Diokno presses POGOs’ banning

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Thursday backed banning Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, saying the “social cost” of the industry outweighs its economic benefits.

In the resumption of the Development Budget Coordination Committee briefing, Diokno was asked for his personal stance on POGO specifically, its effects on the country’s economy should the government decide to ban the industry.

“If you ask my personal opinion on this, let’s discontinue the POGOs because of the social cost,” he said.

Diokno pointed out that in 2021, the total revenue from POGOs plunged to P3.9 billion from P7.2 billion in 2020.

“It also has a reputational risk. People will ask, ‘Why are they going to the Philippines? It was discontinued in China and Cambodia, why are they going to the Philippines?’” he added.

The finance chief stressed that POGO companies moved to the Philippines because “we are loose; we are not strict on our rules.”

The Bureau of Internal Revenue has reported collecting P1.22 billion from the POGO industry since the passage late last year of Republic Act 11590 clearly defining the sector’s tax obligations.

The law mandates foreign individuals employed by POGO companies to pay a 25 percent withholding tax on gross income and a 5 percent tax on gross gaming revenues.

The non-gaming revenues of POGOs, on the other hand, are subject to 25 percent regular income tax.

In a separate hearing, Senator Grace Poe expressed her intent to determine whether the country should continue allowing POGO operations in the country, citing its link with the recent spate of kidnappings, abductions, and other illegal activities.

On Wednesday, Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos has warned errant POGO firms that government would shut them down.

Abalos issued the warning after the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group rescued 42 Chinese nationals in Angeles City, Pampanga on suspicion they were human trafficking victims.

POGO-related kidnappings and other crimes — like the killing of two Chinese workers in a shooting and stabbing incident in a Parañaque condominium unit last July — mainly involved Chinese nationals and, in some instances their Filipino bodyguards.

The PNP the other day warned security agencies providing services to the Chinese POGO workers not to be implicated in crimes involving foreigners.

Viral videos of Chinese nationals in the Philippines beating up one another, including of several men using hammers to hit a man, have surfaced with PNP officials claiming the videos were meant to discredit them and paint a picture of rising criminality.

National Capital Region Police Office chief P/Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo said the uploading of the video of the Paranaque condo shooting and stabbing incident was meant to humiliate him and he vowed to look for the uploader and sharers.

The NCRPO has claimed that crime rates in Metro Manila went down by 4 percent from 5,202 in January to August 2021 to 4,984 for the same period this year.

Abalos said the Department of the Interior and Local Government are working with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation which regulates the POGO industry, as well as with representatives of registered POGO companies, to address crimes attributed to POGO personnel.

“There must be a system here,” Abalos said in a mix of English and Filipino. “Remember POGO is a franchise (enterprise) and they are working here. They have working permits and all we have to do is to look them up from our list.”

He said the Bureau of Immigration and the POGO companies themselves can account for registered POGO workers.

Abalos presented to the media on Wednesday one Chen Yi Bien, alias Ayi, 33, said to be the human resource manager of POGO firm Lucky South 99. Chen was arrested by the PNP-AKG over the alleged kidnapping of 42 of his Chinese compatriots.

He said the DILG is also coordinating with the Chinese Embassy in Manila to check on their nationals working in the country.

PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin said they are now employing cops who know how to speak Chinese to help in investigating POGO-related crimes. They are also using interpreters provided by the Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., Azurin said.

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