By Argyll Geducos
Malacañang denied that it was playing favorites among industries after the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases allowed Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to operate under both the enhanced and general community quarantine (ECQ and GCQ).
In an interview over state-run PTV-4, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque explained that POGOs are considered part of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector and not the gaming sector. BPO is allowed under both ECQ and GCQ.
“Matagal na po ‘yang approval na ‘yan. Ang POGOs naman po kasi ay isang klase ng BPO (That has been approved for a long time now. POGOs are a kind of BPO),” he said Saturday.
“Wala pong favoritism diyan (There’s no favoritism there). On the contrary, the equal protection clause provides that all those similarly situated must be treated alike,” he added,
“So dahil isang klaseng BPO ang POGO, kinakailangan mapabuksan din sila, be it ECQ or GCQ (So since POGO is a kind of BPO, it needs to be allowed to operate, be it during the ECQ or GCQ),” he explained.
Roque reiterated that no gambling activity is taking place in the Philippines and the country only has the computers, hardware, and software needed to run the operations.
“Lahat po ‘yan sa abroad. Hindi po ‘yan nangyayari dito sa Pilipinas (The gambling takes place overseas, not in the Philippines),” he said.
“So wala po’ng casino na pinayagang magbukas dahil ang POGOs po ay isang klase lamang ng BPO (No casinos were allowed to reopen POGOs are a kind of BPO),” he added.
Roque earlier explained that a POGO must meet the following conditions before being allowed to operate:
1. All proceeds will go to the government’s COVID-19 response efforts
2. Only 30 percent of their workforce are allowed
3. Settle taxes and obtain clearance from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) that they are paying taxes
4. Show proof of paying all fees required by PAGCOR
5. Shoulder the testing of its employees for COVID-19
6. Implement strict physical distancing
7. Employees must wear face masks
8. POGOs must provide a shuttle service or lodging for employees
9. POGO must pay their employees even during days they were not able to work
The Palace official said the PAGCOR will be monitoring the compliance of POGOs with health standards and that the agency is expected to coordinate with the Department of Health (DOH).
Meanwhile, Roque said POGOs are expected to pay up to P600 million once they resume operations. However, it may take a while because of the numerous requirements.
Malacañang earlier explained that should the government allow POGOs to operate, it would be because the country needs money to fund its COVID-19 efforts.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) earlier said POGOs generate only P7 billion in net inflows while the BIR revealed that over P27 billion in tax liabilities remain uncollected from the sector.
Last year, President Duterte warned POGOs that he will go after them if they fail to pay taxes.
China has urged the Philippines to ban POGOs as gambling is illegal in their country. The Philippines, however, has a law allowing POGOs to operate.