By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Joel Villanueva protested on Friday the government’s decision to allow the resumption of the operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) amid the still-unresolved COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Villanueva insisted that POGOs are “non-essential” and should not be included in the industries to be partially opened in modifying the quarantine rules to help the local economy.
“I don’t see the logic for allowing POGO to operate. Even prior to the pandemic, we said that this industry has no positive net benefit to Filipino society,” he told reporters over Viber.
The chair of the Senate labor committee also said there is no assurance that POGOs will comply with the health protocols that have been put in place, especially as the industry was infamous for its violations of the country’s laws and regulations.
“Sa nakalipas na mga taon, inihayag na ng ating Committee on Labor ang samu’t-saring mga paglabag ng mga POGO sa ating batas (Over the recent years, our committee found out that POGOs have committed numerous violations of our laws). Ano ang garantiya natin na susundin nila ang mga panuntunan ng pamahalaan pagdating sa OSH. (What is our guarantee that they will indeed follow our government in implementing occupational safety and health standards)?” Villanueva said.
The government, he said, should not be prioritizing POGOs over more important sectors that have actually been contributing to the country’s economy.
He also reminded the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), which has been pushing for the resumption of POGOs, that these only contribute to 0.04 percent of the gross domestic product, aside from employing mostly Chinese nationals.
“Umamin rin ang Pagcor na may 120 iligal na POGO (The Pagcor also admitted that there are some 120 POGOs that have been illegally operating). Ito ang dapat nilang pinagtutuunan ng pansin ‘di ba (This is the issue that they should be paying attention to, isn’t it)?
“Pinagtataka po natin kung bakit kating-kati ang ilan sa atin na prioritize ang sektor na ito? Tulungan po muna natin ang mga mas mahalagang sektor na nag-aambag sa ekonomiya at lumilikha ng trabaho para sa ating mga kababayan. Bakit foreign nationals’ interest ang uunahin?” he lamented.
(We are puzzled why some in our government are insisting on prioritizing this sector. We should be helping the sectors that have more contributions to our country and are creating more jobs for our countrymen. Why are we prioritizing the interests of foreign nationals?)
“With the pandemic, they might just contribute to further spreading the disease. So there is no reasonable explanation for allowing them to operate if we are truly thinking of the welfare of the Filipinos,” Villanueva maintained.
Other senators also said believed that there are more important industries that should be operating instead of POGOs.
“To me it’s not an essential business,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told the Manila Bulletin in a text message, although saying he respects the call of the executive department.
Senator Leila de Lima, for her part, said the government should heed the clamor of Filipino workers and come up with “clear and concrete” plans to help them, instead of prioritizing foreigners.
“Unahing pagbuksan ng oportunidad kaysa dayuhan pa ang maging prayoridad (Prioritize Filipinos in opening up opportunities, not the foreigners),” she said.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed the announcement of Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo on Friday that POGOs are now allowed to operate in areas placed under enhanced community quarantine and general community quarantine.
Officials argued that these are part of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, and not under gaming, despite catering to foreign gamblers.