By Ellson Quismorio
The national government ought to compel locally licensed Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) to cough up some P50 billion in unpaid taxes and use the funds in the effort to fight the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers aired this on Sunday as authorities try to scramble for ways to help the overstretched health sector as well as mitigate the socio- economic impact of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
“If only the PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) and BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) could compel these POGOs from paying their tax due of P50 billion in 2019, that would be sufficient for use in the fight against COVID-19. There is no more need for Congress to enact laws and for the government to secure loans to fight the virus,” he said.
Barbers made the call in the wake of reports emanating from PAGCOR that local POGO operators have donated P150 million in the government’s campaign to halt the spread of the deadly illness.
“While we appreciate and are grateful for the much-needed donation, it is just a miniscule part of the taxes they owed to the Philippine government. Perhaps now is the perfect timing for them to pay their taxes. And that’s P50 billion,” said the chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs.
During a Senate hearing last February 10, lawyer Sixto Dy, Jr. from the BIR Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations bared that the majority of the 60 licensed POGO operators failed to pay an estimated P50 billion in withholding income and franchise taxes last year.
Barbers said that aside from being tax-delinquent, POGOs have yet to erase the alleged social ills brought about by their presence in the country.
The Mindanao solon has long suspected illegal drugs syndicates of using POGOs as a money laundering tool.
Last March 17, President Duterte placed the Luzon under a month-long ECQ as a way to stop the contagion.
Barbers said the Department of Health (DOH) badly need funds to procure personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing kits, among others, to help frontline health workers who have been tirelessly performing their jobs.
On the issue of the on-going construction of POGO hubs in Clark in Pampanga and Kawit, Cavite, the lawmaker reiterated his call for PAGCOR to cancel the permits and shut down these self-contained hubs.
PAGCOR has granted 60 licenses for these foreigner-owned POGOs, while there are reports that some 200 “kolorum” or unlicensed POGOs are also operating in the country.