Bare identities of 15 delinquent POGOs, Villanueva asks authorities

Published September 8, 2021, 8:10 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Joel Villanueva said he sees no reason for the government to withhold the names of the 15 Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) which owe the government over P1.3 billion.

Senator Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines)

Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee, issued the statement as he prodded the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) and the Commission on Audit (COA) to disclose the names of the firms, saying they shouldn’t be allowed to deprive the government of the much-needed revenues, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Pagcor and COA should publicly name the 15 delinquent POGOs. They do not have the right to remain anonymous,” he said in a statement on Tuesday, September 7.

“For those who have swindled the government, all the more that their identities be known. For those who have closed shop and ran away with debts unpaid, then their names should be announced, not withheld,” he stressed.

The Commission on Audit (COA) has found that 15 POGOs have yet to pay Pagcor some P1.365 billion in unpaid license fees. Pagcor’s legal department said that of the 15 delinquent POGOs, eight had their licenses canceled, three were under review, and one was suspended.

Villanueva said he was perplexed why the these delinquent POGOs were not named in reports, “considering what happened was akin to a ‘hit and run’.”

Even government employees have been slapped with notice of disallowances “for failing to liquidate far smaller amounts”, he noted.

“If names of owners of real estate with unpaid taxes are routinely published in newspapers, then why can’t the same treatment be extended to foreign gambling operators whose arrears are far bigger?” the lawmaker said.

“Hindi po barya ang utang nila pero bilyon (They owe the government over a billion)…These are not penny-ante money, but amounts of plunder proportions,” he pointed out.

The Senate labor panel last year investigated the proliferation of illegal foreign workers in offshore gaming firms in the country, wherein the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) admitted that the Philippines loses about P50 billion in unsettled withholding taxes, regulatory fees and franchise tax from POGOs.

Separate committee hearings also uncovered several illegal schemes linked to POGO operations and its workers.

Villanueva called on the Pagcor to go after the delinquent POGOs “even if they have retreated behind the Great Wall up north.”