By Vanne Terrazola
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) might face a grilling in Senate for pushing the resumption of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, dared Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo to attend the Upper Chamber’s hearings to expound on her assertion that the controversial sector also generates employment for Filipinos, contrary to criticisms that it favors only foreign nationals.
“Sana siya ang umattend sa hearing natin. Bakit ba lagi siyang nagtatago tuwing tayo ay nagkakaroon ng pagdinig? Hinahamon natin siya na siya ‘yong mag-explain nito sa atin. Pangalawa, hindi sa akin mismo galing ang data. Ang data ay galing mismo sa Pagcor,” Villanueva told reporters in an online briefing Friday.
(She should be attending our hearing. Why is she elusive whenever we hold hearings on POGOs? We challenge her to explain this to us. And secondly, the data did not come from me. The data directly came from Pagcor.)
“Noong pagdinig natin, tatlong malalaking kompanya ng POGO service providers, pinakita natin sa screen, 3,000 mahigit ang kanilang empleyado pero zero Filipino workers. Yung ilan meron, isa, dalawa, apat. Pinakita natin ito and transparent naman tayo tuwing nagkakaroon tayo ng pagdinig. Hindi galing sa atin ang data na hindi nakakagawa ng trabaho para sa ating kababayan ang POGOs,” he recalled.
(During our hearing in February, we showed that the three biggest POGO companies and service providers had over 3,000 employees but there are zero Filipino workers. Some of them have few — one, two or four. We showed it and we have always been transparent in our committee hearings. The data that POGOs do not generate job for countryment did not come from us.)
Opposition Sens. Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros also questioned the government’s move to allow the resumption of POGO operations, instead of prioritizing sectors that employ Filipinos.
“Sabi ng DOLE two million na ng mga kababayan natin ang nawalan ng trabaho dahil sa COVID-19 lockdown. So bakit POGO operations na hindi naman nagbabayad ng tamang buwis ng mga negosyante at manggagawang Chinese ang minamadali na buksan ng Pagcor at ng gobyerno?” Pangilinan said.
(The Department of Labor and Employment said two million of our fellow Filipinos lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. So why did the government rush in opening POGO operations that are not even paying the right taxes of their Chinese owners and employees?)
“Papatawag natin ang Pagcor sa isang Senate hearing. Unahin ninyo ang trabaho at hanapbuhay ng mga nagugutom at walang nang makain nating mga kapwa Pilipino hindi ng mga Chinese, puwede ba? Sino ba pinagsisilbihan ninyo? Umayos kayo,” he added.
(We will summon the Pagcor in Senate hearing. Prioritize the employment of our hungry countrymen and not those of the Chinese, please? Who are you serving?)
Hontiveros, who also led a Senate hearing on the trafficking of POGO workers, likewise said: “Pagcor needs to explain why it recommended the reopening of POGOs when they haven’t even paid their taxes and are involved in prostitution and human trafficking.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the government, on Labor Day, authorized POGOs to resume operations provided that only 30 percent of the workforce will return to work while observing precautionary measures.
They shall also be required to settle their unpaid taxes as of March before reopening. Domingo said employees shall also be tested first.
The senators doubted that POGOs will comply with health protocols placed by the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19, since the sector had recorded numerous violations of the country’s laws.
They appealed to the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to reconsider their recommendation to include POGOs in the businesses allowed to reopen.