By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito B. Plaza has recommended to the government to relocate all Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) outside of Metro Manila and into the designated three gaming ecozones or put them in select islands in the country.
Under EO No. 13 issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on February 2, 2017, only the following government agencies are given the privilege and the right to operate and license gambling casinos: Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) within the entire territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines and in three investment promotion agencies (IPAs): Aurora Pacific Economic Zone Free Port Authority (APECO), Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), and Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB), within their respective territorial jurisdictions.
“The government can focus the location of online gambling in these three areas or put these operators in selected islands for security and safety purposes, but not in the existing business districts and urban centers of Metro Manila and other cities,” she urged.
“Pagcor is very capable to manage these selected Islands, designing these as Games and Recreation Tourism destinations similar to China’s Macau Island and Las Vegas of the USA,” the PEZA chief said.
Aside from the three IPAs, Plaza urged POGO operations to be located in “selected islands for security and safety purposes, but not in the existing business districts and urban centers of Metro Manila and other cities.”
Plaza explained that online gaming is not included as BPO based on PEZA and Department of Trade and Industry’s definition.
DTI and PEZA define BPO as the delegation of service-type business processes to a third-party service provider. The BPO in the Philippines is classified into the following sectors: Contact centers, back office services, data transcription, animation, software development, engineering development and game development.
“While PEZA is the highest contributor to export income to the country through its economic zones program and its export enterprises engaged in IT/BPO services as the biggest job provider; however, the agency does not include the registration of online gambling as it is not among those export-services provided in the PEZA law,” said Plaza.
Plaza said that PEZA does not have an authority to issue license to operate gambling casinos and online gambling in the country. Pagcor is the government agency that grants license and registration of POGOs.
Raymundo Roquero, CEZA deputy senior administrator, welcomed Plaza’s suggestion stressing that its special ecozone and freeport in Cagayan is a “secluded and a controlled environment so there are no social problems.”
He noted that CEZA lost more than Metro Manila-based 213 POGOs to PAGCOR with the issuance of EO 13.
So far, there are only two POGOs physically operating inside the special ecozone and freeport. These are the Chinese-owned two gaming offshore operations Succeed Asia and Eastern Hawaii with estimated 2,000 Filipino workers and 800 foreign workers including Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and Malaysians.
“These workers are housed inside the ecozone,” said Roquero although he said that only 50 percent are operating because some workers were not able to report due the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon since March 15.
CEZA also aims to become the fintech global hub. So far, it has already registered 26 firms, which are supposed to start within the year.
Roquero, however, said that these firms may not be able to start as scheduled as construction of some of the facilities inside the freeport had been pushed back because of the ECQ.