By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday appealed to the national government to reconsider authorizing the reopening of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zubiri admitted that he is also “not too keen” on allowing the operations of POGOs.
Like his colleagues, he doubted that the sector will comply with the health protocols set by the government to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, and, instead, would further worsen the outbreak.
“Alam naman po natin na lumalabag ang POGOs na ‘to. Ilang POGO operations na ba ang hinuli dahil may violations? Maraming pasaway na POGOs, ‘pag binigyan natin ng blanket authority itong mga operators na ‘to – feeling ko punuan ‘yan sa isang building at kung isa sa kanila ang nahawaan – we could have hundreds of cases in a building,” Zubiri told reporters in an online meeting.
(We are aware that POGOs have been violating laws. How many POGO operations have been apprehended for committing violations. Several POGOs are stubborn, if we give them the blanket authority to operate – and I feel they will cramp in their building and if one them gets infected with COVID-19 – we could have hundreds of cases in a building.)
The Department of Health-led Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recently recommended the partial resumption of POGO operations in areas under community quarantine. Officials said this would soften the COVID-19’s recessionary impacts.
But Zubiri also shared sentiments that the controversial sector do not significantly contribute to the economy, recalling their tax-evasion record.
“Siguro pag-isipan muna ng executive paano masisingil [ang mga] POGO na ito… Kung maliit lang income tapos magkaroon pa tayo ng problema sa COVID-19 contamination… pag-isipan muna nang mabuti bago paumpisahan muli ang operations ng POGO,” he said.
(Maybe, the executive branch could focus first on how to compel these POGOs to pay their taxes. If we only get minimal income from it, and we will end up having more problems with COVID-19 contamination… they should carefully study this before allowing POGO operations to resume.)
Zubiri said he would discuss with his colleagues in Senate and suggest the adoption of a resolution to discourage the reopening of POGOs, although he noted that this would only have a “persuasive effect” to the executive department.
“Majority of the senators are against the opening of POGOs during the GCQ. We feel that a number of people living in an enclosed space will enhance the contamination of COVID-19… Napaka-delikado (It’s too dangerous). At this point in time, it’s not worth the risk and I don’t think we should pursue that,” he said.
Bills have been filed in Senate seeking to prohibit or regulate POGO operations in the country, but a counterpart measure should also be pushed in the House of Representatives, Zubiri said.