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No biased decision

Keith A. Calayag

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Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Saturday the decision to allow Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) to resume operations cannot be considered an act of favoritism to the gaming business as what critics had claimed.

Speaking at the Laging Handa public briefing, Roque reiterated that what the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved was the resumption of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

“POGO are considered BPO. There is no favoritism in that. As such they can reopen,” he said as he parried claims of such.

Roque pointed out that the resumption of POGO will depend on the decision of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

“Based on the guidelines, they should have tax clearance. They must pay whatever taxes are due them,” he said.

All employees, he said, will be subjected to mandatory COVID-19 testing to be paid by their employers and their work areas should also be disinfected. They should also be provided housing or shuttle service.

Roque said the government is expecting up to P600 million collections from POGO once it resumes operation.

Different view

Reacting to the latest development, the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines on Saturday clarified that POGO cannot be considered as BPO despite sharing an offshoring nature.

According to Roque, 100 percent of the proceeds from resumed POGO operations will be used as funds to help combat COVID-19.

The Department of Finance said POGO tax collections hit P6.42 billion in 2019, 169 percent higher from P2.38 billion in 2018 on the back of a crackdown on errant POGO and service providers.

Partial resumption

The PAGCOR has given the POGO the green light to partially resume operations, subject to stringent conditions.

Citing the revenues from POGO as a significant source of funds that would supplement efforts to curb the health crisis, PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo said the management allowed the partial reopening of POGO, without violating guidelines provided by the government under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Prior to resumption of operations, POGO and their service providers are ordered to strictly adhere to all of PAGCOR’s pre-requisites including the 1) updating and settlement of all their tax liabilities, as certified by the Bureau of Internal Revenue; 2) updating of their payments for any regulatory fee, license fee, performance bond or penalties due to PAGCOR; 3) remittance of regulatory fees for the month of April; and 4) must pass the readiness to implement safety protocols.

Aside from meeting these requirements, Domingo said that PAGCOR will impose safety protocols on POGO to help ensure that their employees will be protected from COVID-19 infections, and that spread of the virus in their communities will be avoided.

Among the safety measures include the permission of only 30 percent workforce per shift in authorized operating sites; provision of shuttle services for employees from their places of residence to their offices; temperature checks upon entry at the office premises; practicing social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection, and wearing of mask at all times, among other important guidelines to curb the infection.

Stringent measures

Meanwhile, Parañaque city, where most POGO are based, said it will implement stringent measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the city.

“The city government will be very strict on Pogo operations” Ding Soriano, city administrator told the Daily Tribune in a telephone interview.

He said the local Covid-19 task force will meet to draft guidelines including the possible deployment of personnel in POGO operation areas.

with AJ Bajo @tribunephl_aj
and Perseus Echeminada

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