Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) pose a national security threat, opposition Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan stressed this in casting a ‘’No’’ vote to the passage Wednesday night on third reading to a Senate bill imposing new taxes on the revenues generated by POGOs and their service providers.
The voting was 17-3-0.
Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chairwoman of the Senate ways and means committee, steered the passage of the bill through the Senate floor.
Pangilinan said security officials such as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon have previously expressed their concerns over the presence of POGOs and Chinese nationals close to key military installations as they might be conducting intelligence-gathering operations.
The Chinese government itself has repeatedly asked the Philippine government to close POGO operations because these were used in cross border crimes such as money laundering, he added.
Pangilinan said that for the past few years, the Philippines has become a host for POGOs that essentially provide online gambling services to foreigners located outside the country.
He noted that the sharp rise of the POGO industry, unfortunately, came with serious social costs. Property rental prices surged by as much as 62 percent in 2018. Filipinos have been kicked out of their condo units and homes that they were renting because POGO workers can afford to pay more.
In his speech, Pangilinan said foreign POGO workers were also heavily involved in various criminal activities such as the bribery of immigration officials, prostitution, money laundering, human trafficking, tax evasion, online fraud, and even kidnapping and murder.
From September 2019 to January 2020, at least six prostitution dens, which fronted as bars, and casas, and restaurants, were raided in Makati alone.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) even admitted that these kinds of operations “came with the proliferation of POGOs” and they “only experienced these kinds of activities when POGOs were created,’’ he said.
During a Senate Health Committee hearing in the COVID virus held last year February 4, 2020, Secretary Duque, when asked by this representation as to how many of the first ninety (90) persons under investigation for COVID came from Wuhan, China.
Secretary Duque answered 31.
‘’We recognize the additional revenues that the national government may collect from POGOs through the tax regime proposed under this measure. In 2021, an estimated P28.7 billion may be collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR),’’ he said.
‘’However, we cannot and should not turn a blind eye away from the social costs that the POGO industry brings and has brought upon us. Social costs that may be difficult to reverse,’’ he added.