By Mario Casayuran
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said today the national government has P1.5 trillion to address the multi-faceted problems and issues caused by coronavirus disease (COVID-19) without allowing Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to resume operations, even partially.
Drilon, a former Senate president, said the Duterte administration can realign the P1.5 trillion in the 2019 and 2020 budgets, based on a Congress-approved authority for COVID-19 related-expenditures embedded in the Bayanihan Act of 2020.
Drilon said he has no objections to Congress passing a supplemental budget ‘’if needed,’’ but asked how the initial P275 billion allowed by the Bayanihan Act for the current health emergency has been re-aligned and how much has been disbursed so far.
He also said he would file a resolution inquiring into the reasons why POGO operations would be allowed to resume since it is a gambling enterprise, and not an essential service.
Drilon also said he would ask, ‘’for the sake of transparency,’’ Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chairperson Andrea Domingo, whose agency regulates POGOs.
Chinese nationals are thought to be POGO operators and POGO clients are in China. POGO operations do not employ Filipino workers, Drilon, a former Labor secretary, pointed out.
Pagcor has stated that the estimated annual taxes from POGO operations is P8 billion, but senators Risa Hontiveros and Drilon have said POGO operations are linked to morality issues and crimes such as human trafficking, prostitution, and kidnappings.
Moreover, Hontiveros said the POGOs have not yet paid P50 billion in withholding income taxes and franchise payments for 2019.
Drilon also questioned whether POGO managers could follow Department of Health (DOH) protocols such as social or physical distancing, since past incidents have shown 30 POGO employees staying in one house, and their vans are full of foreign workers.
“There are too many risks,’’ he added.