda said. “There is empirical evidence to support the position of the President.”
Of the P14.28 billion tax collection in 2019, P2.84 billion came from VAT from rent, P3.55 billion from VAT from workers’ consumption, P1.48 billion from excise taxes (sugar-sweetened beverages, sin taxes, incidence of fuel excise), and P6.42 billion from POGO taxes collected.
The breakdown of the P8.42 billion tax collection in 2018 is as follows: P2.52 billion from VAT from rent, P2.48 billion from VAT from workers’ consumption, P1.04 billion from excise taxes (sugar-sweetened beverages, sin taxes, incidence of fuel excise), and P2.38 billion from POGO taxes collected.
Panelo said Duterte will neither suspend nor dismantle POGO operations in the country despite the supposed involvement of POGO workers in criminal activities, including kidnapping, sex trafficking, money laundering, bribery and tax evasion.
He said there is “no reason for a shutdown,” adding that the President is satisfied with the report given by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) on the financial gains POGO contributes.
There have been calls from various quarters, including members of the Lower House, to end POGO operations in the country, as these are being blamed for an alleged rise in criminality.
However, there remains no strong evidence to support such accusations as most of the crimes attributed against Chinese individuals hired by POGO operators are either petty and committed mainly against their compatriots, it was gathered.
In a statement, House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the continued operations of POGOs “puts our country’s national security and social fabric in grave peril.”
“As they are, POGOs are like China’s version of the U.S Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) here in the Philippines, as far as the national security threats and anti-social activities they breed,” he said.
“Reports say that at least 3,000 POGO workers that come and go in the country like that under the VFA are undercover Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers of China. Yet, despite billions of intelligence funds, all we hear from the security sector is that they are still validating it. That is the height of sloppy work, even incompetence,” Zarate said.
He said POGOs have also become a hub of anti-social activities like gambling, prostitution, money laundering, and illegal drugs.
The progressive solon said the POGOs, which are located near military and police bases, can easily be turned into spying sites.
“China may, directly or indirectly, use these POGO hubs, especially with their aggressive and militaristic stance in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), and we have been calling since last year to stop the operations of POGOs in the Philippines because it endangers the lives of Filipinos,” Zarate said.