Hontiveros: POGOs not a good foreign investment for PH

Senator Risa Hontiveros has reiterated her stance that the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) would never be a good investment for the country.

The Senate, on Wednesday night, passed on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 2232 which seeks to impose additional taxes on POGO operations and related service providers. Hontiveros was among the three senators who voted against the bill.

“From the discussions and debates over the past couple of days, the Senate is in agreement that online gambling is not the kind of foreign direct investment that we want to encourage. In fact, almost all forms of gambling, including online gambling are illegal in mainland China,” Hontiveros said when she explained her negative vote during the deliberations on the bill.

“That is why we’re not surprised to learn that many of the characters involved in this so-called industry have ties to criminal syndicates and organized crime,” the senator said.

Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women and Children, had earlier launched an investigation into the so-called “pastillas scam” which allowed the seamless entry of Chinese nationals, mostly working in POGOs, in the country. The rise in prostitution and kidnapping in the Philippines were linked to the industry.

The senator lamented that lawmakers are eager to approve the bill without even knowing how many POGO workers or even online gambling companies are already currently operating in the Philippines.

“That is how opaque this industry is,” Hontiveros pointed out.

President Duterte had certified the bill as urgent while the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation—which acts as regulator for POGOs—fiercely lobbied for the resumption of POGO operations amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” she said.

On the other hand, the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) clamped down on POGOs for not paying the proper taxes amounting to over P20-billion.

“I think it is important for this chamber to take a stronger position against online gambling and the illicit activity it has brought to our shores. Let’s not kid ourselves,” Hontiveros stressed during her speech.

“I had hoped that we could have used this opportunity not just to raise revenues for our country that badly needs revenues, but also to bear down heavily on an industry that has caused our people so much,” the senator said.

“How long before online gambling providers in other markets target Philippine citizens and ruin Philippine families, if they do not already do so? It is for these reasons that I cannot support the passage of this bill,” the lawmaker reiterated.