By Genalyn Kabiling
Faced with the mounting government expenses for coronavirus response, President Duterte is no magician who can simply cast a spell to make money, Malacañang said Monday.
According to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, the President must continue to augment fiscal resources for the coronavirus response measures, even if it includes the possible reopening of the offshore gaming industry.
Of the P397 billion authorized by Congress for government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he said the government has so far spent P352 billion.
“Napakadami natin pangangailangan. Malinaw po na P397 billion ang nilaan sa COVID-19, 352 na ang nagastos natin. Patuloy pa rin na nangangailangan ang ating mga kababayan (We have many needs. It is clear that of the P397 billion allowed for COVID-19, we already spent P352 billion. Our countrymen are still in need of assistance),” he said during a virtual press briefing.
“Hindi naman pupuwede mag-magic ang Presidente at lumabas ang pera para panggastuan. Syempre dapat may pagkunan (The President can’t use magic to make money that can be used. Of course there should be funding sources),” he added.
Roque said that Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) are still not allowed to operate during the quarantine period. The decision on whether or not to reopen the offshore gaming activities will depend on the needs of the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, he added.
“Ang POGOs under sa GCQ (general community quarantine) guidelines mananatiling sarado ‘yan. Kung ang desisyon ay pabuksan ‘yan, ang tanging basehan po ay simple. Kinakailangan natin ng pondo para magastos sa pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan. ‘Yun lang ‘yan. Simple mathematics (Under the GCQ guidelines, POGOs will closed. If the decision is to reopen, the only basis is simple. We will need the funds to spend for the needs of our people. That’s it. It’s simple mathematics),” he said.
“Bagamat wala pang desisyon, napakadami natin pangangailangan (Although there is no decision yet, we have many needs),” he said.
The government recently ruled that establishments involved in amusement and leisure such as POGOs must remain closed even in areas under general community quarantine. The decision came even as the Palace recognized POGOs provide additional revenues for the government.
With the temporary ban on POGOs, Roque insisted that the government will run after companies that will operate illegally while the quarantine regulations are in effect.
He added that it was up to immigration authorities to decide whether to deport the foreigners caught illegally working in POGOs.
“Lahat ng lumabag sa batas hindi na pabubuksan. walang protektor diiyan. Ang lahat ng POGOs ay nasa ilalim ng PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation). Tanging PAGCOR lamang ang puwedeng magbigay otoridad para mag-operate (All violators will not be allowed to reopen. There are no protectors there. All POGOs are under the supervision of PAGCOR. Only PAGCOR can give them authority to operate),” he said.
President Duterte recently extended until May 15 the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease.
Other places with moderate and low risk of coronavirus spread will be placed placed under general community quarantine starting May 1. Public transport are allowed in reduced capacity while some select establishments may reopen subject to health standards under GCQ guidelines.